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Someone Flipped Me The Bird!

Chicago El

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

Comments 20

  1. katjaneway

    You… are amazing. I wish I could laugh. I get so flustered that it doesn’t even cross my mind. You have a gift, my friend! But with great laughter comes great responsibility. Use it wisely!
    katjaneway recently posted…The Search is On

  2. Kate Hall

    This made me laugh out loud. How did the people around you react? What you said about laughing at someone when they’re angry is interesting. I never thought about it that way. I’ve done that to my son a few times. I never thought how invalidating it is. I guess I’ll stop. It’s hard though because sometimes his anger comes out of nowhere and seems so far fetched that I can’t help but laugh.
    Kate Hall recently posted…Don’t Give Your Kid a Whoopee Cushion…or Any Other Fart Noise-Making Device for That Matter

  3. MIck

    What a great story …… and a simple yet effective way to diffuse the situation. I occasionally find myself in similar scenarios …. however I find the best way to remedy those instances is a 9MM Glock and a carry permit. It’s a dangerous world out there .. and as you are in the Chi-town area, this isn’t news to you.

    Either way … kudos for channeling both Gandhi and Nietzsche in one fell swoop and putting that ruffian in his place.

  4. Kat

    That guy sounds pretty unstable! I probably wouldn’t have had the guts to laugh in his face like you did but, then again, I’m not a six-foot-plus man either….. You definitely have that on your side!
    Kat recently posted…Wordless Wednesday

  5. Peggy Bonk

    Loved this..and what you did , well that is so me! I would definitely have done the same thing and laughed my ass off. There is no better button to push then the laughter button! Thanks for sharing this story it made my day

  6. Linda Roy

    You gotta laugh at the crazies, because they’re everywhere. I’ve noticed that flipping the bird has become more passé now that more and more people have started flipping the firearms.
    Linda Roy recently posted…18 Years a Slave

  7. Lex

    So glad you invited me to read your work!!
    This was the laugh I needed to get my Saturday started
    There is always someone in Philly on the EL flipping someone the bird. I have yet
    to be the recipient however I always laugh when I watch people become so angry over something so trivial. I’ll be reading more!! I appreciate your artistry…
    Bellybabybalance.blogspot.com

  8. Mary

    LOVE! I love this posting and your blog. Found out about you on Twitter. I do this same thing but I usually have to tell myself to start laughing or making a “joyful” comment because I tend to be a deer in headlights until I pull myself out of it. Yes, don’t ever give up your power to someone who is insecure and self loathing enough to try to break others down.

    Consider me a new fan.

  9. Samantha

    Huh. That’s comedy, I don’t care who ya are. My girlfriend loves it when I laugh at her during a ridiculous spell, I mean, a fight. I could probably stop. In my family, we laugh at newborns when they cry. I don’t know why we think it is so funny. It stops being funny at 2 am, but I digress. I don’t want to invalidate someone, but cutting a bully to the core? I may fall prone to that.
    Samantha recently posted…Mediterranean Venison with Spaghetti Squash

  10. Jacquelyn

    Reading this…I have been there and most times it seems the “el” is more a place to exercise anger on people that are completely unrelated to why you are angry….that or they are drunk. Either way, I am glad he didn’t try to escalate the situation and I can imagine the joy you experienced by being able to laugh at his unwarranted and special behavior. Just another day in the life of public transportation.

  11. Heather

    Priceless. As I always say…we have two choices in life; laugh or cry…I choose to laugh! Sometimes it gets me in to trouble, like when I laugh at my husband when he is in negative mode and complaining about what a victim he is. His worst swear word is using his father’s last name (ie. his own last name) instead of f**k. It’s just ridiculous sometimes! Thanks for the great post and thanks to JC Little for connecting us!
    Heather recently posted…More GRATITUDE

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