Lately, I Can’t Do Anything Right

Yesterday morning on the train a man yelled at me. I’m still trying to figure out why he yelled at me and I’m still trying to figure out what I can do in the future to avoid it. Either way, he yelled at me and it bugged me greatly.

I was getting onto the 4/5/6 at the time. It wasn’t that crowded; yet people don’t ever seem to want to move into the center of the car. While I understand this need for being the first one out once I’m at a stop, moving into the middle of the train is just part of the social contract. You get into the car, and you continue moving into the car so everyone else can move into the car. I can’t tell you how often this simply does not take place. In fact, I would say 90 percent of the time people choose to not do this. Some of them even stand right in front of the doors. Many times there are two people in front of the door giving any loading passengers one body-sized opening to fit through. It’s so frustrating. But it’s part of living in the city. You deal with it. You grunt and you deal with it.

Yesterday, however, a guy just yelled at me. He said, “WELL YOU’RE THE ONE AT MY F*CKING BACK!” Of course I was at his back, I was trying to board the train. I lowered my head and chose to ignore him. (This has happened to me before.) And one might think that I’m used to it. But I’m not. Each time it affects me greatly and I wear it for the rest of the day.

At lunch, I went to the gym. I have been doing that for the past several weeks. I run 3.5 miles and then I head back to work. It’s been fantastic lately as I have had soccer games to watch while I run. I head over there at noon, watch the first half, and then head back to the office. I figure if soccer players can run for 45 minutes straight, I can too. (I’m going to be hard pressed for motivation once the World Cup is over.)

I am usually high when I’m finished running. My heart rate goes from 160+ back down to 70 and when that happens, my head buzzes with pleasure. It’s the best feeling since discovering dark chocolate. I am addicted, quite frankly.

I wore a t-shirt and a pair of brown slacks. My hair was still wet from the shower. I sat down to put on my shoes. I set my bag to my left on the floor. I set my left shoe onto my foot and my right shoe on the bench next to my bottle of FUZE. But I wasn’t entirely aware of all of this when I sat down.

A woman walked over carrying a large backpack. She wore a baby blue skirt suit, super high black heels, and wore her hair high above her head. She has tightly pursed lips. Had we not been in a gym, I’d have guessed she were a career smoker.

“EXUSEMETHANKS!” She spit at me and another woman.

I try so hard to be polite. When I say excuse me, I generally mean it. This woman, however, immediately just expected everyone to part for her. How rude.

I moved my legs so she could get by. She opened a locker and then began to place things on the bench next to me. I had a little more than half of it (maybe). She then went at me again.

“CANIMOVETHIS?THANKS!” She didn’t wait for me to respond. It came out as all one word. She picked up my bottle and moved it close to my legs. I looked down and then back at my feet. I shook my head in amazement; annoyed she was ruining my buzz.

“I DO NOT HAVE ANY ROOM HERE.” She said down to me.

I began to shake my head even more. I looked down the entire time.

From her, this must have come off as an act of passive aggression. It was not. Instead, I really didn’t want to deal with her. I was literally 1 minute from being out the door, out of this woman’s way and life forever. I figured she could wait that minute and I could carry on feeling good.

“YOU KNOW, IT’S REALLY UNECESSARY FOR YOU TO SHAKE YOUR HEAD.”

I looked up at her at this point. My running buzz drained from my head like air from a balloon. Her voice was sharp. It poked a hole in my ego.

Tobyjoe said I should have elbowed her in the head and kicked her in the vagina. My coworkers told me I should have responded with absolute crazy anger, that crazy works with people like that, that I should have treated her like a dog. But I chose to take the highest road I could given my location.

“You know, you should really try being a nice person. That’s all it takes. Just be nice. I’m almost out the door. You can have the entire bench at that time. Just be nice.”

She freaked out. Her voice rose so that everyone around us could hear her.

“I AM A NICE PERSON! I AM A VERY NICE PERSON! I WAS BEING VERY NICE! YOU ARE TAKING UP TOO MUCH ROOM!”

I grabbed my bag and my iPod and began to head out the door. As I was leaving she threw one last sarcastic comment at the back of my head.

“HAVE A NICE DAY!” She yelled.

I went from feeling elated with accomplishment to embarrassed and insulted. Each and every time something like this happens, my body feels enlarged. I feel like a massive human being, a big fat finger, an ugly piece of flesh, something everyone is watching and wants removed, a human wart.

