Someone Flipped Me The Bird!

by D.J. Paris on March 4, 2014

Had an amazing experience on the subway yesterday.

Well, in Chicago we don’t call it the subway. It’s the “el” which is short for “elevated train” because it does, in fact, go above ground. The trains also go below ground, too. I’m sticking with “subway,” although this incident technically happened at an elevated structure.

It wasn’t supposed to be snowing or cold yesterday morning. 18° was projected but 3° with strong flurries was what happened. I prepared for the weather with a heavy jacket and gloves. Since I take the dog to work, I covered her in three layers of clothes and then stuffed her into a backpack. Out we went.

In single degree temperatures at 8am standing on the train platform I could sense an overall depression among the commuters. There’s no sun and the cold hurts your skin, eyes, and ears. I boarded the train after a few minutes of waiting.

Immediately after I enter a subway car I lean against the wall partition perpendicular to the door. I take off my backpack and carefully place it between my legs which are shoulder length apart. This protects the dog should anyone accidentally kick her while walking in or out.

I have a policy where I only stand while on the subway. This is for one reason – I don’t want to be the douche who sits when women, old people, and children are standing. Also, I’d have to put the backpack on my lap and that would draw more attention to the fact that I have a dog on a train that explicitly doesn’t allow dogs.

I make sure that because I stand by the door, if it’s crowded when people are getting off or on I exit momentarily to allow for more space. Usually I don’t have to as I’m not blocking the entryway. I make sure people don’t have to strain to get around me.

At the first stop I was in my usual spot and the train was empty. There were plenty of open seats and I was one of three people standing. The entryway was clear when the door opened. A few people lumbered on.

At the tail of the group was a tall man bundled up. Instead of entering the train he stopped short of the door. He looked me in the eye and started yelling. I had my headphones on so I didn’t catch his first few sentences. Not wanting to miss anything further I took off my headphones as fast as I could.

He was angry and shouting something about me blocking the door. I wasn’t blocking the door as evidenced by the group that just entered the train. His face was beet red. A huge laugh welled up in me and I exploded. I laughed right in his face. We were approximately three feet apart.

Stunned, his face went blank for a moment while he processed my reaction. I’m sure he was expecting me to move or get angry or stay silent while he unloaded on me. But I couldn’t take it seriously. While laughing I said to him, “Wow! You’re really fired up!” He kept yelling and was so into it that he let the door close without entering the train. I watched the door shut while he was still bellowing at me. He pounded on the window to keep my attention. Then he flipped me the middle finger.

There’s nothing funnier than receiving the middle finger. I can’t remember the last time it happened. Probably ten years.

I lost it at this point. I started laughing harder and pointed at his middle finger as if to say, “That was a great one! Good joke!” Plus, I knew that the more I laughed the more incensed he’d feel.

Laughing at someone when they’re angry is dehumanizing. You’re invalidating their existence and reducing their passion to novelty. It’s also the reaction least expected and cuts deep into one’s insecurity. I recommend it highly in situations like this.

As the train pulled away I realized that I had single-handedly ruined this person’s morning. My guess is that he’s a bully-type and it’s probably not the first time he mixed it up with someone on the train. I’m sure he goes around all the time yelling at people who stand near the entrance.

I’ve learned to not let crazy people bother me. They can’t help it. It’s just how they are.

But I refuse to give up my power to bullies. You shouldn’t either.

Laugh at them.

Chicago El

photo credit: smaedli via photopin cc


I Am Lucky and Ashamed

by D.J. Paris on January 23, 2014

When I left my home it was -1 degrees.

There’s nothing I own that is appropriate for negative temperatures. If I dug deep into my closet I could find a pair of long underwear. But then what? Put them on under my suit pants? I’d get to work where the temperature is a 72. Then I’d be hot for the day.

Plus, I’m only outside for between five and twenty minutes depending on how fast the train and bus arrive. Yes, I ride both the train and the bus. I own a car but I’m too cheap to put the miles on it. I live close to the train and my work is near the station.

When I climb the train platform I have to wait only three minutes before one arrives. The train is never full and I stand against an interior window. The backpack which houses my dog is removed and placed between my legs. I pull out my phone and start thinking of things to tweet.

Today the train took five minutes to appear. Then it zoomed past. This is bad for three reasons. One, the obvious temperature discomfort. I’m exposed outside on an elevated platform with no heater. Two, the train not stopping means that something is wrong. It’s skipping stops to fix whatever goof-up happened earlier. Third, when the next train does stop it’s going to be jam-packed.

While waiting for the train I stared directly into the sun to feel a bit of warmth on my face. I’m sure I looked like a weirdo. Next time you’re in that kind of weather, try it. It works.

The next train stopped. Jam-packed. Normally this doesn’t bother me. I can be squished and I don’t freak out. But I have a backpack with a dog inside. This means I have to hold the backpack down near my legs for about thirty minutes. I’m not exactly crushing the weights these days – this is no easy task. Also, I have to be constantly thinking of the dog’s safety to make sure some jerk doesn’t knee her in the skull.

The train ride was uncomfortable but without incident.

