In Which I Almost Get into a Fight with a 15 Year Old


One of the best parts of running my own business is that I rarely have to commute during the busiest time periods.  I generally avoid the trains packed with commuters or too loud with teenagers.  A recent Thursday was an exception.

A couple of stations after I boarded three high school boys entered the train.  They sat in a manner that selfishly occupied more space than they needed, and conversed in a volume that selfishly included everyone in their profanity laced conversation.  F-Bombs and N-Bombs flowed like some of the crap that passes for hip hop these days.

Had I been listening to my mp3 player, I might have just cranked the volume, and swallowed my tongue for the next four stops.  Had they not been wearing gear from my high school alma mater, I might have tried harder to ignore them.

From my position, I only had to rotate a few degrees to face the “Alpha” of the group.

“I know you” I began in a tone that older black men get to use with younger versions of ourselves when they’re “acting-up” and know it.  “Yeah, I know exactly who you are.  You’re fake-tough.  You see, I can tell by the way you speak – pronouncing your G’s a little too carefully, dropping an SAT word here and there – I know you’re not really tough. I know that you sprinkle your expletives from some desire to sound how you think tough kids sound.  It rings especially fake considering your private school uniforms… from a place where I was a student 20 years ago.

“I went to school with guys like you, hell I even tried that fake-tough language once or twice.  But now’s the time you really need to stop, not just because you embarrass yourself and our school with all this phony and foul language around little kids and women.  By the by, it might fool some of the people into thinking you’re not fake-tough, but not me.  Nah, you need to stop now because fake-tough only leads to two things: trouble at home and school, and getting your ass kicked because you tried your fake-tough routine with someone who’s actually tough.

“So let’s just quit this whole farcical charade, shall we.”

I could see the adrenaline and decision making in his eyes – his pride was wounded and he possessed no easy retorts.  I had no regrets about my message or its tone, I do wish I had said all of it in a more private manner, giving him the option of a more graceful surrender before his friends.  To make his decision easier, I finished with “You know I’m right, and you should also know that I have your football coach and principal on my speed dial.”

The trio exited two stops later.  On their way off the train, the “Alpha” made some vaguely insulting comment about my suit being “busted.”

A woman who was standing not too far from me and had witnessed the whole interaction leaned towards me and said “some lessons are hard to learn.”

I laughed a bit before replying “He learned the lesson alright; he might have said my suit was busted, but notice that he didn’t curse when he said it?”

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7 Responses to In Which I Almost Get into a Fight with a 15 Year Old

  1. Christina says:

    I was in NY this weekend and one story was about a campaign to “Pull the pants up”. It was interesting to hear that the whole message was if you want to be taken seriously you need to respect yourself and dress to prove that.

    Your message got across if not then, it made him think and think hard.

    That is a problem we have with our youth in general and one which is felt even more acutely in communities of color. There simply aren’t enough people holding kids accountable for their actions and choices. I hate to be one of those “in-my-day” people, but when I was a kid I had to answer to a number of adults whether I had a prior relationship with them or not.

  2. kitty says:

    way to be respectful. I’d bet he listened.

    Thank you, we can only hope.

  3. Liz in Life says:

    Nicely handled, RR. At the very least, you know he went home and took a second look in the mirror, knowing people see right through his act and he’s not faking it as well as he hoped. Teenage boys can be so silly.

    The thing of it is I am not sure if it resonated the way we all hoped or he simply viewed it as an outlying aberration.

  4. You always know just what to say in these situations! (You handled the Alpha Boy and the woman on the subway beautifully.) I agree with you that he learned his lesson.

    It’s tough to be a 15yo boy and trying to grow up with so many images telling you to devolve. I hope he learned the lesson.

  5. A says:

    How embarrassing for him.

    I have a suspicion that if there were such thing as a “sarcastic” font you would have used it.

  6. magnolia2010 says:

    haha – i love this. just fabulous. i wish more people would take that kind of initiative when people are screwing up like that in public. good on ya.

    The reason more people don’t get involved (and the reason I probably should have kept my big yap shut) is that the world is substantively more volatile and violent than it was decades ago. I saw this as a calculated risk.

  7. It takes a village, right? Which is exactly what I say to myself before I politely suggest to the five year old rolling around on the area rug at my part-time gig that perhaps it would be best, while waiting for his absent mother, to sit on the stool instead of sprawl across the floor.

    Now the only question is would you have said something had the boy been wearing either (a) no academic related gear or (b) academic gear for your former prep’s rival?

    From my prep’s rival: I certainly would have said something and I might have even made a crack about him living down to the standards we expected from those kids.
    No prep gear: I’d like to think that I would have still said something. The language was inappropriate for public, and extremely foul around little kids.
    I think the real question I ask myself is would I have said something had the kid seemed like he was actual tough rather then fake tough but was still speaking the same way? I am guessing that I might have said something, but I probably would have handled it differently.

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