I did it again. I always tell myself that next time I won’t say anything. No, I’ll just let this person pass by, maybe I’ll even smile at them while I keep my pissed-offness hidden behind my sunglasses and the humming of Oh What a Beautiful Morning. To be fair to me, I have, indeed, on a few occasions, controlled my righteousness and just kept trucking on like nothing was amiss in my little world. But other times, it just triggers that part of me who, from a very early age, felt the need to stand up to bullies of all kinds. I’ve had this major attitude of It’s Not Fair! Who-Do-You-Think-You-Are-Anyway? You-Think-You’re-Better-Than-Me? since I was little working-class Annie Eyerman going to school with nuns who seemed to favor the nouveau riche middle-class kids over me. I never said anything to them, didn’t dare. However, I kept that injustice brewing inside of me. As you can imagine, that kernel of my being has often got me into a pickle. I should have listened to my dear father who all those years ago when, yet again, I had sassed back, looked at me sternly and said quietly, but seriously, “Annie, that mouth of yours will get you into trouble some day.” And he was right.
But so was I, Dad, so was I. I was right this morning. The girl was riding her bike on a busy College Street sidewalk, hovering behind a couple who were sauntering which is what pedestrians are allowed to do on sidewalks, eh? I could have said nothing but — needless to say — I didn’t follow that route, no siree.
“Excuse me,” I started. (I always try to be polite.)
She stopped and pulled out her white iPod earplugs. She waited.
“You know,” I said all neighborly like, “this is a sidewalk and it’s not meant for bikes.”
I waited. Usually this is when I get a F–K You, Lady.
She got off her bike, looked at me condescendingly and said, “I’m taking up less space on this sidewalk with my bicycle than you are lady.” (She didn’t say fat lady but I think she was implying it). She continued her lecture, “I saw you from way back there.” nodding towards the library. “I was not going to hurt you.” She sounded like she was reconsidering that decision.
“Butbutbut the bike lane is right there, right there!” I pointed just in case she missed it.
She was having none of this guilt, no siree. She said that she had something that began with an “L” wrong with her foot which made walking painful. I didn’t get a chance to tell her about my arthritic feet, knees, crooked tibia bone and advanced age which made getting out of bed painful let alone walking on this sidewalk. But by now she was back on her bike arrogantly riding away. She didn’t give me the finger but I expected it.
Then I felt bad. I always do. I wanted to cry, tell someone my woes. “Why should I feel bad? Why should I feel shame or guilt here?” But no one was around to hear my silent entreaties. I was especially disappointed with myself today because not an hour before I had been meditating with my friend, Deepak Chopra, on the theme of “Miraculous Communication.” Believe me there was nothing miraculous about what I said to that young woman. I didn’t even follow the four easy lessons he provided as a barometer on whether I should open my big mouth or keep it firmly shut:
(1) Is what you’re about to say kind? (2) It is true? (3) Is it necessary? and (4) Does it improve upon the silence?
I answered a resounding NO to all of the above.
I think what saddens me the most about the sidewalk-bicycle-riding group and the folks on the subway who put their feet on the seats, and the bullies who stand in front of the doors and try to trip folks when they exit is their sense of entitlement that gives them the right to do whatever they want even when they’re in the wrong. It’s that kind of selfishness that riles me and gets my big mouth going. I wonder if this is how my mother felt when I was that flip 20-something just back from a year in Germany who told her smugly that I had found more religion in the forests of the Schwarzwald than I ever had inside a Catholic church. I was mean — just like those arrogant punks on their bikes.
In the future, when walking down bike-crowded sidewalks, I’m going to try my best to follow Deepak’s Miraculous Communication Rules — but at the same time, I’m going to keep in mind my wise friend, Judith’s, contribution — “Even if you don’t react — you can still be pissed off.”