I did a podcast a while ago talking about an experience I had with someone while waiting for the train. I talked about how when I asked this person if they wanted to keep in touch, they said no because they were supposedly in a “weird place.” I failed to mention that the individual said that we could just talk on the bus and keep it that way for the moment. I figured it was better than nothing so I took him for his word and the rest of the day went. Well, it has been a while and I ran into him on the bus again and the encounter went like this:
I got on the bus unsuspecting when I see this guy (his name is Michael). I sat in a seat a few chairs away from him because despite our last meeting I did feel a bit put off. He didn’t notice me coming on the bus anyway because he was engrossed in whatever was happening on his cell phone. After sitting there for a while, I thought I would take a risk and say hello. It’s a sad time when saying hello to someone is something that requires risk. However, I didn’t want to be rude by ignoring him. So I got up from my seat, got his attention to say hello and smiled politely. He looks at me for split second, forces a smile and quickly shoves his face right back into his phone. I stood there waiting to see if he would turn his head back up to say hello or something but he did not. He sat there transfixed on his cellphone without so much as a glance at my direction. I went back to my seat stunned at how quickly my graces were dismissed.
I thought I would play it cool and not let it bother me. That’s how they play it on TV and in the movies: cool and collected like nothing bothers you. Well, it did bother me. It bothered me greatly. I kept rationalizing in my head how people think about their privacy and “personal space” (whoever came up with that idea should be strapped to a chair in their own “personal space”) and how aloof many people in today’s industrialized society are. I kept thinking about how self-absorption is justified and rationalized in today’s mindset that a person cannot be friendly and say hello to someone. It kept running in my head but I decided to do nothing about it at the time.
The bus came to the last stop on the route. I was going to stay on it because the bus was continuing as another route which passes near where I live. I thought that Michael was going to get off the bus and I could just watch him pass by but he didn’t. He stayed sitting in his seat. I thought that if I were to say something, I would have to say it right there and then. I quickly but efficiently thought of something and took the next greatest risk I could take: I got up from my seat, got his attention, and nervously but sternly I said:
“THE NEXT TIME SOMEONE IS TRYING TO BE A FRIEND TO YOU, YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE SUCH A FUCKING PRICK!!!”
Michael looked at me with the gaze of the proverbial deer caught in the headlights as I was yelling at him in front of other people. I didn’t raise my voice too loudly because it wasn’t anyone’s business and because the message was meant for him only. However, I did make it known that I was angry with his treatment of not just my grace but of my person. I know in life I have allowed myself to be marginalized and discounted from the presence of others. I know of many lessons that teach people to “turn the other cheek” and that one should always find solutions peacefully whilst letting go of the situation. However, I was not going to allow some self-absorbed, stuck-up nurse’s aide disregard me in any way. I could’ve easily thought to myself, “Well, forget him.” In fact after he dismissed me, I sat in my seat and said “Well, that tells me a lot” because I felt like I had to cede my ground to him in the interest of maintaining peace… but I didn’t. I went right up to him, told him my piece, and called him a fucking prick right there on the bus with the fury of God’s anger washing over me.
After I said what I said, I walked away immediately and stormed out of the bus. I did not have time to gauge his reaction nor was I eager to wait and find out. I did not have time to see if he casually went back to watching whatever it was that he was watching on his phone or if he sat there stunned. I just walked off the bus and onto the platform to catch the train to the next station. As I walked, I fumed and thought of nothing but how pissed off I was. I thought about Michael coming after me but he didn’t. I didn’t know if I should feel proud or ashamed of what I did. I have never done that to anyone in my life that I can recall. I do not recall being so publicly angry with anyone or at all in any case. The way I responded was not a reflex of any kind. It was a planned response to a situation I felt was unjust because, again, I had allowed myself to cede my ground to others in the past.
I kept fuming until I got to my stop along the way and boarded the next bus going towards where I needed to go. I kept playing the situation over in my head wondering how Michael was and what would happen if he saw me again. I’m guessing that he probably didn’t care one way or another that I had said anything being that he didn’t care that I bothered to acknowledge him to say hello in the first place. He might have also thought that I was a crazy person for letting him have it over something that he didn’t think meant anything in the long run. For all I know, he probably didn’t hear what I said at all because he was wearing headphones. Regardless, I couldn’t believe the situation. I kept pondering, “Did I do the right thing?” Was I justified in insulting someone for not acknowledging me? Here is what I came up with:
Some schools of thought say that when someone dismisses another, they should turn the other way and pay them no mind. It is believed that unrequited graces fall back on those who give them in the first place. Meanwhile, some schools of thought say “an eye for an eye:” if someone wronged you then you wrong them back. What is the moral ground in a situation like that? I was conflicted about what to do in this situation. Some people might have chosen the first scenario because there would’ve been no fault on their end if anything were to happen. I chose the latter. It was not a matter of being “right” or “wrong” in a situation. It was an issue of letting someone disregard my person and allowing a similar situation to take place in the future. I was angry for being disregarded and I wanted the person who disregarded me to know how I felt and what I thought of their actions. It was something I had wanted to do for a very long time and I finally did it. I am not happy or proud that I did it, at least not completely. I prefer not having such encounters with people and instead talking things out in a civilized manner. However, I figured in this case that diplomacy was going to keep me tossed to the side while I licked my wounds and I didn’t want to be in that situation so I chose to act defensively.
