Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Subway Subject

This morning on the subway, there was a man who I can only presume to have been homeless occupying half the car. Now I don’t mean that he took up all this space with just his body mass; he smelled. Badly. Half the car was empty and people who couldn’t find room on the car went to a different car. It was just interesting to observe how different people reacted to the situation.

First, there were a number of people who would stand and stare at the man, hoping that by their combined eyeball power, they would be able to somehow be able to awaken this man from his peaceful slumber and maybe, just maybe get out at the next stop. This has worked for me in the past (as I am sure it has for many of you) in a situation where you wanted to get someone’s attention, but didn’t want to approach them. You would just stare at them until hopefully your subject looks at you. For me, that almost always works, not so much for the people on the subway.

A second group of people stood their ground. They braved the smell as best they could for the ultimate subway reward: a seat! That’s right! As a sign of their bravery, these passengers checked their egos at the door in order to check their rumps in a seat, a very rare occurrence on an NYC subway (just ask Ezzie). I was one of these passengers, and I, like many of my brethren, sat there with my scarf over my nose. One man even got up and opened a window. On a subway.

Of course, there was the third type of person; one man who caught my attention. He not only braved the smell, but sat right across from the source. He did not cover up his nose. In fact, he seemed to be very entertained and by his book, hardly noticing what made him so unique, and did not give off the slightest bit of a hint that he was uncomfortable in any way.

This whole ordeal got me thinking how I would normally respond to a situation where something made me uncomfortable. Do I give away my displeasure? Almost always. In some form or another, I know that I make it obvious that I don’t like the situation I’m in. I never go overboard like a certain couple on the train who was laughing at their predicament until they disembarked, but I might glance over at a friend and make a face, try to wiggle my way out of the situation as quickly as possible, or just cover my nose with my scarf.

It takes great discipline to just do nothing. How many times do you get into a conversation that you don’t want to be in? For me, it happens all the time. Sometimes, I become one of those rude people, who try to get out of the conversation any way possible. Other times, I am that terribly understanding guy, who listens to the awkward questions being asked to me on the streets of Manhattan until the situation clears itself up. But never do I seem like I am not bothered at all by what’s going on. I have no popopopoker face when it comes to these things.

How does one behave like this guy on the subway? Where when faced with a situation in which even the most stuffed of noses couldn’t have bared, he showed no sign of aggravation. How does one face a situation head on, and not embarrass another in even the slightest form, like standing a little further away? How does one swallow their pride completely in order to not embarrass a sleeping homeless guy?


  1. By thinking about the other person - whether the homeless guy, the person who is talking to you, whomever.

    Not saying it's necessarily easy all the time, but that's how.

  2. I would get off on the next subway stop and quickly switch to the next cart.

    And btw -- just a technical difficulty: if he's asleep, he can't exactly get embarrassed. :P

  3. SG- not true. Don't tell me you can't get embarrassed after waking up and not knowing what went on around you.

  4. Jug - IDK, that never happened to me. I'm always clueless when I wake up and unaware of what happened while I was asleep...

  5. Well, I guess consider yourself lucky.

  6. That brave guy sounds like a lamud-vuv-nik