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.