This morning, I was getting on the elevator. I had my headphones on and a guy was trying to use his umbrella to push the “Up” arrow. I pushed it with my finger on the other wall. When the elevator came, he waited outside and put his hand in front of the doors so they wouldn’t close. I got onto the elevator. Before I had the ability to say anything he said, “YOU’RE WELCOME!” My face sunk. I thought I was done with yesterday.

I can’t help but wonder if others experience encounters like this. Do I call it upon myself? Do I give off “bitch vibes”? If I do, I want to put an end to them. I asked my coworkers if this ever happens to them. Both of them are men and said that, no, it doesn’t. They talked about having to carry myself better, and try coming off as someone who is unlikely to take crap from strangers. They said I look like a nice person even if that’s not the case at all. They said men don’t do that with one another because there is always the belief that things can become physical. They said that outside of some nasty looks or eye-roll exchanges, they don’t get much crap from women either.

I feel like this happens to me a lot and I know it could be worse. Some people are stabbed by complete strangers while riding the C Train. I know it gets worse. But, like most people, I’m selfish.

I don’t think I’m particularly cruel to people. Perhaps it’s where I live and how often I am out in public. And if this doesn’t happen to others why does it happen to me? I do hope that I’m not a minority.

21 Comments

  1. Sweetheart, you are NOT alone. It is not just you. Please don’t beat yourself up—you aren’t doing anything wrong!
    These kinds of things happen to me, too, and to lots of others. People can be really fucking mean sometimes and it usually has nothing to do with the person they are being mean to—it has to do with their general unhappiness.
    It is also that a lot of people walk around with this fucked up sense of entitlement, especially in America where that attitude is nurtured.
    Hold your head up high, girl. You are a better person than most, in my opinion. You are more sensitive than most-I am, too-and we take things to heart that others might not. We also get to feel joy and love and passion more intensely, too, so we’re lucky. ;-)
    xo

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  2. when people do stuff like that, i like to look at them and smile and think happy thoughts like secretly tying their shoelaces together when they aren’t looking!

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  3. It’s been a rough week. First the little bus driver almost killed me and then yesterday was stranger day from hell.

    I will be glad to see this week go away.

    Incidentally, I just filled my Xanax perscription for future flights. Perhaps I should dig in early. :]

    Just kidding. I need it for flying.

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  4. Ah, Michele. Private people like you are always going to be stung by things like this. Not only do you value your privacy, you value and respect that of others. It’s a necessary part of living in NYC, I think.

    The problem is that there are just as many (if not more) people who feel that in order to get along in NYC, you have to constantly engage others. That is to say, to constantly communicate through body language, eye contact, and verbally, your acknowledgement that there are others around. This reassures these people because without such cues they have no faith that you see/respect them. However, private people like you assume that such acknowledgement is a given. Why shout/jump/gesture/nod at everybody and intrude on their thoughts, lives, etc?

    But this is not to say that you move through life in some mute antisocial isolation. You just don’t feel the need to overstate the obvious. You’re perfectly willing to give someone the heads up if necessary (remember this )

    As far as the subway guy goes … that’s a case where your assumptions just didn’t match his. You assume that he’s as privately committed to subway etiquette as you, and consequently you bumped into him.

    So, you’re not cruel to people. To follow on some of yesterday’s comments: you’re a stimulus augmenter. You don’t need the loud volume of social communication to operate in a crowd: quite the contrary, you need very little. And when the high volume people come near you, it hurts.

    hope this helps.

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  5. Charlie, how is it you always make me teary? I must be pre-menstrual or something.

    It’s weird, because, I’m always trying to figure out the best way to avoid feeling badly for the rest of the day during situations like this. And no matter what route I choose, i always feel that I could have done something to make it less annoying (for me).

    Had I said, “You know, it’s really unnecessary for you to be such a bitch.” I’d have felt really badly for sure. (But I did think this.)

    Had I said, “You have really veiny feet and your shoes are ugly.” I would have felt really stupid. (But I did think this.)

    Had I punched her in the head, I would have probably been arrested. (But I did think about doing this.)

    I guess that’s why I always pull out the “You should be a nicer person.” No one really knows how to respond to that.

    However, I wish I could have avoided it altogether.

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  6. Stuff like this happens to me all the time. I sometimes think that I am too conscious of other people’s feeling so when mine are hurt, I feel even worse. Recently I was at Target and my cart banged against the aisle. A lady was standing in the center of the aisle and I needed to get by her. I quietly said “Excuse me.” I guess she didn’t hear me because as I passed her she said “EXCUSE YOU!” I said to her, “I said excuse me.” She said “THANK YOU.” I felt like crying. And I think her saying thank you pissed me off because it was a snotty thank you and I didn’t owe her anything. I always replay these incidents in my head and I get angrier and feel worse. I guess I’m just saying that this happens to lots of people. Probably mostly sensitive people, but I think there are a lot of us out there.

