Angry Conversation With a Stranger On A Train
It’s October of last year in the evening. I’ve made it to the train station just in time, half-walking and half-jogging. My mood is somewhat relieved and I’m looking forward to listening to some music in the bliss of the ride home.
Hopping on the train at the Lake Forest stop, I grabbed a seat on the upper deck, put the other two down near me, and proceeded to lay down on them as a kind of makeshift bed.
Laying down, I glance up at my phone as I browsed through reddit and the newest stories of the perpetual outraged, headphones playing loud angry music in my ear. Yes, I find Senses Fail to be quite relaxing.
It looks like the guy across is talking to me. His lips are moving.
Yes, he is.
I take out my headphones and he wants to know if I’m okay, as I was coughing while laying down. He mentions that, “I’ve seen people die on this train.”
His tone of voice and his non-verbals are seeped in “hidden” distaste for me. I ignore it, brush it off, and assure him I’m fine as I go back to Reddit.
15 minutes later I notice he is saying something again.
I take out my headphones to hear him.
By the way his mouth is moving and the look on his face, he doesn’t look happy. This time he seemed VERY agitated about the way I was sitting. Apparently he thought I might be taking pictures of him with my phone, which I wasn’t. I thought this odd considering how I was sitting and the direction I was facing.
He is now quite upset by the way I was laying down.
Again, he tells me that I am being rude. How? My semi-open dangling legs were exposing my crotch to the Indian girl sitting several seats down and that was apparently very rude.
It was then that I realized I had been targeted.
He wasn’t going to let this go. He was looking for a verbal confrontation and his cross-hairs had landed directly on me.
I sat up, took the initiative, and attempted to deflect and diffuse the verbal attacks. I am a communications major after all. Finally, perhaps I can see how well some of theories apply to real-world situations.
He’s in a half-rage mode; a strawman here and an angry passive-aggressive accusation there. The anger and frustration in his voice is starting to build. Conclusions and assumptions about me are landing left and right.
I’m taken back for a second. I was startled – almost confused.
What is this tumblr? Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration.
Apparently I was some punk ass-kid/student from Chicago coming down here to get off at Libertyville station stop and I didn’t give a fuck about the other people on the train. Perhaps it’s my “hipster look” that planted the seeds of wrath. I prefer to think of it instead as well-groomed and well-dressed for my stature.
I pointed out to him that NO ONE has ever objected to the way I’ve laid down before.
In fact, it had NEVER happened before. He was the first damn one. I’m starting get irritated now with him and how this has all started.
He insists its a matter of being respectful. My inner philosopher ignites and I assume that he will have a post-modern framework for his concept on “respect” and as to what constitutes as my previous “rude” behavior. I begin my philosophical adventure.
I proceeded to question him on how he knew what was “Respectful.” He appeals to the way he was raised. Interesting. Apparently us young punks know nothing about respect – I secretly agree with him.
Further in the conversation reveals that he is basing his view of the concept on experience, tradition, and essentially his parents. This actually creates in me some respect for him and it causes me to pause in my planned verbal retaliation.
I started trying to think to myself about why he was giving me such a hard time. It was a serious, “Dude, wtf?” moment of thought. Should I stand up for myself and not put up with this crap? Perhaps I wasn’t giving him a reason to respect me.
We were now at a point where I suspected that other people were going to become involved as his tone of voice kept getting louder.
I wasn’t in the mood for this to escalate and as much as I enjoy uncomfortable situations, this was lacking the humorous and adventurous side to it. Also, I was hoping the conductors weren’t going to get involved, though I was certain they’d side with me.
No, I was going to fight my own battles. That’s what a man does – when he can.
It was here the conversation turned.
I pointed out to him I lived in Fox Lake, I also told him about how I thought his age had nothing to do with whether I respected his opinions or not. Living in Fox Lake meant that I wasn’t some spoiled rich yuppie from Libertyville who thinks that the world is my trash dump.
