French Bra Guy

Transports of Delight

My friend and I shuffle onto the crowded train at the Fremantle station. There are hardly any seats left, so we have to sit apart from each other. I settle into my seat. The man sitting next to me is wearing a slightly sloppy suit, glasses, and a bright purple bra over his clothes … Wait, what? I double-take.

He catches me looking and grins widely. “You like my brassiere?” he asks, in a slightly slurred French accent.

I reach for a quip. “Yes, it brings out your eyes.”

“Today is the day you wear a bra to work, you know. Even the men.”

“Is it?” (No other men are wearing bras.)

“Yes! Perhaps you and your friend would like to wear a bra like this?”

He is now gesturing towards my brassiere region. I decide this conversation is over.

“No thanks,” I say, and turn back to my friend. She is staring straight ahead, seemingly unaffected by my situation. I’m a bit surprised at her lack of reaction.

The man is still talking.

“I ‘ave just been to a job interview.”

I am now trying to segue out of the conversation by grunting noncommittally and making minimal eye contact. “Uh huh.”

“I am going to work in the mining … I am a business man …” He goes on like this. Occasionally he lapses into French and I have even less idea what he’s talking about. He is crushed right up against me on the crowded seats, practically nuzzling my ear. I lock eyes with my friend; if she can catch everything my eyes are saying, she should be hearing screams inside her head right now.

I keep leaning away from the French man, which he seems to take as a sign to keep leaning closer. I’m on the point of standing up and moving to the other end of the train carriage when the glorious announcement comes over the speakers: this is our stop! We are free!

My friend and I exit the train (followed by loud farewells from French Bra Guy). I still feel a little hurt that my friend didn’t seem sympathetic to my plight. Suddenly, she explodes with rage.

“UGH, THAT GUY WAS THE WORST! FUCKING PARISIANS!!”

After a long, generalised rant about the evils of Frenchmen, she explains that she had spent the whole train ride concentrating very carefully on not unleashing her hatred upon him. She recently spent a year living in Switzerland with a French-speaking family, and thus could understand everything that French Bra Guy had been saying. Including the French. Apparently it had not been flattering.

We finally have a laugh, happy in the open sunshine of the outside. It is pleasant to be out of the train.

I don’t think about the French Bra Guy again for weeks. Then, one night, I’m catching the Fremantle train once again. It’s late, and the security guards are the only other people on the train. I strike up a chat with them.

“Which is the worst train line?”

The security guards consider this, tilting their heads. The one who looks like Shannon Noll answers.

“Well, Armadale gets a bit interesting. We pretty much see a fight every shift. But Fremantle … oh, Fremantle. We call this the Crazy Line.”

What a delight to learn that I’m not alone in my appraisal. Even the security guards think this train line is nuts.

Shannon Noll Security Guard continues. “Man, we see the same people so often, we even get to know them by name. This train is like free housing for the crazies.”

I nod. “I know! Like this guy I saw last week, he was wearing a purple bra over his suit …”

The security guard interrupts. “Was he French?”

How the heck does he know this? “Yes! He was!”

“Oh yeah, we know him. He’s okay when he’s on his meds, but when he stops taking them … Well, we have to watch him.”

I wonder if the occasion with the purple bra was on a Meds Day or a No-Meds Day.

As I wave goodbye to the friendly security guards, I reflect on the nature of their job. Just like a hairdresser is also part therapist, so it seems that a Transperth security guard is also part psychiatric nurse. Good luck to those noble souls who work the Fremantle line. Good luck, and good night!

'Do you like art?'

Transports of Delight

I thought I had the Fremantle train line all worked out.

Out of all Perth’s metropolitan train lines, the Fremantle line seems to be the one with the most … interesting people. Or, as a Transperth security guy once described it to me, “free housing for the crazies”. (His words, not mine.) The “crazies” are usually flamboyantly weird, but benign. Nevertheless, sometimes it is nice to get through your commute without any Transports of Delight. (Dare I say it? Sometimes a boring train ride is preferable.) So, I usually do my best to avoid attention.

I’ve gathered a few pertinent strategies, and I will elaborate on them in later posts. But one crucial strategy is location, location, location. Where you sit can determine how likely you are to have someone yell at you about their ex-wife for forty minutes.

