Whether they are Hispanic, Black, Asian, Jewish, White or Latin, whether they are riding the A, C, D, 1, 2, or, 3, the men who sit with their legs spread wide open on the subway do so with a Cro-Magnum sense of entitlement.
illustration by elishacooper.com
I asked a bunch of them why, exactly, they are sitting like that.
"In a Jacuzzi sperm die."
This was the response I got from John of Long Island City, on the Lexington line at nine o'clock on a Friday night.
"I don't think you understand the question, sir. I asked you why men spread their legs so wide on the subway?"
"I know what you asked. I'm just sayin' sperm die in a Jacuzzi. Ya know, from the heat. The heat kills the sperm. That's why we spread our legs. It's our body's natural attempt to protect our sperm, give our balls some air to breathe."
Amazingly, John is the most enlightened person I've yet spoken with on this subject. But I am hesitant to grant him such a physiological excuse. Does one really need the perimeter of three subway seats to provide salvation for the sensitive seed? Seven inches of space between the knees seems like quite enough room to lessen the sweat that could collect between their balls from 96th Street to any stop below 14th.
However, I have taken it upon myself to measure the gap between these men's upper thighs and, no matter the make of the man, the span stretches from eleven inches to as much as three feet. Three feet! Three seats. Seats that we women squeeze to fit into. Seats that we contort every bit of our body to make a match with the meager slab of orange plastic we are left.
I am hardly being dramatic. Ask any woman in any borough on any subway line what she finds most offensive during her commute and nine out of ten times the response will be the spread of men's legs. We can tolerate the stench of sweat, the heat of bad breath, the shoving, the pushing, the elimination of all etiquette, but the leg spread is it. The cherry on top, the saturation point, the straw on the camel's breaking back. These subterranean straddlers seem to think their seats are saddles and swagger each leg over the side of a hallucinated horse.
Well, guys, don't squawk "giddyaup" too quickly, this is no rodeo where you can live our your wanna-be-a-cowboy birthright fantasy. That briefcase, New York Post, umbrella, backpack, walk-man, palm pilot, soft covered book is not a lasso. It's simply a mundane accessory to a routine life in your man-hand on our city's subway.»
I've been told: "The seats are too small." "My lower back aches." "It's comfortable." "What do you care?" "This is just the way I sit." "I don't wanna look like no girl."
The excuses are endless as to why men ride the train like they are an authentic "Urban Cowboy" on Travolta's iron bull. Macho men, again and again, in sneakers, wingtips, steel toe boots avoiding being straphangers in a "boys will be boys" kind of right to life way. Like eager rookies on their little league bench ready to bounce into action at the coach's "o.k.!'
To widespread men the only response is: Why? Are you physically impaired? Is there a steel rod prying your legs open wide? Are we to assume your balls are the cause of our discomfort? Those golden rollers need the room to roam. Bizarre that the same boys who cringed at junior high school calisthenics are now exercising their manhood with the barbaric bravado of Baryshnikov.
It is about balls. When it comes to awareness and honesty concerning the language of men's legs on the train, I heard only one answer sounded right. A Lower East Side resident and F train regular stated most contentiously: "Because we Can."
And just like a man with his cock in his hand about to piss a righteous ring around where he stands the statement made perfect sense. It is a marking of territory, no matter how temporary.
For women, this posture will continue to be an imposition to we women underground until one of two conditions occurs. Either M.T.A. workers will realize that their much-deserved raise could be obtained by fining every man who exceeds the seven inch spread. Or a medical study could reveal that men who suffer from a certain sexually transmitted disease must sit with their knees at least eight inches apart so as not to irritate the symptoms.
In the mean time, I don't think it is too much to ask that the conductors of the subway trains add a new request to their daily litany, it would sound something like this: "This is a number one local making all stops. There is an express train across the platform. Pull in all your belongings or you will be dragged. And men of Manhattan: do us all a favor and close your f-----g legs!"