Muller Marginalia

It’s Hard to Be Soft

Published: Sep 21, 2022  |  

Writer, editor, performer and self-producer

Recently, one of our articles became immediately relevant to me in a way I would not have preferred. I’d just edited Jaime Andrews’ lovely piece, “Cultivate Softness,” which extolled the virtues of flexibility, not going to extremes, and generally letting things go when they ruffle your feathers. It was a great piece of writing, and even better advice—which I would be well served to take. I then put away my laptop early, since it was time to head downtown to City Hall: my fiancé and I had a date with the city clerk to get our marriage license. All was romance, light and love…That is, until we got on the subway.

In her piece, Jaime mentioned road rage as one of the common daily behaviors we might seek to “soften.” I’d posit that, for New Yorkers, we might add to the mix “subway rage.” But unlike road rage, where anonymous drivers whip themselves up into a wrathful frenzy in the comfort of their own vehicle, subway rage is pure, New York-style, face-to-face conflict. To borrow Jaime’s language, you could say that New Yorkers tend to be pretty “hardcore.”

My fiancé and I were sitting by the entrance to the car in the first two seats of the row. There were a scattered few other riders, but it was by no means a packed car: about three spots over from me, a young woman was perched in between two seats, giving a wide buffer between me and the next man on the row—it’s like using urinals, you try to keep a buffer zone where possible. In short, setting the scene: there were tons of open spots.

An older white woman boards the car and sidles up right next to me—a complete rejection of the urinal code, but okay, that’s her right. My purse is tucked behind me to my right, my own buffer insurance—because if it’s not a packed car, one attempts to maintain a buffer, it’s just what you do. Then she says, “can you move your purse so I can actually sit in the seat?” I look at her—and the entirely empty seat to her right, by which the young woman is perched. I move my purse. And honestly I should have said nothing, but—fuck this lady—so I say, “you know, there is a whole lot of empty space to your right.” Because it feels almost pathological to start shit with me when there is literally no reason to engage. But no: she chose this seat and to have this interaction with it.

It felt like this woman entered the subway car ready to fight, and thought, “this other white woman is my safest bet,” because from that moment on, she just would not stop talking. Apparently, she “had” to sit directly next to me because “other people” were “taking up two seats”—the young woman perching between seats looked deeply uncomfortable to be the pseudo target of this woman’s passive aggressive complaint. She criticized me for having my purse in a seat (it really was barely to my side) and I criticized her for invading my personal space when there was quite literally no lack of other empty seats throughout the entire car. She then said that “this is why the world is the way it is right now” because of course, and I told her she was creating a conflict where there had been none.

My fiancé had remained quiet, like a supportive feminist future husband who does not presume to get involved and lets his partner handle her own battles. But we all have a limit, and he’d reached his. So while the woman continues to complain about everyone else on the car, he turns to her and yells, “LADY, SHUT THE FUCK UP ALREADY!” I don’t think I’ve ever loved him more. 

Needless to say, that did not deescalate the situation, but we’d fortunately reached a stop where we could transfer to the express, so I got up to leave. And called the lady an asshole. Because she was being a tremendous asshole.

Once I calmed down, of course I felt stupid. I should have said nothing. I should have been the bigger person. I should have been “softer.” It would have been awesome if I just made a sad trombone noise at her instead and then pretended she wasn’t there. But by the same token… fuck that. Her entitlement was so galling, the way she felt she could “correct” everyone’s behavior on the car—someone had to say no. Not today.

And as much as that wasn’t really the best vibe for our trip down to the city clerk, it was kind of romantic in its own perverse way. My fiancé and I are pretty hardcore people. We met while spectating the muay thai fights of teammates from our gym, and we still regularly hold pads for each other that we beat to death with our shins, knees, elbows and fists while screaming: controlled pugilism is central to our healthy, enduring relationship. So getting into a fight together against a common enemy on the subway car on the way to get our marriage certificate was its own sort of weird poetry.

Still, on the whole, I agree with Jaime’s sentiment: the world—and your blood pressure—will be better if we all seek to cultivate a little more softness. But it’s also nice to release the rage every once in a while, so long as it’s in a productive way. I think I’ve found a good outlet: the invasive spotted lanternfly has flooded the Tristate area, and it’s wreaking havoc on the ecosystem and crops, so New Yorkers are actively encouraged to snuff them out whenever they find one. Yesterday, I stomped on three in the ten minute walk between Chambers Street and the city clerk’s office. Let’s hope with a little bit more softness and a lot more bug stomping, I’ll be able to avoid future altercations on the 1 train.

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