After emerging from the station I looked for a bus parked outside. Once in a blue moon there’s no bus and it might take five or ten minutes before one arrives. Today, blue moon. When I looked down the street there was no bus in sight. I’d have to walk.

Distance to work from bus stop – one mile.

The sidewalks were barely plowed and there was slush everywhere. I couldn’t move as fast as I wanted and kept slipping. Every time I passed another bus stop I looked back – no bus.

I was halfway to work and crossing a bridge when I remembered I was carrying a dog. Meepers never makes a sound and I had forgotten she was back there. I felt terror. The backpack has a mesh covering around most of it. This allows the dog to breath. Also, it allows cold air to come in. I had dressed her in three layers of clothes, but I was nervous. What if she had frozen to death? I was too afraid to take off the backpack and look so I tried to walk faster. I didn’t know how long a seven pound Chihuahua could survive in that weather. I whispered a foxhole prayer and started to cry.

A few minutes later I arrived at the office doorstep and turned the key. Stepping inside I felt heat. I ran to my office, tore off the backpack and opened the zipper. The dog jumped out as usual and went to her bed under my desk.

After the euphoria of her being alive wore down I was saddled with a tough reality. I had placed my dog in danger.

Guilt and shame flooded my core. I tried to start the morning but couldn’t shake the weight of those feelings. A coworker snapped me to reality with a meeting we had scheduled. I buried the feelings.

I’m not sure I’ve yet forgiven myself for this mistake. I will, but I need to sit with it a for a while longer.


photo credit: ChaoticMind75 via photopin cc


I’m not a gun person.

We didn’t grow up hunting and no-one in the family owns a firearm. I’ve shot a gun exactly once, and that was in the Scottsdale, Arizona desert. I hit 3/5 targets and the instructor said that I had a pretty good shot.

Guns have always scared me. I don’t feel the need to possess or carry one, and I don’t get off going to the range and firing at human-outlined paper targets. I’ve have no desire to hunt deer or rabbits or birds. I enjoy other stuff.

Like turkey sandwiches.

Back in 2007 I started bringing my lunch to work. I was more often than not heading to Subway. I bought the same sandwich every time – turkey on honey oat loaded up with the same toppings and a light vinegar splash.

After discovering that making a turkey sandwich was not beyond my capabilities I began to appropriate the ingredients on my own. Each morning I’d fashion two sandwiches and head to work.

What I learned quickly is that tomatoes don’t sit well on wheat bread over time. Their juice gets into the bread and it becomes soggy. You have to pack them separate. Also, I found that I didn’t like to eat sandwiches whole – it’s better tasting for some reason if I cut them in half. I know – I’m weird.

Problem – the tomato slices were bigger (I bought huge tomatoes) than the bread halves. I understand this is boring stuff here but I’m trying to set the context for why I brought a steak knife to work every day. First I’d unpack the sandwich, then put the tomato in, and then cut the whole thing in half.

I had a briefcase containing the sandwich items and knife. I had no other reason to bring in the case. We weren’t allowed to take client documents home and it wasn’t like I was transporting a filofax. I just dated myself with the filofax comment. No, the briefcase was used exclusively to move the sandwich from home to work.

Months later I boarded a plane to Washington D.C. for a wedding.

At my seat I reached for my briefcase to an open compartment along the back. I had thrown my wallet into that space earlier and wanted to move it. Something bit me. I recoiled my hand and found a few drops of blood on my index finger. Reaching carefully back into the pouch I discovered what had cut me.

A large, serrated steak-knife.

Yes, I had made it through the crack security team of O’Hare airport with the six-inch blade I used everyday at lunch. I felt proud like this was a huge accomplishment and that I had “stuck it” to the man (sorry for the pun – unintentional). I shook my head up and down smugly as I had just pulled off a theft of a Hope-diamond caliber.

When we arrived at the hotel the girlfriend suggested I leave the knife in the room and not to press my luck on the return trip. I agreed and took the knife out and set it atop the armoire.

Well, even though I have a clear memory of removing the knife, apparently I didn’t remove the knife. At the time I must have been sidetracked (probably by something shiny) and forgot to pull the blade out of the bag. Or maybe I did remove the knife and a maid found it, realized it wasn’t the property of the hotel, and put it back in my briefcase. My memory sucks, so this is unlikely.

You can see where this is headed. Yes, on the return trip I, once again, made it onto the airplane with a knife. It was discovered much the same way before – I reached my hand in and found the blade tip. This time I celebrated even more than before. I had twice outwitted security detail. In two consecutive airports, no less!

Had I been caught, I would have explained that I brought that steak knife to work every day to cut a sandwich and left it in there by mistake. It had dried crumbs stuck to the handle and was stained red from tomato juice. Well, maybe the stained-red thing would be an issue. A great moment, however, having the TSA pull out a knife out in front of the rest of the people waiting in line. Maybe an old lady would have fainted.

I don’t carry a knife anymore as I now pre-cut my lunch at home. Which makes more sense. Took me a few more years to figure that one out. Sadly.

steak knife serrated blade

It looks pretty ominous here, right? Kind of freaking me out.


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