NYC Street Etiquette 101: What the fack you looking at?

In Ivan Sanchez’ book “Next Stop” there is a whole chapter on this topic: “What the fack are you looking at?”

Anyone that grew up in the hood, NYC or otherwise knows these words. For the rest of you that don’t know what that statement is a precursor to, allow me to educate you:

1. At the lowest level, a verbal scuffle. A few words being exchange and both participants walking away unscathed.

2. At the next level you could end up in a fist fight or you get jumped by a group larger than yours leaving you with a few bumps and bruises to bring home if you are lucky.

3. Slashed or stabbed. This usually is a continuation of option 2. This one definitely lands you in the hospital and can land you six feet underground.

4. Shot. Some people don’t know how to fight or simply don’t have the tolerance for the up and close action of stabbing or fist fighting someone. DMX said in one of his songs “There would of been a time when I would of jumped up and chocked this n**ga, now I’m just like, fack it, smoke this n**ga.”  That pretty much sums up option 4.

In NYC you encounter this on a daily basis. I thought of these things this morning as it happened yet again. I walked into the subway train, the E line. This tall, young guy was “eye facking” me really hard (Eye facking is when someone is staring at you hard), I looked at him with impassive eyes, made eye contact for a brief moment and looked away back toward my phone screen just as impassively.  I could feel him still staring at me as I wrote this post on the train.

Like Ivan says in his book, I also have experienced and played the “What the fack are you looking at game”, I’ve been there. As a man it’s hard for me to play the beta and look away. But I just don’t have it in me to deal with the options mentioned above. As an educated man, a father, a husband and a hood graduate I recognize nothing good would come of pursuing the  “What the fack you looking at”. Tougher men than I have fallen at those words and I have far too much to lose.

These young guys have no respect for life and lack an understanding of the consequences to their negative actions. So being human and vulnerable to bullets and knives I looked away. I wasn’t under any immediate danger and I don’t want end up dead at this stage of my life merely over ego.

I eventually decided to my remove myself from his direct line of vision and moved directly beside him. He looked at me confused and I merely nodded in his direction. This was my way of saying, “I’m not afraid of you, I’m not afraid of being next to you, and more importantly, I see you there buddy.”  By breaking eye contact I sent the message that “I’m not hostile and I don’t want any trouble”. Unless the person is a big time troublemaker and really wants a fight, those silent words, the body language usually gets the message across and things do not escalate.

I was not concerned in the least that anything was going to pop off, but I was also prepared. During rush hour, on a semi-packed train, thugs are less likely to cause trouble. Had this happened at midnight on the 4 line, perhaps he would of been more uppity and if he wasn’t alone, then perhaps even the time and crowd wouldn’t make a difference.

Moral of the story, unless you are prepared to back it up with the necessary action, watch your eyes when riding the train. I usually have music playing to block out the noise and a book in my hand to occupy my eyes. If I don’t have anything to keep my eyes busy I usually look straight and down while observing my peripherals, sometimes I close them. The key is to avoid trouble, again, too much to lose.



Note the date on a post as it may be an old point of view. If you learn that your views are wrong, yet they remain the same, then you are a fool.

The opinions and views expressed are solely those of the author.