On the Bus #17 The Nightmare on the Bus

So, I am still a bit shaken. I just got into a fight with an aggressive woman next to me on the bus. I was quietly celebrating the fact that the bus was relatively empty when this older lady and her friend came charging on at the very last minute and marched to the back where I was sitting. She announced her arrival by violently slamming her purse next to me. Her friend sat two seats ahead and they yelled to each other at full volume not caring who was around them.

Every time they yelled, my hair stood on end. The lights were still on, so I bit my tongue hoping they would get the hint when the bus started on its journey and the overheads were turned off. I wasn’t hopeful but was taught to give people the benefit of the doubt. Anyway, these two women were nightmares. There’s no two ways about it.

The lights were turned off but their VERY LOUD conversation was not turned down. Finally, I was afraid I was going to have a stroke so I whispered to the woman, “Can you please not talk so loud? This is quiet bus!”

Really? She replied loudly. “Where does it say that?”

“They usually play an announcement at the beginning of the ride.”

“Then go make him play it.”

I wasn’t about to walk up the aisle on a moving bus and ask the bus driver to play the announcement although I was sorely tempted.

“Everyone else is quiet on the bus. Does that tell you something?

“If every other fly is eating shit should I eat shit too?”

Now, mind you, I shouldn’t tell you this, but I would have liked to have pulled her hair at this point. Or I wanted to throw her purse on the ground or rip her sweater. I wanted to do something to let her know I wasn’t happy with her. I know Mother Theresa or Helen Keller would have blessed her.

Come to think of it, Helen wouldn’t have even known the woman was talking too loudly. Sometimes I think she was the luckiest of us all.

So instead I said, “Really? You are going to be rude like that?”

That seemed to shut her up although as I type this her friend is in the middle of a loud phone call. They are nightmares, I tell you.

I hate confrontations. I’m always surprised when I have them with strangers. It’s that issue I have about people being unfair. I hate when people are belligerent about something they are doing that is in the wrong.

I go to the theatre a lot. People seem to still not understand that texting there is just wrong. The Broadway star Patti Lupone understands this. She once snatched an audience member’s phone right from their hands as she exited off the stage. That is why I love Patti–although I have a feeling she would be loud on a bus.

Once a very handsome man sat next to me at a performance of A Glass Menagerie starring Sally Field. I was excited a handsome man was next to me until he started texting repeatedly. Mind you, this was a play that at certain points played in total pitch black darkness so his screen lighting up was particularly galling. Finally, I said “Can you please stop texting?” and the guy replied, “I’m trying to meet up with someone after the show.”

How is this my problem?

How is it Sally’s problem? I wanted to get her attention so she could grab this handsome guy’s phone out of his hands but she was too wrapped up in trying to get her daughter to stop fiddling with her glass animals and go on a date.

Another time I was in the theatre in New Hope where I assumed people would be much more polite. This woman next to me kept texting and texting and texting and finally I asked her to stop.

At intermission, she turned to me and said, “I’m mad at you!”

“What?! You can’t possibly be.”

“Do you want to know why I was texting?

I didn’t. The rule is NO TEXTING and that is that.

‘I have a dying person at home and I was trying to have a fun night out.

Now this is tricky. I wanted to say, “I don’t believe you” because I didn’t believe her, but there is that benefit of the doubt thing that bedevils me. I wanted to say “If he or she so close to death that you can’t not text them for an hour then you shouldn’t be here. This production is amateurish at best!” I wanted to tell her if she was going to take a break then take a break an turn off her phone or at the very least stand in the back of the theatre!

Again, Mother Theresa would have probably asked to visit the dying friend and Helen well…why the hell is Helen Keller at a play anyway? And if she was, would I be annoyed that someone was signing in her hand for the entire performance? It is almost like texting.

My mom was very loud and would have been pretty similar to this nightmare woman sitting next to me on the bus. Maybe that is why it bothers me so much. I mean, I loved my mom but I would be painfully embarrassed by her as a child when she would be at the store with me and yell something like “Honey don’t you need new underpants? The ones you are wearing have holes in them!”

But isn’t’ everyone bothered by these things? Do these bus women get bothered when someone invades their space? Do those texters think everyone should be texting in the theatre?

I like to think of myself as a good person but they challenge that concept. I fantasized about strangling the woman who was texting her dying friend for months afterwards. In my fantasy, the last words she’d be hearing would be, “Now you and your friend are both dying! Hahahaha!”

It’s a great fantasy but it doesn’t make me look good.

Zen books always have lots of stories telling you that you can’t go find peace by meditating in a cave—that’s easy. Find peace next to people who text in the theatre.

Another Zen story says serenity is an ugly woman running after you with a club screaming NOW! NOW! NOW! NOW! Saul and I read that one together and don’t quite get it.

I believe when our souls come to earth this is like an advanced class with hard lessons to master–not just the big things like death, and break-ups and scary Presidents–but the everyday messiness of dealing with all these other humans milling aobut. It’s a constant navigation though people that think differently from you.

It’s like the famous prayer: Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot and courage to change the things I can.

So maybe this woman and those texters are actually mini practice for the big things—they help me to build the courage to push against the racism and sexism and ignorance and bullying and cruelty. Maybe I need to stand up for what is wrong and see it won’t kill me. Maybe sometimes speaking up and taking action is just as spiritual as retreating and praying and meditating.

Sometimes people need to be silenced, right? I struggle with this and want everyone to have their say but  I think I need to call people out and say enough is enough.

I had a revelation with the woman on the bus. After our confrontation, I sat here nervously for about 20 minutes. Then I had a thought. “What am I afraid of? Really what can this woman do? I didn’t need to stew all this drama and emotion. She quieted down and I got a great new topic for my blog. It was a win-win.

Like the bible story where Jacob wrestles with the angel and gets him in a headlock and demands “I will not let go until you bless me,” I’m going to try to use these every day irritations as opportunities for growth.

And if I have to put a few theatre texters in headlocks while doing that. I think I’m okay with it.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Keith Hoffman doesn’t understand why you think unwrapping a noisy piece of candy slowly is less disruptive during a play than doing it quickly and being done with it. And why are you noisily unwrapping candy during a play  in the first place? He is married.

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Keith Hoffman lives with his artist husband, dog and two cats in the small town Lambertville, New Jersey 72 miles outside of New York City. He has completed a memoir entitled The Summer My Sister Grew Sideburns.

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