Friday, June 12, 2009

Man on the Seat

YOURS Truly can’t get Beau out of her head. No sooner than I sit next to him when a spot opens up on a Downtown Manhattan express train, he gives me to know that he would beat down the guy sitting across from us, also heretofore standing, if he (Beau) weren’t so tired. It’s Thursday (11 June) morning.

A few moments earlier, the guy and I had some words because we’d staked claim to the same spot, but did a little maneuvering that made us reasonably comfortable standing next to each other, holding onto the bar hanging over the bench were Beau is sitting.

This is not necessary; I have bigger fish to fry. Besides, I say, the guy was more annoyed than rude.

Beau does not agree. The guy was disrespectful. "No man should disrespect a woman,” he says resolutely, barely above a whisper.

Beau’s (not-so unfamiliar) story: His parents were a mess. He grew up with no discipline and no direction. No proper schooling. He raised himself on the mean streets of Gotham. “I did what I had to do, you know what I’m sayin’.” His impressive resume included robbing banks, leading to a life behind bars – roughly half of his. A year or so ago he walked through those oppressive iron gates. Now, he’s rebuilding. He’s the father of a 13-year-old daughter he’s raising on his own because Baby Mama split a long time ago and as a parting shot she cleaned out his bank account and took his truck. (Girlfriend, have you no mercy?) …

Beau hates Thursdays. HATES. THURSDAYS. On T-Day, he has to go see The Man (parole officer). “I’m a grown man and I have to give account of myself. I don’t like it. This ain’t no way to live.” But a man’s gottta do what a man’s gotta do ...

Even if the guy were disrespectful, the solution would not be to respond with violence. I suggest that Beau, in these situations, could simply remind the man that there’s a better way to talk to a lady. I even dust off that old chestnut, “Two wrongs don’t make a right.”

Beau hears me but he doesn’t feel me. His father beat his mother. A LOT – producing in him a lot of anger. Anger at his mother. Anger at his father. Anger at himself. Anger at the world. And anger and disgust at the police, who in their Keystone Cop bumbling, always arrived, “after my father had beat my mother black and blue and kicked her under the bed. When it’s too late.” In fact, his anger is so great that he is obliged to attend anger-management classes. All too well he knows that if the anger morphs into violence he’d be on the first bus back to the Big House.

Of course, I don’t want that to happen on my watch. I remind Beau that he is living through a personal Reconstruction: “Freedom. Freedom. Freedom, Oh Freedom!” Besides, when one person is acting out someone has to be cool. Imagine, I say, if we were talking at the same time. It would be total confusion. There’d be some sort of combustion.

For the first time since I sat, he looks over at me, peering through sleepy eyes from underneath a baseball cap hung low on his head. He’s nodding as if he gets it.

Emboldened, I launch into psychospeak: When people are being rude or otherwise acting out, perhaps he can say something like, “Are you OK; may I help you?” Unless the person is out of their minds on meds, those questions will often have a calming effect. These are people who are acting out, out of their brokenness. Those gentle words will disarm them because they are not accustomed to compassion. It is judgment, disapproval, anger and dismissal with which they are too often confronted.

Are those signs of life emanating from Beau, as if a light has been switched on? “Wow. Are you a counselor or something,” he asks, shaking his head incredulously. “I never met nobody like you. I don’t know nobody who talks like that … I’m gonna meditate on that.”

I’ve learned from my own mistakes and the mistakes of others – mostly the mistakes of others, I inform Beau. Further, I submit, there are more people out there like me. I encourage him to talk to more people he doesn’t know and people who don’t live in his immediate neighborhood ... The train doors are about to open. We quickly shake hands and wish each other a good day. I dash out of the car ...

Sadly, those of us who live in metropolises that are served by mass transportation are alienated from our fellow man rubbing shoulders with us because we are reading, playing electronic solitaire, listening to i-pods and looking the other way. On this dreary morning I simply sat and as a result spoke some wholeness into Beau’s world. I believe in a very small way I helped make his world a better place. He certainly had that effect on mine.

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