Monday, February 11, 2008

Attempt at Civility Foiled

Since the train was almost completely empty, I could sit guilt-free in the Handicapped area. As usual I wanted to stay as close as possible to my bike. I hadn’t gotten out my reading materials yet, which are my defense against socializing with people I’d rather not. Sometimes when I’m all bundled into my dripping raingear, it seems too much trouble to extract it from my backpack.

The train doors open at a stop and a tall man in a floppy-brim leather hat lopes on, points to my bike, and twists his body in an over-mimed expression of awe. “Waaaaaau! You riding thaaaaaat?”

“Yup.” I said, thinking, Here we go. Oh well. What’s the harm?
“How far you ride?”
“Oh just a few miles a day.”
“Well, good for YOU, Ma’m. That’s admirable!”

Oh stop, I answer mentally.
I dislike being called Ma’m, plus I find it annoying to be praised by strangers. It always sounds false and condescending, especially when the praise is for something I could do in my sleep. Not to mention that it implies a level of familiarity that is so not happening.

He hurls his worn and withered body into the seat across from me. Long wavy gray hair billows out from the hat. His cheeks are sunk in, partly because he’s gaunt all over and partly because he has no teeth, making him very hard to understand. I’m wondering if he’s a meth case. He starts rattling on about his diabetes and his ordeal of losing his leg. The doctors kept trying to save the leg, but he was in so much pain all the time that he urged them to take it off. He pulls up his pants leg and shows me his prosthetic leg.

“Looks like quite a piece of machinery,” I say.

“Oh, yeh, this thing can do anything. And I still got my knee. See? Lucky me. Because when they amputate above the knee, that’s a whole different ball game.”

“I bet it would be,” I say empathetically.

“You goin to work?”
“Where do you work?”
I could’ve said “Gresham,” but instead I actually named the place where I work, which is never a good idea. See? This is why I try to avoid these conversations. You have to be on your toes every minute about what you’re saying. It’s way too much work.

“Wow, really? That's fantastic. Good for you, Ma’m!”

Oh. Shut. Up. I think, flashing a token grimace in his general direction.

By now I’d wisely gotten out my reading materials and buried my nose in them, so that when he asked me the next question -- “Are you married?” -- I had something to do.

When I didn’t answer, he said, “I know....It’s none of my business.”

Yeh, so why’d you ask me, you old fart? I wonder inwardly.

“It’s none of my business, but I KNOW!” he proclaims, raising his index finger, as if trying to impersonate some kind of wise old seer.

No, you DON'T know, you old schmuck. You haven’t the palest idea. Go. Away.

As I exit the train he promises to come see me at my place of work. I’m not worried that he will, but Ick!

So there you go. I started out with the best intentions of being civil to a fellow human being, and this was as far as I got.


At 11:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, it sounds like you did just fine, there, other than the extreme distaste involved. You were civil, you gave him an opportunity to socialize a bit, and you defined some boundaries and maintained them. As you say, not too much wory that he will show up at your workplace; he's unlikely to even remember by the day after tomorrow. As for needing to be on your toes at all times, I feel that way about everyone, in any situation. It just escalates as things get more extreme. At the very least, you got a good story to tell, yes? Val

At 3:05 PM, Blogger kate gawf said...

Thanks Val. I too think that was the best I could do in that case. For interacting with those who have no boundaries on their own behavior, one needs the "Boundaries Plus" plan.

And you have a point there -- we all have to watch what we say, constantly, according to whom we’re talking to. It sure is easier when we have at least an idea of what to expect, though.

Maybe the extremes are not my forte, and I can somehow be more helpful in the arena of people who have more manageable levels of mental illness. It is so EVERYWHERE that I feel it’s crucial that everyone find some way to be helpful in some small way. I think working to reduce the stigma we attach to it is a start. And we all know at least one person who can improve on that. As Pogo said, “We have seen the enemy and it is us.”

By the way I’ve also answered your comment of a couple of days ago.


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