Lessons from the hellcats

They clump together in small groups near the angel statue in the park. They scream "You fucking bitch!" and "You're such a whore!" and "Your mother is such an asshole" at each other. They lean and slouch in skinny jeans and boots and short jackets lined with fake fur.

These are the girls of Greenpoint, the teenage Polish hellcats.

The other day three of them were in my subway car in the morning. The thinnest one, so slight she was almost breakable, cursed and sang loudly. She swung on the pole and giggled to herself. Older Polish women clicked their tongues and shook their heads. Was she drunk? High? I think she was just young.

I was never this kind of young, this rebellion-filled, abrasive young. I never felt the need to call my friends bitches and insult their clothes. I wasn't angry in these same ways and although I had my own struggles, they happened internally. Then again, I didn't grow up in a city where homeless men defecate on the subway and green spaces are fenced in to keep out drug dealers. I didn't develop defenses like these girls; there was no need for them back then.


Last night at Kmart, a family of five waited behind me on line. The father kept pushing himself against me in a weird and socially-awkward way.

"Do you have a dog and a cat?" he asked as the cashier scanned cat toys and a dog bone (a gift for the hosts of a party I'm going to this weekend).

"Um, no, just a cat," I said. The cashier and I locked eyes.

"What's his name?" he asked.

"Uh... Felix," I said, as if Oscar needed protecting.

"Ours is Church."

"Your cat's name is Church?"

"Yeah, what do you think about that?"

I think that's effing crazy, I think to myself, but avoid replying as I sign the receipt and shove the goods for my menagerie in the bag. I thank the cashier and start heading towards the door; he calls out "I hope you and Felix have a safe weekend."

For a few moments, I am sufficiently creeped out. Did he see my name when I signed? What would I do if he followed me? As I wait for the 6 train, I wonder if he would have spoken to one of the Greenpoint girls like this and I imagine what her response would have been.

None of your whore mother's fucking business comes to mind. I silently vow to act like a Polish teenage girl if I'm ever attacked, to scream and curse and bring unexpected wrath upon whoever who wants to hurt me.

We all grow defenses, even if some of us are later than others.

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