Not So Funny

Taking Note

A FUNNY THING happened to me on the way to Lamont. It was so funny I'll never be the same.

It was 11:30 Monday night. I was walking from Lowell House to Lamont Library to meet a friend. It was a cold night and I was hurrying along Linden Street. I looked into the Cambridge Port Savings Bank window because I like to see myself striding along the street, at home in Cambridge. A man was standing in the main part of the bank, alone, in a gray jacket and jeans. He didn't look like a bank robber. He was wearing high tops, just like me, and I thought he might be a student.

But it struck me that he was standing behind one of the automatic teller machines, with the door of the machine open.

I called the Cambridge Police from the Centrex phone near Widener and told them what the man was wearing and where the bank was. The dispatcher asked me one question. "Is he white or Black?" "White," I said. Some things never change.

When the cruiser came three minutes later, it pulled to a stop in front of Bartley's, a block away from the bank. I waited for it to pull up, but the officer was talking to someone standing on the street. I looked across at the bank just as the man inside went from the inner part to the outer part, where the automatic tellers face the street.

I ran across the street and told the policeman what was going on. He looked at me and said, "This isn't him?" gesturing with his eyes at the man he was talking to. The man was older, Black, and carrying a torn paper bag. "No, go up there... The bank is there, up the street." The cruiser crept away, braking again well before it reached the bank. I gave up.

I crossed Mass. Ave. again, noticing that the man was following me. He said, "Can I... can I..." I said firmly, "No, I don't want to talk to you." I walked faster, still looking back a few times. He started to run after me, babbling about having a drink. I turned around and screamed at him, "No! Just get away from me! No! NO!"

He stopped cold and looked at me. I stumbled away, breathing fast and trying not to cry.

Rushing away, I noticed there were two men walking toward me on the street. When I went into Widener gate, I felt the security of familiar Harvard grounds, but then those two men walked in behind me.

And they were laughing. At me. One of them called out, "Did you know him?"

I just hurried away, up the stairs and into Lamont. Down and up more stairs looking for a familiar face. I had yet to find one when I passed an elevator door sliding open. The two men were inside. They knew it was me, I knew it was them, and I was shocked. They were employees of the University.

I wish now that I had gotten their names. I wish I had screamed at them. They were just as bad as the man who chased me. But I was afraid to confront them. Their attack was more subtle, more dehumanizing, because it left me unable to defend myself.

WHAT HAD THEY really done to me? Nothing. There's no law against laughing at someone. In fact, it is sort of funny isn't it? A girl being chased by a derelict and defending herself! I'm laughing real hard.

The incompetence of the police, the frightening character of street people, these are things we take for granted. There is not much we can do about them. Who knows what this man meant by asking me to have a drink with him? Maybe he wanted to thank me for getting the policeman to leave him alone. My outburst of hatred might have scared him as much as it did me.

But such cruel teasing by bystanders was worst of all. And from University staff, people who I would expect to be especially concerned, it was particularly disturbing.

Of everyone on Mass. Ave. that night, they were the ones who should have helped me. At the very least, they should not have made it worse.

Sure, maybe I shouldn't have been out walking alone so late at night. It's a good thing I wasn't sleazy enough to be wearing a short skirt or a lot of makeup, because then I would have deserved even more than I got. And who am I to try to stop a bank robbery? I guess it's been so long since I had an experience like this that I forgot about not being free to move around at night.

I am afraid now. I am afraid of rape and I am afraid of walking around hating anyone who looks at me or smiles at me. I am angry that a week ago I had no reason to feel defensive, and now I can't stop feeling that way.

Who will protect me tonight? I need to go to the library. I will want to go to Tommy's even later than 11:30. I don't think the police will be able to do it. I don't think "safe" men on the street will do it. It will be me again tonight, and every other night.