Actively Belligerent, Cruel Lady in the Subway

I saw quite a gross thing yesterday and can’t stop thinking about it. It’s really not a big deal if you live in a large city where people are terrible, or if you’ve seen those viral videos where crazy people launch racist or otherwise nasty attacks on unsuspecting people. Before I get going I’ll make an admission:

I get angry. I used to be angry all the damn time. However, I am essentially soft-hearted and idealistic about people, no matter how frustrated and hopeless I can feel. And I don’t confront and attack people.

Yesterday I had to go into the real city, next to the crappy, overpopulated suburban “city” I live in. I was heading to the subway and waiting in line to pay the cash fare. On my left, people were rushing through the turnstyles to get on their train. It was rush hour and people were moving much faster than I imagine they would move to help a homeless man having a seizure. A short-ish, vaguely ethnic looking man (not being racist) bumped into the turnstyle. Perhaps he moved too quickly, or didn’t get his token into the slot. This is a mistake people make all the time. The lady behind him must not know that. The tall-ish white brunette (not being racist) said loudly “You’re a real asshole!” Both the small ethnic man and myself, a small ethnic lady, were stunned. As he got through, he asked “Are you talking to me?” “Yeah!” she said in the most annoying tone of voice, sounding like a cheap stereotype of a sassy woman in the Bronx circa 1974. She walked away, not all that quickly, so I don’t know how much of a rush she could have been in. I didn’t get to see her face because it happened over like 5 seconds. Whether she was “ugly” or unfortunate looking, or had the face of a movie star, she had an incredibly ugly attitude.

If you’ve ever reacted that way in a similar situation, what the fuck is wrong with you? Someone who’s had a bad day could be mildly annoyed. They might even be screaming inside. But why be so actively vitriolic and confrontational to someone who slowed down your commute by 1.5 seconds? I’ve waited 30 minutes for a late bus, outside in winter, when it was windy and icy and I needed to get to class. I was fucking pissed, but I didn’t scream at the driver. This lady is probably the kind of jerk who yells at the cashier when her discount for Monistat gel doesn’t go through at the register. Such a mild annoyance should not be enough to trigger an actual outburst like that. Here’s another example of totally unwarranted public asshattery:

My mother was on the subway, again during rush hour. That circumstance seems to be a hotbed of awful behaviour. My mum is generally not the cuddliest of people (some would call her gruff), but she’s respectful and intelligent. The train was not too crowded, and my plump, middle-aged mother was carrying her usual heavy load of office work she has to take home with her. Mum leaned against a pole, rather than finding a hand with which she could hold it. Admittedly, this is annoying. A taller, young white girl (not being racist), started huffing and puffing and said out loud “Some people don’t know that the poles are for holding and not leaning on. Some people don’t know the rules in this country.” That one was possibly kinda racist. Mum is like a bear in the sense that she’s protective and there’s a softness about her, and if you poke her enough she’ll rip your face right off. Mum looked up at the girl and said in her powerful and foreign accented voice “If you’re talking about me, then come stand right here and say that to my face. They may be the last words you speak.” The girl, intimidated, walked way over to the other side of the car without submitting a rebuttal. The girl was a bitch, but an older, more experienced bitch will always make you eat shit when you challenge her. Some dudes nearby gave Mum a thumbs up, while a young guy whispered to his friend “Girl fight!”

There’s a link between those two stories, and many other scenes of surly losers lashing out at strangers; they pick people who look like easy targets. A tiny racially ambiguous man, a heavy older black lady, a guy whose jeans and t-shirt can’t compare to your ill-fitting Brooks Brothers suit, or a kid with a backpack taking up the space that your old man ego should be filling. Such people are like fish in a barrel, and those surly losers are like the grown up version of schoolyard bullies. Those surly losers might have kids who are taking notes on how to act like their parent in the future.

Maybe those people are suffering from actual mental illnesses or emotional problems that they’ve never tried to deal with. Some are probably just jerks. All I can do about it is carry myself with the dignity and class that they lack, and not perpetuate the cycle of dick behaviour. Another weapon in the war against douchebags is to teach our kids that if you react that way to a small inconvenience, there’s something wrong with you and not the other person, and there are ways to stop yourself from acting that way. I have a niece who is naturally able to control her temper (at age 2), and if she loses her temper she is always corrected. Still you never know what a child will grow into. That’s where my lack of faith in people comes in.

Oh well. Sometimes people like that have to suffer the most. They may run into someone who wants to have a physical fight, or a nutjob who will push them in front of a car, or stab them. In those cases, it’s always the crazy person who gets the blame while the bully feels vindicated, assuming they survive.

The end of this entry is a simple reminder to myself and anyone who may read this. Pick your battles and if necessary, resort to passive agression. It’s better to be the “asshole” who makes a little mistake, than the awful gaping asshole who makes a public scene and only proves himself to be a cruel and miserable person.

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