Monday, April 16, 2007

Monday morning provocation

Boy, do I have a funny story to tell. It probably isn't really that funny - or it shouldn't be anyway - but I'm sure I will tell it in a funny way. I always do.

So, the day started out on a not very good foot. The scale was not kind to me in a "But-I'm-Following-The-Plan!" kind of way. I know there are several likely factors that converged to bring me this result, and I know - rationally, at least - that it will all even out. But that didn't stop me from being grouchy in spite of myself. I wouldn't say that I was necessarily looking for a fight, but a fight is what I found. People should know better than to fuck with me when I'm grouchy about my weight.

Anyway, a friggin' Nor'easter is upon us here in New Hampshire right now, but instead of blizzarding us into staying home from work (also a contributer to the grouch factor), we're getting rained on from several directions. It's the type of storm that sucks umbrellas inside out and goes to great lengths to figure out how to spit in your face, umbrella or no. Yes, the weather is the fifth character in this drama - the one without which the whole show would have collapsed.

Here's the story.

The bus usually stops at my bus hut fifteen minutes before and after the hour. So at 8:43 this morning, I got out of the car and made my way through puddles to take shelter with three other people in the bus hut. One of these people I call Bible Man because he often reads the Bible on the bus. It's not a clever nickname, but it's fitting. Another guy I call Scientologist Guy, as he is often reading and/or discussing Scientology on the bus. The other guy is a quiet Asian man who I have yet to nickname, and because I don't want to give him a stereotypical moniker, I will call him Paul. No, Stephen with a 'ph'.

Anyway, the bus was late this morning. And the bus hut was providing only slightly more shelter than nothing at all on accounta the storm's determination to spit in our faces. Scientology Guy said he'd seen "this type of thing happen before" with the late bus and predicted that we'd have to wait for the 9:15 bus. Bible Guy finally got so fed up when the bus was ten minutes late that he said, "Time to drive. I have room for one to Hanover. Anyone going to Hanover?" As it turns out, all three of us were going to Hanover, but he looked right at me and said, "If you're still here when I drive by, I'll give you a ride." I gave him an uneasy "thank you," as I would have preferred to wait in the rain than take a ride from Bible Man. Which is saying something, since I accepted a ride to work from a strange man not more than two weeks ago (Mom, I hope you're not reading this, and if you are, I've already promised Chris I would never do it again).

So, Bible Man pulled up, and I walked toward the car, feeling bad that I was about to get a ride while SG and Stephen would be left in the rain. I opened the door and was about to get in when I noticed that Stephen was approaching the car, too. I asked Bible Man if there was room for anyone else (which, honestly, would have taken about ten seconds' worth of rearranging stuff in the back seat), but he said, "Nope. Only one." So I, being a polite, Midwestern female who doesn't like to have people entertaining even slightly negative thoughts about her, said to Stephen, "You go. You've been here longer." But Stephen was trying to be polite, too, and was trying to negotiate a ride for all of us. In his attempt to do so, and probably because his English isn't perfect, he kind of stood in the open door of the car frozen for a few seconds. SG told him to get in the car, but he clearly felt conflicted about taking the only seat. Bible Man said, "Hurry up!" But Stephen turned away from the car, perhaps to get his bag from the bench in the bus hut, and in that second, Bible Man said, "Bye!" and pulled away with the door still open. I thought he would stop, but the door closed, and he drove away. I was thinking, "What just happened? That's not what Jesus would do!" (hat tip to Chris for adding that embellishment)

But then the story gets even more bizarre. Stephen returned to the bus hut, and SG said, "That was fucking stupid. Why didn't you get in the damned car?" Stephen clearly didn't know what to think of this comment, as he smiled uneasily and didn't say anything. Then SG said, "I know you speak English. Why didn't you get in? Now nobody gets a ride!" I was very uncomfortable by this point. I was pissed at SG for being a jerk, and I was trying to figure out if I should say something or if I should do what I normally do in these situations, which is duck for cover. I was hoping it would just fizzle out, but SG kept at it and made another reference to Stephen's stupidity and the fact that now no one would get a ride. I decided that I'd heard enough and said, "What do you care? You weren't going to take the ride, so what difference does it make to you?" And he replied, "I was trying to be polite!" Then he said to Stephen, "Were you just trying to be polite?" And when Stephen didn't answer, SG said, "I know you speak English. I've heard you! Were you just trying to be polite? Why won't you answer the question?"

