For the most part, I like to consider myself a polite person. I believe that kindness is contagious and a simple act such as holding a door open for someone or giving up your seat to an elderly person on the bus is just the right thing to do. Random acts of kindness breed good will among people. When someone has done something nice for them first, folks are more likely to “pay it forward” (Which, while a nice concept, is, incidentally one hell of a downer of a movie starring Haley Joel Osment. On a similarly incidental note, what the hell ever happened to that kid?!). One small, nice gesture can kick off a chain reaction of niceties all over the place.
I like observing people. As I was hustling to catch the El on my commute home, I walked past this old dude clutching a small bouquet of flowers that looked as if they had just been picked out of someone’s garden. He looked kind of scruffy but he had the happiest, most peaceful smile beaming from his toothless mouth. The man could have been a serial killer for all I know, but I really think that this dude was appreciating the simple pleasure of a fistful of flowers and smiling in anticipation of the reaction that their intended recipient would yield when presented with those blooms.
That brief mental image put a smile on my face as I ran down the steps to catch the El. (While most elevated trains run above ground, a good chunk of Philadelphia El trains run underground. Go figure.)
When the train finally arrived, it was packed. No seats were available, so I and the gaggle of other patrons who got on at 13th Street Station found ourselves standing and trying to find a rail, pole, or handle to grab onto to stay stationary.
This one bitch decided to park herself in the middle of the few remaining fixtures, blocking me and at least two other riders. All of us could have easily been able to squeeze into and share the spot, steadying ourselves with a single hand. This Bitch, however, spread herself out and planted two hands firmly on the rail. The other two riders and I looked at one another and rolled our eyes as we tried to avoid falling over onto other seated or standing passengers.
“Watch your bag,” she sniped at one of my fellow patrons as he skidded around, his backpack knocking into the old biddy as he nearly did a half-gainer over a seated patron. The skid-ee apologized profusely for bumping into the man’s knee. The man brushed it off with an amiable “No worries!” as the crotchety crone hawkishly scanned the sleeve of her fleece pullover for a wrinkle from the 30-something redhead’s backpack. (If she looked down at her long-since resealed vagina, I’m sure she’d have found a lot more wrinkles than any sustained to her jacket during the bus ride.)
A few stops down the line, more people got off the train (including one of my fellow eye-rollers) and This Bitch sat down, taking an outside seat next to another patron.
This Bitch in question was in her mid-50s. Her short, salt-and-pepper hair was coiled into a tight perm. Her mouth was coiled even tighter and spoke volumes about her shitty demeanor.
It just got even better when she whipped out a historical fiction romance novel and began reading. How did I know she was reading a genre-specific book? Because I started scanning the contents of said bodice ripper over her shoulder.
While kindness is contagious, so is being rude.
I decided that I would make this rude woman extremely uncomfortable by hovering over her in her seat, inching myself, my large purse and my wet folded umbrella as close as possible without actually touching her. Basically, an adult version of that old children’s game “I’m Not Touching You!”.
A few stops later, the passenger seated next to her exited the train, leaving an empty window seat next to This Bitch. Instead of scooting over to the window seat and allowing someone to sit next to her, This Bitch pulled out one of my pet public transportation peeves: She put her tote bag on the newly-vacated seat.
Putting your belongings on the empty seat next to you may be passable when the bus isn’t crowded, but when it’s packed to the gills and looks like a lost Bob Hope/Bing Crosby movie, On the Road to Dachau (Now in Technicolor!), that shit doesn’t fly.
“Oh, hell no, bitch!” I said to myself. There was no way I was letting This Bitch spread out and suck up an extra seat.
At first, I said, “excuse me” as I jostled my way into position by the window seat, prompting her to scoot over or move her tote bag. I said “excuse me” a second time, quite a bit more forcefully. She continued reading, not removing her eyes from her paperback, but registering a bit of annoyance as she moved her Bitch Bag to the floor, conceding the seat to me. She glared over her wire-framed glasses, pinching her mouth even tighter before spewing out a pissy, “Just sit down.”
You try “just sitting down” when some old, crusty bitch on the outside seat doesn’t move her legs and you have to practically hurdle over her to sit down.
I decided it was time to up the ante and spread myself out in the window seat. I plopped my purse on my lap, nearly encroaching on her territory — just enough to make her feel uncomfortable. I took a book from my purse and started reading, spreading my elbows out nice and wide as I flipped through its pages with great gusto. I squirmed in my seat in an exaggeratedly cartoonish way indicating I was getting good n’ comfy. I felt like John Candy in Planes, Trains and Automobiles, doing everything short of removing my socks and shoes or telling her that “six bucks and my left nut says this bus don’t stop at York and Dauphin”.
Just then, I felt a fart coming on. For a moment, I thought business was about to pick up. My farts have been known to strip the paint off of a wall. I hoped that this one I just let rip would be one of those paint peelers. No such luck. (Of all the days I didn’t eat eggs or something shrimp-based, this had to be it. Damn you, whole wheat bagel and fruit!)
While I was bummed by the lack of pungent punctuation on that one-gun salute, I was pleased to see that a few other folks had picked up on the vibe this crotchety old bag had been giving off.
A young, pleasant-looking blonde in her early 20s cranked up her previously low headphones, allowing sound to seep out. She stood perilously close to This Bitch — much in the same way I had been standing prior to taking the seat next to her. Then, the girl took a book out of her backpack and opened it up while standing, her book about an inch from This Bitch’s face.
It was brilliant. She wasn’t touching This Bitch at all, but was just close enough to invade that courtesy cushion of space most people like to have around them at all times. She was close enough to make This Bitch think, “Will she bump into me or won’t she bump into me if the train comes to a sudden stop?”
I liked this youngster’s style!
Another younger patron got in on the act, pulling into a standing position just diagonally to the rear of This Bitch, enclosing her even further with people who had caught onto her game and her negative vibe.
This Bitch put her book away several stations before the final stop on the El, beating a hasty retreat as soon as the doors opened. My fellow passengers and I exchanged knowing smirks before exiting the train, each headed our separate ways to catch connecting buses home.
Like I said before: Kindness is contagious… But so is being rude.
Now think of the happy old dude carrying flowers and you’ll find just a small bit of faith in humanity restored.