So last night, at a not so unreasonable hour, M.Snowe got on the subway at Union Square. Settling in to the normal routine of zoning out and ignoring those sitting around me as well as those who walked into the train with me, I failed to notice as someone attempted to get my attention walking through the subway doors. When he sat down next to me, I finally realized, it was a former coworker. He had moved to a different department and therefore a different floor of our building, so naturally, he was dead to me, aside from the occasional morning or afternoon sighting by the entrance to our building. What I could tell you about this man was that when I was working with him, he was intelligent and always on top of his work. While a hint of condescension was always distinguishable in him, it was never so much a bother for me not to respect and appreciate the work he did, which was thorough and on point. He is a middle-aged gentleman, with a mostly bald head and the slightest tuft of hair on either side, and he wore glasses. He might serve as a stand in for a Biden-like figure in terms of build.
He inquired how I was, and I asked the same of him. He then went on to tell me that "You probably don't know this, but I was fired from_____________. " Well, this certainly hadn't reached our floor, because as in most cases, the juicy gossip was too diluted by the time it traveled up the elevator to us. When he observed the raised eyebrows in response, he continued, explaining that his boss had either left or been pushed out of the company, and he was summarily told, without rhyme or reason, that his position was no longer needed. He stressed that they gave him no reason or justification for his termination. At this point, M.Snowe was disheartened and generally felt bad for the poor treatment Mr. Ex-Coworker had received, rather unfairly, from the looks of it. But something didn't sit right. When Mr. Ex-Co extended his greetings, he had said, "well, what are you doing down here at this hour?" as if it had been 1AM instead of just 9 or 10PM. But that was nothing out of the norm, for sure. But Mr.Ex-Co was much more relaxed-looking than I remembered him, perhaps because he no longer had to present himself as a professional acquaintance. He said some other things that didn't make the stale subway air any more breathable. But then, as he got up to go when we reached his stop, he rose and wished me the best, and I him. I was wearing a skirt, one that I had worn to work, which was professional and cut just above the knee, leaving just the knee plus a little bit more leg exposed while sitting on the train. As Mr. Ex-Co got up from the adjacent seat, he patted my leg with his hand, intentionally, and for a time period far too long for comfort. Keep in mind at work we were not close and I can't remember any time when he even shook my hand. At that point, all the respect, all the sorry feelings Mr. Ex-Co had been carefully cultivating were thrown out the train simultaneously as he exited. M.Snowe began to wonder if sometimes, the professional setting we've created is just a clever ruse that makes people think sexual condescension no longer exists, or only in extreme cases. Just because people behave themselves, doesn't mean the environment is completely free from bias and harassment.
Maybe (or even probably), M.Snowe is making way too much of a simple pat on the knee, but it was exacerbated by the fact that it was exposed skin, not trousers he touched, and for far too long. Maybe all that Catholic school education has gotten back at M.Snowe by making her too much of a prude while she simultaneously rejected the general idea of organized religion....who knows. But one thing is certain: a lesson can be learned, first hand if you will, from this that will help Joe Biden tonight... so listen up Mr. Biden: despite the fact that you are intelligent, qualified, etc., don't condescend, and don't appear sexist. Because as soon as you do that, even if it's completely unintentional, people will forget all of the good work you may have done. You can unmake years of hard work with a swipe of the knee, or pat on the head. Don't forget how idiotic Bush Sr. looked when he tried to "teach" Geraldine Ferraro about foreign policy in their debate, and how the crowd cheered her when she called him out on it. Senator Biden: be charismatic as you can, be strong and fight for your points when you can, but don't imply that Palin is dumb (even though she might be) and don't imply that you can teach her something (although you probably could). Also, don't ever, under any circumstances, talk or gesture to appearances. Like any good debater knows, once you hit the physical realm, you no longer have the power to make good theoretical arguments. Stick with theory, avoid physicality--because in theory, we're all created equal. It's when you come down to earth, you realize we're definitely not treated that way.