At this point, I was beyond being polite. I looked at SG and said, "There's no reason to be an asshole. The bus is coming now, so it doesn't matter." To which he said, "But it was stupid!" He said some other stuff has he was climbing the stairs to the bus, so I said, "You don't need to be such a prick about it." We all got on the bus and sat down, and SG, either trying keep the fight going or to get in the last word said, "So now I'm the prick?" That was the last that was said, although I wanted to turn around and tell SG that I would be shocked if he'd never been called a prick before. But I didn't, because I'm a polite, Midwestern female who had already called a virtual stranger an asshole and a prick. To his face. That was enough for one bus ride.

Stephen and I both got off at the same stop, and SG was still on the bus. And the next thing that happened made me sad. Stephen apologized to me. For what, I'm not completely sure. He told me that he was trying to get Bible Man* to give us all a ride and that he thought there was room for us all. I told him I was surprised Bible Man was such a jerk about it and was shocked at what an asshole SG turned out to be. Then I told him that's why I don't talk to people at the bus hut - 'cause they're jerks! We laughed and wished each other a good day.

But now I have a couple of problems. First, I see these people at the bus hut often. Which means I have to now steel myself against possible verbal retribution or take a different bus. And that means either getting to work half an hour later or leaving my house half an hour earlier, neither of which seem like attractive options. Second, now that Stephen and I have shared a moment, I imagine we will share more of them. And I won't be able to call him anything other than Stephen. Maybe I will just tell him that I blogged about the altercation and that I needed a name for him. Probably, though, I will just not refer to him at all. Or I will take a different bus because I hate to be uncomfortable. Knowing me, that's the route I will take. Although before this morning I would have said it would be very unlikely for me to call a stranger an asshole or a prick, let alone both, to his face.

And yet I did just that, so anything is possible. Perhaps I uncovered a new facet of my personality when I turned 30. A facet that makes me stand up for myself and other people when jerks are picking on us for no good reason. A facet that encourages congruity between my rhetoric and my actions. A facet that allows me to give as much consideration to my own wants and needs as I give to the wants and needs of perfect strangers. That facet will come in handy for the next 60 years, I'm sure.

So, what's the moral of this story? I have no idea. It could be that you shouldn't be a prick to people you perceive as being weaker than you are, cause sometimes they will call you names, and your ego is too fragile to handle it. It could be that opportunities for growth can be found in strange places. It could be that people with short fuses ought to be avoided in extreme weather. What I will take away from this most, though, is that even when you think you have yourself all figured out, there's still room for surprises. That, and never trust the religious freaks on the bus.

*Stephen did not actually call him Bible Man.


jluw said...

Weight - it will come down again. Keep up the super work you are doing. While fast is gratifying, slow is good.

Bus incident - I think it is growth on your part that you spoke up. After age 30 we do see ourselves in another light (more adult, maybe) and seem to lose a lot (some) of our fear of confrontation in this sort of situation - or at least we can be pushed past the fear. You have been talking (and writing) for a long time about standing up for the underdog. It was only a matter of time before you did it in person. The Bible Guy was a jerk, and SG was a bully AND a jerk. You stood up to him. Keep riding the same bus. If you don't, your message is lost and he continues his mistreatment of those he sees as inferior for one reason or another - at least on the bus. From now on, just ignore him. Not granting him your attention says a lot. And really, once you have started down the path, what is a bit of discomfort in the underdog protection business??

Anonymous said...

One of the take away lessons is that astonishing sense of entitlement that men exhibit by demanding that a person answer them. It's not that he didn't know he was being ignored, it's that he didn't think Stephen was entitled to ignore him.
If you feel bad about calling him an asshole and a prick, it's easy enough to practice a few behavior descriptions that communicate the same message without the buzzwords.
I followed your link from Twisty's blog, and while I don't know you well enough to try to give you advice...
I will say that sometimes being uncomfortable is just part of the process of getting comfortable with new people and new situations. Other times feeling uncomfortable is your brain putting tiny bits of information together and trying to get you to pay attention.