I ask a few questions meant to flush out what was bugging him – what had caused the initial simmer of suppressed rage inside him. I knew there was more here than meant the eye. No one flies off the handle over something so small…
Conversations like these – maybe not as heated at first as this one was – are something I live for. They break up the routine of my day. I made the most out of this one and I’m glad I did, because I learned something.
This fellow’s name was Jim.
I plied Jim for more about himself and he told me his back-story. He’s a 53 year old micro-biologist who works his ass off to put his two of his three daughters through college. His marriage leaves much to be desired and “support” isn’t something he’s experienced in a while. He’s struggling financially, but fishing with his buddies at least gives him some reprieve. Put blankly, he feels unfulfilled, confused, and somewhat jaded through life – a state of almost mental and emotional exhaustion.
Even though, my situation isn’t even close to his, I felt a kind of kinship for Jim – as man to man. It’s no accident that I feel as I’ve met people just like him before with similar frustrations with life.
I feel a sense of sympathy for him.
During the rest of the ride and our conversation, he would apologize several times to me. Throughout the conversations, he would continue this regarding the initial assumptions he had made about me, but I told him not to worry about it.
“The past is the past,” I told him. For the most part, that is a motto I live by.
Jim you see is a classic example of a guy going on through life who needs a chance to vent every once in a while, but doesn’t. I don’t know if he’s ever really been given the chance, but I suspect he’s had this bottled up in him for a while.
It was the small action of the way I laid that set him off. I had experienced my own WW1 spark in interpersonal conflict.
Jim is a good guy, but he’s been through a lot more than I would have thought. . He tells me stories about how he’s been attacked and beat up in Fox Lake outside of bars. Drinking sometimes has a steeper price than a hangover.
He was starting to see crime, drug deals around the Fox Lake train station and even right outside the Thortons nearby. The realization of the scuminess of my town and that of humanity was getting to him. He emphasized that no one cared about what had happened to him or what was happening around.
That was what got me. No one cared about what he had seen, heard, and experienced so he never bothered to vent about it. No support, he just kept it tightly wrapped and wound up.
What happened to Jim – just one action- that magnifies to a great extent the rest of what he has been feeling and seeing can happen to myself.
I literally told him when we got off the train, “There’s only so much a man can handle before he explodes.” I’ll never forget the look on his face. It was one of gratitude and of shock in that he realized I understood him – despite our difference in age and situations.
In every story and conversation there is a lesson.
All men out there need a time and a chance to vent. This isn’t toxic masculinity; it’s the necessary expression of rage and anger that we are forced to keep a lid on.
This of course doesn’t change the fact that most men keep this rage, frustration, depression, and anger pent up. Some have found ways to manage – the gym, 1st person shooters, sports, ect, but is it enough? I suppose these methods won’t get your a way that won’t get you arrested, hated, and in constant fights with your wife, but there must be more.
We all need friends – real friends – as an outlet and as support to get things off your chest that no one else will understand or be able to hear. Your wife, girlfriend, or effeminate therapist wont’ be able to console you in the same way that other men will. These male friends can provide you with the wisdom that is gained from the experience of life, as well as the understanding of the vast challenges that men face in today’s culture.
They won’t BS you, but they will hear you out, and offer the necessary – if rough – advice that others won’t. Reddit might be one way to do this, but face-to-face with close male friends is the best. This isn’t homosexual, it’s simply men getting close with another and bonding over the challenges and quest that is life.
Get it all off your chest.
We all have pent up rage that builds. It’s a matter of fact of life. The people who explode are some how seen as terrible, immature, ect but the reality of life is that this is just a natural part of humanity.
Let it go.
Don’t be afraid to tell your friends what’s really on your mind. Be yourself and I’m not saying that in a BS “feel good” cultural way. Find and make close male friends who are willing to help you out and offer you solid wise advice.
Before we parted ways at the station, Jim told me he was glad the conversation happened.
I was too.
It was a raw unfiltered and genuine conversation that should happen between men more often.