It was Thursday morning, and I was in an OK mood. I’m normally in an OK mood on Thursdays. Not good, not bad — just OK. I’m in a great mood on Fridays. On Mondays, Tuesdays and the first half of Wednesdays, I’m in a bad mood. But Thursdays, with the weekend finally in sight, I’m in an OK mood.
I boarded the 6 train with a neutral look on my face. Not smiling, not frowning — just neutral. Again, it was Thursday. I noticed an open seat, and I pounced on it like a mountain lion probably does when he sees an open seat on the subway. But before I sat down, I saw that there was a used gum wrapper and a seemingly empty pack of gum on the bench. Doing what any other New Yorker would do in this situation, I brushed the items off the bench and onto to the ground, because that’s where we New Yorkers put our trash. I sat down, and lost myself in the music in my earbuds.
In my peripherally, I saw the gentlemen who was sitting to my right start to stir. He tapped me on my arm. He was mouthing words, but I couldn’t hear what he was saying on account of my music. At the very least I knew he was angry, because he was trying to engage me in conversation on the subway. Strangers who urgently need to speak to you rarely have something positive to say. No one in New York taps you on the shoulder so they can ask you where you got your sneakers or compliment you on your cologne (although those are both very nice things to do). I took one earbud out of my ear. This is New York code for “I’m going to entertain the idea of you talking to me, but I’m going to keep my music on in my other ear just in case what you’re saying is boring.” I didn’t get all of what he was trying to tell me, but I heard enough to realize that he was apparently very angry that I had thrown the pack of gum onto the floor…his pack of gum.
“I’m sorry, was that your gum? ” I asked, even though I already knew the answer based on how pissed off he was. He answered in the affirmative. I apologized and insisted that I had thought it was garbage. He very adamantly said that it was not. Come to think of it, the pack did seem rather weighty as I rocketed it off the bench with an authoritative arm movement that, looking back on it now, screamed, “NOT IN MY HOUSE.” It was an honest mistake, and I felt really bad. I picked the gum up and handed it back to him, apologizing again. Fishing for some admittance of wrongdoing on his part, I reiterated to him that I thought the pack of gum, which was resting in the middle of an open subway seat, lying next to a used gum wrapper, was trash. After all, it wasn’t a wallet or a ring of keys or any other important personal belonging that might have slipped out of someone’s pocket. It was shit, just random shit people leave behind all the time on the train. Still, he made it known that the gum that was lying on a seat with which millions of New Yorkers’ asses, taints and crotches come into contact was in fact not trash, insinuating that it was I who was in the wrong for assuming it was such.
By now, our spirited debate had aroused the attention of some of the other passengers. One guy in particular, sitting across from me, picked his head up, half smiling in that nervous but curious, “hey, some real-ass shit is about to go down” kind of way. I stood my ground, and politely asked “Ass Gum” a simple question: “If it wasn’t garbage, then what was it doing on the seat?” It was a risky move, seeing as I was in perfect stabbing range. Now, I had no way of knowing if he was the kind of dude who would stab someone over a differing view of subway etiquette, let alone someone who would go around carrying a knife for just such an occasion, but you can never be too sure. Luckily, he met me not with the cold sharpness of a blade but with the cold awkwardness of silence. He turned away without answering me, and just I put my earbud back in and went back to minding my own business. The whole thing was very anticlimactic, but that was fine by me considering a “climax” could have involved multiple puncture wounds. Getting stabbed on a Thursday would have sucked. I’d much rather get stabbed on a Monday or a Tuesday, or the first half of Wednesday. I would’ve already been in a bad mood.
We sat there uncomfortably for the rest of my subway ride, not acknowledging each other’s presence. I started feeling bad that I had gotten into an argument with a complete stranger over such a stupid misunderstanding. I also felt bad that I had called him “Ass Gum” in my head. I began to second-guess my actions. Maybe he didn’t mean to leave his gum on the seat. It could have just been an accident, and I could have very easily asked him if the pack was his before I assumed it was garbage and swatted it down it onto the floor. I thought about leaning over to him and cheekily saying, “excuse me, sir, do you have any gum?” to smooth things over. We’d share a good laugh and shake hands. That would be great.
But then it was my stop and I ran out of the train because I’m not a man.