I’m not sure where the idea came from. I was probably tired from working two jobs, or maybe I was getting sick.
My main job as a karaoke host means that everyday I handle microphones that have been spit on, rubbed against chapped lips, and Total Eclipse of the Heart-ed into a state of contamination that has left me feeling on the verge of a cold for four years.
Maybe I was carrying too many bags, or maybe I was just feeling lazy. Whatever the reason, I’m sure it was justifiable. Sometimes you just need to sit down on the way from one job to another, but no matter how worn out I am, I always give up my seat to anyone who looks like they need it more than I do. It’s the right thing to do, and I think that if I didn’t, my grandma’s tired old ghost would rise up out of the ether of the New York City subway system and slap me.
But not everyone has a grandma, or a conscience, and this seems to encompass most adult men sprawling out and taking up three seats on the train to the polite chagrin of everyone around them.
I sympathize with the idea that balls are essentially to two sweaty hard-boiled eggs swinging around in a foot-sock from the floor of a DSW, but I have a vagina and though it would be great to air it out on a crowded train, I don’t. Why? Because I understand basic concepts of courtesy.
We’re all in this together, and if everyone agreed to say I’m sorry or Excuse me when it counted, the world be a little less of a seven-billion person frat party hurdling through space. I recycle. I teach the kid I watch to be a good person. I clean up the steaming pile of digested pellets my dog produces twice a day, and it is for these reasons that I believe I deserve a goddamned seat on the train.
“Excuse me,” I said, standing in front of a thirtysomething guy with his legs spread so far, it looked like he was doing some sort of post-vasectomy physical therapy exercise. He ignored me.
As a woman, I am used to this, so I gestured to the seat and said excuse me again. Nothing. I checked and he wasn’t wearing headphones.
This man, like the three or four others taking up multiple seats on this train car, are the center of our universe from sun-up until sundown, never once considering the lady with the stroller, the World War II vet stooped over a cane, or the child riding home from school alone.
We all go about our ride politely avoiding calling them out on their selfishness, holding grocery bags and diaper bags and the weight of all our frustration, seething. In that moment, something became crystal clear to me: seething doesn’t help anyone, but sitting on a dude sure is satisfying.
I waited a moment. He leisurely stretched his calves, turned away from me, and then I sat on him.
“Excuse me,” I said, using my bony ass to crush his thigh. Outside of a horror movie, I have never seen anyone react so quickly to get away from another human being. There was terror, then disgust, then anger. I took out my book and turned to him. “Thank you,” I said, and then smiled like Kathleen Turner in Serial Mom. It would have been rude otherwise.
To say that women are socialized differently is an understatement. I can’t remember a time in my formative years when I wasn’t too loud, too big, too anything for every particular circumstance in my life. My parents constantly told me to be quiet. I made too much noise when I walked. I laughed too loudly. I weighed too much.
I listened to them, and over time, I became a person who was afraid to speak up for herself, a woman who was too passive to say no on dates and on deadlines. Lost wages, poor dental work, bad haircuts, limp dicks, useless literary agents, omelettes with hair in them that I politely ate around, my boss’s hairy 60-year-old hand reaching out to give me a back rub.
I took up too much space at my thinnest, a 127-pound ghost of myself. I internalized a thousand voices that were not mine, and they dictated whether or not I advocated for myself for far too long.
“Excuse me,” I said to the teenager whose backpack was taking up the only unoccupied seat. He raised his eyebrows, laughed, and then started talking to another teenager. That day, the child I watch had diaper rash. I got kid poop on me, and I held her as she cried for her parents. I had nothing left to give, and I just wanted to sit down.
I said excuse me again, waited, handed his bag to him, and then kicked him as I was sitting down.
“Thank you.” I took a seat and smiled with my voice. This was a new voice, though, one I’d found deep within myself. This was also a new smile, one I’d only seen in dramatic reenactments on Snapped and Women Who Kill. The kid didn’t say anything and neither did his friend.
In the last month, I have sat on 12 men.
At first I was shocked when no one said anything to me. I was wholeheartedly prepared for a rushhour fistfight, but the most that has happened was a man violently pressing his knee into mine in a passive-aggressive remake of the final armwrestling battle in Over the Top.
If I had to guess, I would say that most Three-Seaters have a vestigial conscience that flickers briefly when a strange tired-looking woman is sitting on half of their leg. The ones that don’t maybe at least had a grandma who would have backhanded them if she saw them slouching around, not giving up their seat to a pregnant lady or elderly person.
Lately I’ve been getting bolder, excusing myself and then hurling my body into the empty seat like a boxcar hobo throwing a bindle onto a moving freight train. In the past, excuse me was usually a whisper that left my body while I prepared to make myself smaller. In the new excuse me, there is no grinding my teeth while juggling four bags, no passive discomfort while dreaming of the alternate universe where I advocate for the space I deserve.
Let’s sit down together.