Monday, September 14, 2009

Meant something to somebody

It was not, as far as I could figure, about me. I’m 40. There’s grey in my beard and what’s affectionately referred to as ‘dignified grey’ around my temples. The salt and pepper look is still dominated by pepper but appears to be heading in salt’s favour.

I’m standing on a crowded subway train at 7:45am. I'm wearing the low-impact business-casual chinos and golf shirt most often worn by men who didn’t get any ironing done because they’ve spent the previous evening with a three year old who didn’t want to go to bed. I’m reading a PDF of the screenplay of ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ and listening to an mp3 of ‘Peter Cook: In his own words’ on a smartphone.

In short, I am not the portrait of malice, toughness, danger, intimidation or chip-on-my-shoulder-what-are-you-looking-at thuggery. I’m a guy propped up against the back of the subway car in pre-rush hour traffic trying not to be bored. When the train stops at Chester station, a few seats become free. I head towards an open seat just as an older guy (I’d put him at 60 or so, balding, tall, white-haired here and there) has the same idea.

We both stop. I look at him, look at the seat, decide that he probably saw the seat a microsecond before I did. I back up one half-step and offer the universally accepted ‘It’s all yours’ nod in his direction. With that, as far as I'm concerned, the transaction (which takes approximately 4 seconds) is over.

I lean back against the wall and continue reading Fear and Loathing and listen to Peter Cook answer questions about how he spent his school days (“avoiding buggery” got a big laugh from the studio audience) when the older guy says “No. This is your seat,” in my direction, far too loudly for such a simple statement. Not quite a scream but incredibly close to it.

I look at him. Everyone looks at him. Let’s just say it’s very clear that he’s perturbed, like somebody who feels deeply intimidated and is offering a little pushback. As previously mentioned, I’m the last person to intimidate anyone on the train. But it’s apparently willed where what was willed must be that I’m going to take that seat, damnit. He looks impossibly upset that I’m not sitting down and seems quite sure that the situation has to be resolved as soon as possible.

You could look at it as an almost-interesting study of group dynamics: a bunch of people in a relatively tight space, somebody raises their voice an octave too high for normal chit-chat and the whole of the situation is no longer normal. Tired and cranky people in enclosed spaces like normality. The car abruptly became a balance between people eagerly thinking ‘Is there going to be a scene?’ and those trying to disappear into their Metro newspapers and pretend nothing was happening. For a second, I wonder exactly what will happen if I don’t take the seat.

Sanity prevails: this isn’t worth any further effort. It isn’t Pelham 1-2-3 or The Incident or even a screaming match in embryo. I sit down, continue reading Thompson, return to listening to the droll Mr. Cook. The 60-year-old calms down a bit and looks around at everyone looking at him. Another division; people thinking What the hell? or All he had to do was take the seat, is that so much to ask?

45 seconds later, everyone is bored by the non-incident. He stares out the window; the locals go back to staring at their shoes. The crowds thin out at Bloor station without incident. And somewhere, some sixty-year-old gentleman is secure in the knowledge that the right seat went to the right person. Damned if I know why it was important to him. I wasn't privy to the conversation that he believed we were having.

You’re taking the seat because I’m not that old and I don’t need it. You’re taking it because I don’t take charity. You don’t have the common courtesy to look me in the eye when I’m speaking to you, take the seat. Take those godamned earphones out of your ears and take the seat. You’ll take it because I told you to. Ad nauseum.


STAG said...

I suppose you could have got out at the Museum stop and looked at the statue-pillars.

Let the guy move down will never see him again.

Lysander Jefferson said...

Where did you find this phrase: "willed where what was willed must be"


Mike D. said...

It's paraphrased from an English translation of the Inferno, I don't know the translator offhand:

"Watch where you go, once you have entered there, and to whom you turn!
Do not be misled by that wide and easy passage!"
And my Guide said to him 'That is not your concern;
it is his fate to enter every door.
This has been willed where what is willed must be,
and is not yours to question. Say no more.'"

— Canto 5

Blogger Templates by 2008