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Dear Gentleman Scholar,
I was taking the subway home from a New Year's party when a very drunk man boarded the train, sat across from me, and started masturbating. I glared at him, and he stopped briefly before resuming again. The subway car was close to empty, I didn't have much farther to go, and I wasn't worried for my safety, so I just moved away and averted my eyes. Was I under an obligation to report this guy or otherwise try to get him to stop? Did I do something wrong by preferring my own convenience to taking action?
New York City
Happy New Year. Thanks for your question.
John Stuart Mill has an answer for you: “Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.” Or, as the signage on that very subway car has it, “If you see something, say something.” You allege to have witnessed public lewdness, a Class B misdemeanor in New York and thus a crime in the same class as jury tampering in the second degree and sexual abuse in the third. It would clearly be necessary to report either of those crimes to the authorities, and I don’t see what the difference is here, notwithstanding that possession of marijuana in the fifth degree is also a Class B misdemeanor and that if you see something of that ilk, you might reasonably say something like “Can I hit that?”
On the other hand, there is a small thought experiment struggling to get out of this question—the puzzle of weighing the possibility of this wanker harassing someone else against the probability of everybody on the train getting bummed out by a delay necessitated by a police action. But I haven’t figured that one out yet, so I’ll stick with Don’t beat yourself up about it, but you should have reported the beater-off. This might have best been done by finding your way to the conductor’s car in the middle of the train—which is, by the way, the smart place to ride when you are coming home tipsy at an odd hour. Look for the zebra-striped indication board on the platform.
As an Australian who'd like to get to your country one day, I'd really appreciate some advice on necessary areas to visit. I've always been put off visiting the U.S. by, let's be honest, U.S.-ians, and also the prospect of going through LAX. But Yellowstone, Yosemite, and some other national parks look absolutely scintillating. Vegas is for schmucks, the Big Apple for people who have no imaginations. ... As you can see, I have arrogance and cultural stereotypes enough to fit right in! [Ironic face] What United Statesian travels does the Gentleman Scholar recommend for the scoffing, skeptical, and widely read international traveler?
The Bloke Scholar
New South Wales
Thank you for the letter, you antipodean brute. Your scorn for the people of my country opens an opportunity for me to respond by disdaining yours—if indeed it actually counts as a proper country, as opposed to a distant desert island controlled by people raised by dingos. Look, man, there are 193 United Nations member states and one of them must be the rudest; a quick glance around any given VB-soaked rugby match will suggest that Australia cannot be counted out.
And yet you, sir, perhaps a rule-defining exception, seem relatively discerning. Yes, Las Vegas is for schmucks: That’s the best reason to go. The tourists are essential to the big attraction, the main psuedo-event. They are citizens of the capital of mediated desire. A 24-hour encounter with the oxygenated mirage of the Strip is essential to an understanding of spectacular excess, stimulating simulacra, and cosmetic surgery. Moreover, a side trip to majestic Hoover Dam will provide a bracing contrast. Not long ago, America was a place where a bold government initiated public works projects that grandly and heroically demonstrated the “placid triumph of scientific accomplishment.” Now it is where you go to buy a $10,000 cocktail garnished with silver cufflinks and a gold necklace.
Here’s an idea: Fly into McCarran, check into a pleasure dome, go out all night, and then immediately flee for California and a week at a ski lodge near Mammoth Mountain. If you do this in the offseason, you will pay a reasonable rate to stay within short distance of a wide variety of magnificent beauty, not just Yosemite but also Mono Lake and Death Valley, not to mention the catacombs of Fresno. Act now while the wild horses still gallop beneath the purple sky.
Historically, the two most gentlemanly cities in the Northeast are Boston and Philadelphia. To engage with those places is to begin a proper study of the Colonial American character. I suggest touring the first with a copy of The Education of Henry Adams in hand, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum on your must-see list, and visions of glass flowers dancing in your head. In Philadelphia read The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin and devise an itinerary that includes the Barnes museum, the Mütter Museum, and of course the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which is home to the greatest peep show of all time.
Sadly, the gentlemanly traditions of these two cities have been in decline since 1825, when the Erie Canal opened and New York quickly became more awesome than both of them combined. Accordingly, in Boston, you should steer clear of any bar where more than a third of the patrons are wearing Red Sox caps; those guys will give your Australian brutishness a run for the money. In Philadelphia, stay out of any establishment where one or more adults is wearing Eagles gear; we are talking about a city where last month, a brawl broke out at the lighting of the official Christmas tree.
All that said, is New York City truly an unimaginative destination? The Japanese hipsters and slim-hipped French chicks fluttering through my neighborhood seem not to think so. Surely you are curious to see if the new Brooklyn is all it’s cracked up to be. Come check out the vibrant new restaurant rows of East New York and Brownsville. Borough Park is also home to an up-and-coming nightlife scene—nose-to-tail dining and all that—but that hood doesn’t really heat up until after dark on Friday. Tip: A lot of chic places don’t take credit cards, so be sure to carry tons of cash at all times.