A couple weeks ago, I boarded a bus home from work, as I am wont to do. It was crowded, and I ended up crammed into the very back. Across from me sat a guy in his mid-20s who had just returned from a year serving in Afghanistan and was severely disappointed in everyone who dared look at a smart phone during this ride. If you're wondering how I could possibly know that much personal information about a stranger, it's because he told me.
Sipping what I can only assume was liquor from an obscured can, he started his tirade with a Malcolm X-like "Look at yourselves!" before going on a loud public shaming spree. We shouldn't be on our phones! We should be having conversations! This isn't what society's about! We gotta have community! We gotta talk to each other! We gotta make connections!
Ironically, his outbursts prompted me to do exactly what he was railing against. I averted my eyes and tried to disappear. Nobody engage him, please nobody engage him . . . . nope. Idiot next to me chimed in with an argument that people used to read newspapers on public transit, and how was that any different?
"Come on, man! We ain't talkin' bout newspapers. You know that's just propaganda!"
I had to admire his conviction. He was like an overly aggressive, anti-establishment motivational speaker who was dropping knowledge on us.
"You should talk to people! Say hello!" He then started gesturing at random people sitting around him. "See this guy? Introduce yourself! Maybe he knows something you don't! Maybe that lady over there marched during Civil Rights! Maybe that dude's been through something that you don't understand! Like this lady over here . . ."
And he pointed squarely in my direction.
"She might be a fuckin' . . . nuclear . . . geophysicist! You don't fuckin' know!"
I was torn. On one hand, I'd been singled out, and I hate attention. But on the other hand, he thought I looked smart enough to be a nuclear geophysicist. So . . . I called it a wash and simply smiled back. Hey, man. Let's find some answers.