TORONTO, ONTARIO: It seems to me that there is an endless supply of strange and uninviting situations that occur on public transportation. When you stuff this many people in a small space, something is bound to happen. And every once in a while, it seems that the moon is full or something because as you step from one train to another, transfer like you always do, bus it and chase streetcars and move throughout the city, the craziness follows you like a bad smell. These three stories come from both ends of the spectrum. The first was in the morning, I was reading standing up, the subway was not especially busy. There was an old woman sitting across from me and she started screaming: “Not another [expletive that starts with an ‘F’ and rhymes with suck] Latin American!” There was no one within my immediate vicinity and realized she was talking to – or – about me. I’ve been mistaken for Italian, Portugeuse and other forms of European ancestry. Latin American was new to me.
“You [expletive – same one] Latin Americans – where do you all come from?” She was pretty disgusted with me and spat on the floor. She had a newspaper and held it up in front of her face to block me from her view. Every once in a while, she peeked around the corner of the newspaper to see if I was still there. When I was, she pulled her face back behind the obstruction, spewing another expletive. I got off at my stop and made her a happy woman.
I transferred at Yonge Station heading north. Again, I was reading standing up. I usually use page turning as an opportunity to scan the other passengers in the train and the middle aged man standing across from me caught my eye.
He was staring at me and when he realized he had my attention, he nodded, looked around secretly and turned the pad of paper he was holding around. In pretty scratchy handwriting, it read: ‘There is a conspiracy against us all.’ He was watching me, I looked at him, thought, “what the hell” and nodded in agreement. He nodded back and flipped the page: ‘Do you think you’re safe at work?’ I shrugged. He acknowledged my agreement and once again flipped the page: ‘The politicians work with the police to brainwash us double times [sic].’ I thought about this one, stared up at the ceiling in contemplation. I nodded, again, just to see what’s next. He nodded and flipped: ‘We allow this to happen. You are complicit.’ I shook my head. He nodded. I shook. He flipped all the sheets over and walked to the other end of the car. He caught someone else’s eye and proceeded to show them his remarks. It was fun while it lasted and no one seemed to recognize our speechless conversation.
On the way home from work that same day, it was busy. Once more, standing and reading. There was an empty seat beside where I was standing. A woman entered the train with a two year old boy and she sat him down in the empty seat. She had a ring on her finger with a diamond that was the size of my head. I mention this because she was holding on to the pole right in front of my head and I could see my reflection in the rock. The boy reached for the pole but she batted his hand away, warning him: “Don’t touch that, it’s dirty.” I love when people say things like that, especially when they say it loud so everyone that rides the subway everyday hears. Brilliant.
For a stop or two, she was huffing and puffing at the old lady sitting in the seat beside the boy. In a very obvious way, like a little kid. Now, I don’t know about you but I think an old lady trumps a woman with a young child. The old woman is old, let her have the seat. The interesting thing to me is that the mother started talking through the child. The boy mumbled something and she replied, “yes, you’re right, some people are just ignorant.” Now, I strongly doubt that this is the way she always talked to him. I could be wrong, perhaps she always used words like ‘ignorant’ when conversing with her two year old.
More huffing and puffing. More mumbling and she replied, “yes, well, you might be two years old but you could really teach some people manners.” The kid had no idea what she is talking about. And kudos to the old woman for enjoying her seat and not acknowledging the mother who was using her two year old in a passive aggressive manner. I imagined the woman sitting down and getting the kid to sit on her knee – they could have created quite a good ventriloquist act. Go on the road and all that.