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  7. Awww, Camille, I just read that and saw it entirely. I know exactly how it played out. I’m sorry, missus.

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  8. Oh, while we’re sharing stories, one time I was the really mean person for no reason. i still think about this. I probably won’t ever forget it.

    I lived in DC at the time. I was really grumpy. I went into a Au Bon Pain and ordered a bagel. The woman working the counter was really slow and she was talking to another customer. She kept forgetting my order and having to ask me what it was i wanted again. I was SO Mean to her. I was rude as hell. I blurted out my answers so nastily. Finally, she said, “Why are you so mean?” I had NOTHING to say to that. I said, “I’m in a hurry and you’re not.”

    Later, I walked back over to say sorry. She was gone. :/

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  9. Well, I don’t mean to make you teary. I was trying to make you feel better!

    Anyway, the fact is that once an encounter like this happens, there is nothing you can say about the situation that will make you feel better.

    Of course, you could remove yourself from the situation and make up a fantastic and horrible lie like: “I’m sorry, but I’ve been a little out of it since my diagnosis” and then slowly put your hand on some part of your anatomy without losing eye contact and whisper “Cancer.”

    If you well up with tears, too, it could be particularly satisfying.

    So just tell a whopper of a lie. You’ll feel better, and your assailant deserves it.

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  10. Holy crap, that is a brilliantly funny idea.

    Do you watch House by any chance?

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  11. I have seen snippets of House once or twice. I love the idea of a misanthropic doctor.

    You need to have a persona handy that you can adopt in situations like this. I was thinking of David Sedaris when I suggested that you lie.

    Other things you could lie about are (these are all horrible, but there is something delicious): the death of a child; diagnosis of cancer in a child; anniversary of a death (not a parent, though); loss of a job; death of a sister in Iraq (“She was so proud to be a Marine helicopter pilot…”).

    Just remember, no lie is too absurd. And the more taboo the better. (“I just came from testifying against my uncle …”).

    Or you could say “I’m putting this on OverheardInNewYork.com!”

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  12. It doesn’t happen to me very often—but it might be because I am usally taller than the bitchy people, and the bitchy people are almost always little and fear me.

    Or maybe just because I don’t go out much.

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  13. a baby blue skirt suit?
    she was a stepford wife.
    she needs reprogramming.

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  14. “Each time it affects me greatly and I wear it for the rest of the day.”

    I was in a class with Jonathan Reynolds (http://learningtolisten.info) a couple weeks back, and I apologize if this sounds a little trite, but he said, “Stop hoping for a better past, It’ll never happen.” The idea’s been rolling around in my head since I heard it and I thought you might be able to use it too.

    ps: i think i have a little crush on charlie

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  15. Charlie is fantastic. That quote is pretty hot, too. :]

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  16. About two hours ago some kid threw a cup of soda out of a bus window on to me. I too am trying not to take it personally.

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  17. Oh, nico. that really, really sucks.

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  18. That is a great quote about the past. Here’s my favorite quote about the future: “The future is here. It’s just not evenly distributed yet.” William Gibson said it somewhere. It’s become my rallying cry here at the toy company.

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  19. If it makes you feel better, people are jerks here in LA too. I’m a bartender and I have the rare opportunity to actually get a bit of insight into some of these people. I stand there and watch them seep rudeness and replenish it with whisky, and I grow drunk with anger.

    In day to day situations I am generally mellow and will avoid a confrontation, but behind the bar I get defensive of my co-workers and other guests and will quickly end any such behavior. My suggestions are usually adhered to, as I control their “medicine”.

    Basically my thought is don’t let idiots run your asylum. We’re all crazy enough without their help.

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  20. Basically my thought is don’t let idiots run your asylum. We’re all crazy enough without their help.

    Brilliant.

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  21. Reading all this just made my day… I was just googling “why cant I do anything right”

    The thing is, your doing everything right, FOR YOU. And it doesn’t matter what your doing for a stranger/a-hole unless they are treating you that way for something you deserve (and you don’t).

    Look at you… Going to the gym, running, treating others right. Girl like you has it together, maybe people pick up on that and want to crap on you.

    I think you should treat people with respect up until they show they haven’t earned it.

    Keep up the good things your doing. Forget the idiots. Smile.

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