Last night some words were had on a slow-moving G train from Greenpoint. The first set of words came from an older Hispanic gentleman. He was celebrating Puerto Rican pride with a friend, by yelling in drunken Spanish and smoking a cigarette on the train.
The second set of words were delivered by a young, white woman who was the very picture of North Williamsburg gentrification—H&M army jacket, fixed-gear bicycle, and a scruffy sense of political activism and civic pride that someday will calcify into exacting self-righteousness played out with a series of handmade signs around her apartment building, bearing messages like "THIS TREE NEEDS WATER, NOT DOG PEE" and "PLEASE STOP YOUR VAL-PAK TERRORISM NOW!!" Having no apparent Puerto Rican pride of her own, she was admonishing/lecturing the older gentleman on his special day.
"You're smoking on the train. Do. Not. Smoke. On. The. Train." Her words were clipped, like she was assembling sentences with something called SEVERELY DISAPPROVING MAGNETIC POETRY. As she lectured the old man, he waved her off and took turns dragging from his cigarette and chuckling in Spanish. ("Chuckling in Spanish" is also a very dirty sex act that involves a large meal, some nitrous oxide and a diaper attached to a slingshot.) While he chuckled and smoked, she continued.
"Stop. Smoking. Now."
"Seriously. Stop. It's. Illegal. You. Are. Making. All. Of. Us. Sick. With. Your. Smoking. Can. You. Understand. Me?"
"Stop. It. Stop. It. Stop."
Finally, she resorted to the quintessential square-and-angry-and-struggling-to-relate-to-inner-city-types plea: "That's not cool, man. That's NOT COOL." Whenever I hear those words—and I've even said them myself, after exchanging a lot of angry dialogue with 10 year-old black kid who had hurled a rock at my girlfriend as she rode by on her bicycle—I get a horrible feeling in my skin, like all the Caucasian is racing up to the surface. Spike Lee perfectly captured this particular kind of inter-racial discomfort in Do the Right Thing, when John Savage (in his Celtics jersey – get it?) had some loud words with a group of black teenagers after accidentally scuffing one of their brand-new Air Jordans. ("Them shits is broke!")
In the battle of Puerto Rican Pride vs. Civic Pride, it was a dead heat. The more the young woman scolded the old man, the more drunk and cigarette-crazy he seemed to get. Finally, the conductor popped his head out and explained that cops were on their way. (The young girl took this as a win for her team, and warned the old man that now the cops were coming and he was going to have to pay $100 for smoking and no one could go anywhere because we were all stopped thanks to him and I hope you're happy. He was, by all accounts, happy.) Moments later, three uniformed officers entered the train and ordered the old man and his pal to vacate the train. While this was happening, the young girl and her friends were helpfully pointing out where the old man had hastily discarded his cigarette.
Perhaps their Puerto Rican pride was radiating too strongly, because the old men refused to exit the train. (Or didn't understand the request.) A minor scuffle broke out and, finally, two of the officers lifted the drunks out of their seats, their old arms waggling, grabbing at the air, and roughly escorted them off the train with a hearty shove. The train doors closed, and we all proceeded in silence.
Though I was sorry to see the old men go, it was kind of interesting to see how the situation was handled. Sometimes I forget that police officers can just grab people and shove them out of a train, and that's just called "protecting and serving." If anyone else had done that (and many of us were surely thinking about it) it would have been considered short-tempered, and possibly a little insane/dangerous. But the police intervention seemed pretty reasonable.
Honestly, whether they were wearing police badges or Batman costumes, the uniform really does justify certain types of behavior. I only wish one of the officers had turned on the young girl, pushed a finger into her collarbone, and said, "And you: calm the fuck down. Your lack of Puerto Rican pride disgusts me! NOT COOL." because that was the other thing I really wanted to do but was too afraid it would make me look crazy.