On the F train today, I listened to a middle-aged man in a tan raincoat talk for twenty minutes, because I thought eventually he would have to run out of opinions. His touched his carefully trimmed mustache a lot as he talked. He looked like someone’s dad. He had opinions about the eternal soul, and he had opinions about who ought to be accepted as one’s savior, and he had opinions about sin. He had opinions about the sinfulness of both the world in general and this subway car full of quiet people reading in particular.
These opinions weren’t very unusual. Lots of people have them, and tell them to you while calling you “mybrothersandsisters”. I was educated by some of them. I don’t mind when people tell you, as this man did, that they love and respect all of God’s creation. But when they tell you this fact between examples of what or whom among God’s creation they don’t think deserve it, that’s another thing.
This man got specific very quickly, as he started to discuss his opinions of what God’s opinions are. For example, about homosexuality. And “dark-skinned blacks, not my light-skinned black brothersandsisters” (the man was black, if you’re curious, but I’m not sure if that makes it less of a bad thing to say or worse. Or the same). And Jewish people. He had a lot of opinions about Jewish people and why their history of persecution was what they deserved. An old man dressed in the Orthodox tradition, sitting silently with his head bowed, swallowed, but did not look up. Interesting how the guy who was supposed to be such a menace to the soul of our city was not the one currently bothering everyone. I thought about saying something to the man with the opinions, in defense of this man who was bothering no one, but I thought that if the man with the opinions felt such a deep entitlement to press them upon a captive audience of unexcited strangers, no mere opinion of mine could mean much in the face of that certainty. And would there be something appropriative and boorish about calling him out for talking about black people, Jewish people, and gay people, when I was none of those things and there were black people and the Orthodox man sitting in the car who had chosen not to engage him? I hated that no one stood up to him, and I felt ashamed that I lacked the certainty to do it myself. I didn’t like the idea that everyone in the car, by staying silent, was agreeing on some level that this speech was acceptable.
But then he started talking about women. And I could do more than have just an opinion about women. I was qualified to serve as an example, because I am one.
This man talked about women who talk too much. Women who think they have a right to voice an opinion because they forget that they were created second. Women who forget that every month their blood is a (kind of passive-aggressive) punishment from God for the sin inherent in being descendants of Eve.
Last month, I said, “I hope having a kid one day is worth all this. I’ve spent a fortune on Tylenol.” La-dee-da, the things we do for creation. Oh, creation! You love that, right?
He said that women in this city were foul and should know that they are sinful and base and DISGUSTING.
A lot of women I know spend a lot of time worrying that someone will call them disgusting sometime. Too many. I know I do. But not by this guy. If I’m disgusting, it’s not because this guy says so. Not this smug man who thinks he’s entitled to tell everyone what God thinks of them. I think I am entitled to nothing, except perhaps the right not to be subject to the entitlement of others. So I said aloud, definitely a little more loudly than I intended:
"So, love and respect for God’s creation, sure, but … not women?”
He looked at me like a frog had just spoken to him. I saw the whites of his eyes. He literally trembled with rage. I thought maybe I had made a mistake. ”I love and respect all of God’s creation. I just CALL OUT THE DEMONS WHEN I SEE THEM.”
The moment he said the word “demons”, any nagging fear or thoughts that he was too unhinged for this to mean anything fell by the wayside, because it was such a dramatic and medieval idea I couldn’t believe he was saying it seriously. Plus I was right in the middle of rereading Good Omens. “So … women … are demons, then?”
"Yes." He said, proudly.
"And therefore God created … demons?"
“Well, Lucifer was a fallen angel, I know, so I see where you’re coming from. Although, in terms of your theology, if God cre-“
"-IN THE BLINK OF AN EYE THE POWER OF GOD CAN CAUSE THIS WORLD TO VANISH."
He had turned away so that he could keep talking without looking at me. He wasn’t so sure of himself anymore.
"Okay, then." I was glad that at least he hadn’t gone through his day spewing vitriol without anyone telling him it wasn’t okay. I felt a flash of victory, but I wished the train doors had opened at a station just then so I could make an exit. Instead I just stayed sitting there for a few minutes as he went on and on and on. I deflated slightly as I noticed, with a twinge of surprise and maybe hurt, that no one else in the car met my eye either. Maybe I had been too self-righteous.
When we pulled into the station, I briskly took my two heavy bags and walked out the doors, then back in the doors of the next car. Maybe I should have gotten off the train. Never in my life had I ever wished more that I had a tail. A demon tail.