My main strategy for riding the Fremantle line is to find a seat with an empty seat opposite, so I’m not staring directly into the face of another person. Then I employ a technique I call “going catatonic”, where I remain in the same attitude, without looking around or moving, for the rest of the journey. Public People usually seem to interpret movement, or any sign of life whatsoever, as an invitation to engage. Therefore: play dead.

As you walk through the doors of a Fremantle train carriage, you are faced with two options: you can either sit in the small cul-de-sac at the end of the carriage, which is slightly separate to the main carriage; or you can turn the other way and sit in the main, cattle-class seating area.

I walked onto a Fremantle train carriage and performed my usual quick scan for locations. The main seating area was quite crowded and had few empty seats. I turned to my left. The carriage cul-de-sac was completely empty, except for one regular-looking guy sitting in the corner. I went that way, thinking the nearly-empty cul-de-sac would make for a nice, quiet ride.

I hadn’t even sat down when Regular-Looking Guy started shouting non-sequiters at me. “THAT’S A NICE DRESS. DO YOU LIKE ART?” My heart sank. I had chosen the wrong location.

When I didn’t respond to his questioning, Regular-Looking-Guy-Who-Was-Actually-Crazy continued to shout. “I DON’T REALLY LIKE ART. LOOK, THIS IS ART.” He motioned to the large canvas he had propped on the seat next to him.

“THIS IS AN ORIGINAL PRINT OF A JACKSON POLLOCK.” Pause. “LOOK, HIS NAME’S ON IT, THERE. LOOK THERE!”

I did not look there. I was not even remotely in the mood for this. But I knew if I stayed in his cul-de-sac, with no one else to draw his attention, he would keep on at me like this. The volume at which he spoke told me that he was not someone who would respond to, or even notice social cues. So, I stood up and moved to a better location, down the train.

I find it really difficult to be this openly rude to someone, by the way. It doesn’t come naturally; I’ve had to school myself in the art of rebuffing people. I still feel bad about it, but when you’re a young female journeying alone, it becomes a matter of personal safety. American author Gavin de Becker wrote an excellent book called The Gift of Fear, in which he points out that people, women especially, often remain in dangerous situations to avoid ‘being rude’ to a stranger. If a strange man tries to strike up a conversation with you (the single female), you’ll probably feel obligated to respond, even if the guy gives you the creeps. According to de Becker, this is because

explicitness applied by women in this culture has a terrible reputation. A woman who is clear and precise is viewed as cold, or a bitch, or both. A woman is expected, first and foremost, to respond to every communication from a man. And the response is expected to be one of willingness and attentiveness. (de Becker, 1997)

Well, I didn’t respond with willingness or attentiveness to Regular-Looking-Guy-Who-Was-Actually-Crazy, and to my knowledge, society has not imploded. The guy didn’t even seem that fazed – this must happen to him a lot. While RLGWWAC was not necessarily a threat to my safety, he made me feel uncomfortable. He was a stranger, a man who made unsolicited approaches to a woman sitting alone. A regular guy (who was actually regular) would have just left me alone.

At the next stop, a tidal wave of teenagers flowed into the train, and they immediately filled up RLGWWAC’s cul-de-sac. Nothing, not even hundreds of lorikeets screeching in the pine trees over Cottesloe – not even they could be louder than a group of teens on a train. But amidst the din, I could hear RLGWWAC’s voice rising from the middle of the crowd. He was in his element. “DO YOU LIKE ART? HOW ‘BOUT YOU? HAVE YOU HEARD OF JACKSON POLLOCK?”

A few stops later, I noticed Regular-Looking-Guy-Who-Was-Actually-Crazy trying to push his way out of the throng, his Pollock print flapping at his side. The teenagers sullenly moved aside for him. (I’m not just stereotyping here, this lot looked genuinely sullen.) RLGWWAC turned around and hollered at them, “GOODBYE! HUGS AND KISSES FOR MUMS!” He departed, adding, “HUGS AND KISSES FOR DADS TOO!”

Since this experience, I have learned two things about the carriage cul-de-sac. Firstly, it is not a good location for single journeyers, mainly because it is usually commandeered by large groups of friends who want to chat loudly to each other about “what Mark said”.

Secondly, if it’s empty except for one man, even though the rest of the train is crowded, that guy is probably animal crackers crazy.