I made my way through Grand Central Station, looking forward to meeting my daughter for the commute home. No longer a college student, she was now a full-fledged commuter. 7:18 in; 5:28 home. Like those old gray men in their gray flannel suits.
But I had made her wait for me today because I had a late meeting and so we were taking the 6:34 home. But I was excited at the thought of adult conversation with my now-adult daughter over the hour ride from metropolis to suburban sprawl.
“I got the track wrong. We are on 118, not 116. Train leaves four minutes later than I thought. Let’s go to the front car as my car is parked right across from where it stops at the station.”
My daughter nodded and made her way with me to the front car. She was a bit off kilter as I had taken her out of her daily rhythm of time and car. But she hustled along next to me, ear buds prepped and ready for the ride home.
We slid into the two-seater and began conversing. Well, me conversing and her ready to nod off or tune me out with some music. But I would have none of that. We are commuting buddies and she was going to get me for the whole hour.
With a minute left until the doors closed, a man entered the train and proceeded to the six-seater across from us. With his coat still half wrapped around his body, he spun in our direction.
“Shush! No talking. This is the quiet car. Shush!”
I looked at him in amazement. The train was still in the station. Polite conversation echoed throughout the car. But this middle management dictator would have none of it.
I glared at him, ready to turn the quiet car into the “go f*&% yourself car.” But my daughter tugged on my arm and so, I maintained my steely gaze as the doors closed, heading toward home.
Instead of philosophical banter and humorous quips with my ponytailed companion, I remained transfixed on my commuting combatant, ready to trash talk him all the way from NYC to Connecticut.
With furious fingers, I texted my wife with a full blow-by-blow account of the situation. I texted more in ten minutes than I had in the past year. My fingers flew over the keys. No mellow suburbanite for me… my non-gentrified Brooklyn roots had emerged and I was one step from keying this guy’s car at the commuter lot.
My silent fingers did the talking.
“Who the f%*& does he think he is? The doors hadn’t even closed. He had just walked on the train. I think he’s wearing a toup. Now’s he sitting in his tee shirt with his button-down fully open. What gives him the f*&ing right to undress in the quiet car? I am going to rip his f*&ing head off!”
My daughter rolled her eyes. My wife told me to calm down. I wrote notes to my daughter like we were in middle school.
It took all my sanity not to launch a spitball in his direction.
My daughter looked at me as if I were a man possessed. And I was. But why? WHY?
Maybe it was the excitement of my first commuter ride with my daughter. Of seeing her looking beautiful and professional striding through the throngs, wearing her red coat and big smile. The anticipation of equals having a conversation about equal rights and our mutual fear of the far right.
I had no problem with the quiet car… I had a problem with the loudmouth sitting across from me!
As I perused a work presentation, still shooting incendiary looks at the snoozing schmuck sitting across from me, I concocted ruses, plans and a possible uppercut to his weak chin. I counted the minutes to the next stop where I would break the silence with a stream of invective that would send him his shushing across the snow banks that lined the station.
What was I thinking? AND WHY?
Was it my utter distaste for undeserved rudeness? Of someone’s self-interest at the expense of civility and good humor? Of one’s need to police their fellow citizens not for public good, but for personal gratification? Of being incapable of seeing beyond the nose buried in your iPad by looking around at the individuals seated to the left, right, front, back?
And then I had to laugh… quietly to myself.
I had to laugh at my absurdity for letting this man-in-white-tee bring on a dark mood. I had to laugh for taking time out of my limited time on this planet for planned retribution. I had to laugh for focusing on what bothered me across the aisle instead of on the cherished person sitting next to me.
The shusher? He got off at Stamford, shirt still open. I stayed put, miles to home and light years ahead.