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Sunday, Sept. 2, 2001

WHEN EAST MARRIES WEST

'P' words fly over boorish behavior


"Men," my wife announces, "are nothing but pigs."

And though pigs are said to be bright, in my case, I need a moment for the syllogism to snap into place.

Men are pigs. I am a man. Therefore . . .

I yearn to ask what she means, but she is showing eyes like flaming arrows and this pig is also part chicken.

Besides, she's a woman. If you want to hear what's on a woman's mind, all you need do is wait 10 seconds for the cache to clear.

"Sexist!" she steams at me. "And sex-crazed, too! Nothing but beasts!"

I find my courage. "How dare you talk about pigs that way?"

The arrows hiss. "Men! Men!" she repeats. "Why don't they stay snoring on the tatami where they belong? Why do they have to ride the trains?"

So there we have it: men and trains -- Japan's foulest combination since squid pizza.

She delivers her complaints like an oncologist describing cancers.

"If you're pressed into the morning rush, they'll worm their hands all over you.

"If there's room to spare, they'll ogle you like a garnished prime rib.

"If they're drunk, they'll hang above you and snort beer breath down your bosom.

"That is, if they're not drooling into some pornographic newspaper or comic.

"And then," she sums up, "these days, if they're shoved or glared at, they bark and fight like dogs!" "Not pigs?"

"Don't look at me that way! Or I'll make you squeal!"

Which, she goes on, is an almost direct quote from a shouting match she witnessed on her train ride home, a pair of high school boys wrapped up in one of Japan's latest outcries: the increasing frequencies of fights -- some very serious -- on crowded commuter lines. In other words -- train rage. "I can't wait for the day when each commuter train has cars just for women. Only then will we feel safe."

Yet, such restrictions don't slice bacon with me.

"You can't condemn an entire gender for the misdeeds of a few. All men aren't as you describe."

She wrinkles her lip. "OK, tell me one who's not." This strategy catches me off guard. I try to think of names, but keeping tripping over my own.

"And family members don't count!" She snips. "They aren't real men anyway."

"What?"

"I mean, no one's going to get groped by their own husband!"

Perhaps there's logic here and perhaps there's not, but before I can leap into argument, she casts all of menkind under even further suspicion.

"The truth is, no one knows what's inside any man's head. Maybe the guy beside you is daydreaming or maybe he's peeking down your blouse. There is almost no way to tell. The problem is the environment -- men and women packed into quarters too close for common sense. So segregated trains cars are the answer."

She gloats at me as if to say, "Trump that!"

So I do.

"Such cars are discriminatory. They give preferential treatment to women and, in a democratic society, that's unfair."

"Oh, and it's fair that a man feels he can pinch my bottom just because we're on the same train?"

"That's a mind-set that segregated cars will not correct. So some men look at women as objects. Do you think removing women from sight is going to change that attitude? You're focusing on a symptom, not the disease."

"And we're talking about protection here, not an anti-libido vaccine."

"Oh yeah?" My trump cards are running low. "Well, protection is not the only 'P' word, and men aren't the only ones at fault. How about the scanty way some Japanese girls dress? How about the word, 'provocative?' "

She frowns. "You're married. You're not supposed to notice such things."

"But who cannot notice! Take the exact same girls wearing the exact same clothes and stick them under a streetlamp, and no one would doubt what they were after. Now, maybe some girls want that effect and maybe others don't, but they all have to realize it's not something they can turn off just because they're on a train. Clothing -- or the lack of it -- sends some men a message."

And now she smiles. "Thank you . . . for making my point. For in an all-girls train car, sexual messages can be neither sent nor received."

There is not much more to say, other than that in the long history of rhetoric very few debates have been won by pigs.

Besides, this could be the start of something creative. For why stop with cars for only women?

We could have cars just for men who want to fight, for example. Or cars for people who are obsessed with talking on their cellphones. Or cars for those who have to smack chewing gum or sniffle.

Or cars restricted to men who want simply to flop on the seat and snore. With no women around, there would be little reason to make any attempt at refinement. Why not let out the slob within?

After all, we're pigs. Right?

"That's overdoing it," my wife says.

"Keep your opinions to your own car."

Silence . . . and then a begrudging sigh.

"Oh, all right. In the end I suppose it's fate. Men and women have to live together somehow."

A concession I meet with a hearty "Oink."

Pig-talk for: "All aboard."



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