Some years ago while out with the woman ill-fated to be my wife, I decided to make use of a men's room located off the Robinson's wing of the Puente Hills Mall located on the east end of Los Angeles County.
Making my way to the urinal, I was passed by a man who'd stepped out the adjacent stall in a hurry. As he did, I noted the presence of crumpled tissue paper on the floor about the toilet. The man's presence therein had not been diet-related—he'd felt no need to flush the toilet, nor did there appear to be a need for it—and I surmised that he'd been attending to some personal matter. Normally, this would not have been something I'd have felt compelled to concern myself with. Different strokes for different folks.
But after finishing my own business and rejoining the missus-to-be—hereafter referred to as the wife for streamlining purposes—I noticed that the man was following us. Emerging from Robinson's and into one of the mall's upper wings, the wife and I meandered as the man conducted himself in similar fashion, his peregrination mirroring ours and keeping him within 40 feet of us. I became aware of a low surge of adrenaline coursing through my system but refrained from saying anything about the man lest I appear even more paranoid than usual.
Veering into a bookstore, I led my wife toward the back.
The man followed.
We found ourselves situated between a couple of bookshelves where I feigned interest in a copy of "Real men Don't Eat Quiche." That was when the man rounded the opposite end of the aisle so that my wife was now between us. My head remained canted toward the books even as my eyes were fixated on the man whose own head was canted toward the opposing set of books across the narrow aisle. Nonetheless, I could see that his eyes were occupied elsewhere, as well—namely on the wife's legs. Suddenly his hand shot down toward the floor and between her ankles so that it brushed against one, startling her. As it did, I saw an object in its upturned palm which his fingers seemed to compress upon.
"Excuse me," the man said in a half-assed attempt to extricate himself from the aisle. But it was too late. I grabbed him and asked him what he had in his hand. He stammered and attempted to pull away.
"Nothing!" the man protested. "Let me go!"
No dice. Reasserting my grip on his lower arm I pried open his fingers to find a then state-of-the-art micro-camera clutched therein.
It turned out that the man was at the forefront of what has since been come to be known as "up skirt" photography—and he was using our military's tools to conduct it. I guess being a commander in the U.S. Navy has its perks. The Industry Station deputy who showed up and took him into custody recovered an additional three rolls of undeveloped film from the man's pockets. Charged with the only statutory relief available at the time—"lewd behavior"—the man pleaded nolo contendre and paid a hefty fine.
This trip down memory lane was prompted by a recent case decision out of Massachusetts' highest court. The case involved a desperate bottom-feeder who in the absence of charm, manners, or anything resembling a life had been taking cellphone photos up the skirts of female commuters on the Boston subway. The court ruled in his favor. Its rationale: The women were not nude or partially nude.
Now, anyone who knows me knows that I am no prude. I actually appreciate those salacious e-mails forwarded from friends marked "CAUTION," still look at Playboy for the pictures (despite the pernicious accusations of those who contend I read the articles), and haven't blinked at seeing a nude woman since Kathy Bates dropped her towel in "About Schmidt" (an image nonetheless seared in memory).
But there is a considerable distance between women who of some mercenary motive choose to display their wares before the camera lens and those who don't. To my mind, this legal decision is one step removed from "she asked for it" rape defenses of old. No woman should have to purge her wardrobe for fear that some weirdo is going to be at liberty to take opportune snapshots of her diaphanous undies. Or, if her sartorial tastes run along celebrity lines, the lack of any (Which begs the question: What if the victims in the case weren't wearing any? How would that have affected the judge's verdict?).
State legislators are supposedly at work crafting a bill that'll address the deficiencies of current state law. In the interim, I wonder: Well, what the hell has the state been relying on for the past 25 years? Are there not other applicable statutes for which such lowlifes can be taken off the streets?
I hope so. Because if there wasn't, I might well have had to beat the shit out of the son-of-a-bitch who photographed my wife in this day and age.
(By the way, that title is not just my latest desperate attempt at a salacious one. It's a homage to Dickens. That I feel obliged to explain this is testimonial to something. I think.)