I thought further along the way home, what kind of experiences had Michael had in his life to act like such an asshole? It isn’t just him but a lot of people act in that self-absorbed and dismissive manner. What happened to the lessons of treating people as one would like to be treated? What of the lessons of friendship and understanding? I know that when Michael talked to me before (that is, before he decided that he was in a “weird place” to not accept keeping in touch regularly), he had mentioned to me about how people he came across always assumed one thing or another about him or that they were curious as to what his ethnicity was. I remember asking him about it and he gave me a smarmy “I knew you were going to ask that” response back. He was annoyed by it but perhaps that was the experience he was attracting to himself for not being plainspoken about it and just saying what his ethnicity was. He finally informed me that he was Mulatto. Many people assume I am white-American because of the way I look, speak, and carry myself when I am really born-and-bred Hispanic. Does it annoy me? No but I make it a point to explain to them my ethnicity and where I am from so people can understand me better.
When I approached Michael initially, I simply wanted to chat and make a new acquaintance at least. After talking to him a while, I wanted to understand him better so that he could have a more pleasant experience with someone and not go through what he had with other people. I wanted to be empathetic and in his corner, so to speak, as any act of empathy would suggest. Instead, he chose to disregard it and keep himself enclosed in his annoyance. It’s his choice, albeit an ignorant and destructive one.
He complained also that people thought he was gay. He said he wasn’t. Personally, I don’t care if he is or isn’t. Regardless of what has bothered or hurt him in his life, it is not an excuse to impose his annoyance upon anyone especially if they’re just trying to be friendly. That goes for anyone, not just Michael. If someone is distraught and hurt by something, deal with it: write about it, paint, sing a loud song, talk to someone and let that out but keep it out once it’s gone. I’m not going to psychoanalyze Michael but the effects of his experience on his life and his ability to deal with them show clearly in his actions.
While on the bus home after the incident, I reached for a book of poems by Langston Hughes that I had purchased earlier in the day. I wanted to see if I could turn to a page that would contain something appropriate for the situation. I came to a poem called “Graduation” and it goes:
Cinnamon and rayon,
Jet and coconut eyes,
Mary Lulu Jackson
Smooths the skirt
At her thighs.
Mama, portly oven,
Brings remainders horn the kitchen
Where the people all are icebergs
Wrapped in checks and wealthy.
DIPLOMA in its new frame:
Mary Lulu Jackson,
Tells her mama she’s a typist
And the clicking of the keys
Will spell the name
Of a job in a fine office
Far removed from basic oven,
And iceberg’s kitchen.
Mama says, Praise Jesus!
I’ll bring home chicken!
The DIPLOMA bursts its frame
To scatter star-dust in their eyes.
Mama says, Praise Jesus!
The colored race will rise!
Because she’s tired,
Perhaps the incident and the events that took place in it was a form of graduation- from being quiet and passive to being vocal and assertive. Just like the person in the poem graduates from working in the kitchen to a fancy office job, I graduated to another level of understanding and action. I’m not sure that every situation calls for being vocal and assertive but what happened between Michael and I had it warranted. It’s a realization to me that people can be unfriendly and cruel. Dismissing someone who is being nice to you just so that you can go back to whatever stupid entertainment you’re subjecting yourself to on your cell-phone is cruel. There is nothing honorable about that. Michael is not the only one who has done this to me and I’ve let it slide in the past.
This experience teaches me that being kind for the sake of kindness in a cruel world is not wise or honorable to oneself. This teaches me to keep kindness to myself until someone is ready to respect it. Being cruel for cruelty’s sake is not the answer either. Instead, I learned to release kindness with extreme tact or someone will destroy it. Looks are deceiving. I thought Michael would be a receptive individual and I burned my hand learning the hard way. Just because they are a human being does not endow them with the milk of kindness and humanity. Some people are highly materialistic and their humanity is crumpled underneath years of emotional stagnation and stupidity. If you want to keep your sanity, stay away from those people or you will become them.
In my book, I talk about how loving oneself is an act that does not invade another person. Specifically, I write:
“Respecting oneself means not to impose upon oneself or others any sense of superiority or territoriality but to care for oneself enough to help themselves and others along the way.”
– “Understanding Methods of Solving Destitution in Low-Income Areas”, page 50
“A mentality that is receptive to being helped or at least learn from the experience of others in a life-affirming way will adopt their struggles as a way to evolve and improve the situation in various ways.”
– “Personal Experience,” page 97
This comes to me after years of learning things the difficult way and not seeing that things can be different in a life-affirming way. What I did to Michael was affirm myself, my presence, and my humanity in being nice to him the first time and that I wasn’t going to accept being marginalized by his self-absorption. I didn’t know how to do that at first but this experience was a sink-or-swim fast track in learning. I didn’t need to call him a fucking prick but some people won’t pay any attention to you unless you put them down. Again, I’m not proud of it but he wouldn’t have heeded the message any other way.
The whole thing is a shame because all of this could’ve been avoided if Michael had accessed his humanity first instead of his cellphone-obsessed bullshit reasoning. I’m not sure that I want to be his friend after all this and I know that I will be running into him again. Would I do again what I did today? In thinking about it, I would say yes. Am I ashamed of what I did? No. I will not purposely look for a fight but I will stand my ground against him or anyone else that sees fit to disparage my presence. There is a lot to be said for respecting oneself and others. If people want respect for themselves, then be respectful of others first. Don’t drag others down or disparage them with your hang ups. Live for the joy of connection with those who care and learn to overcome the trials of the past. Life is better when one accepts the help to be lifted out of the darkness and into the light. Well, in my opinion anyway.