Monday, July 10, 2006

Public transit story #9: Ditmus

Yesterday my wife and I helped my best friend move from three miles away from us to almost forty miles away from us. I'm quite sad that she moved, but at least her commute will be a whole lot less hellish.

There's really no good way to get theah from heah except by car, but of course I had injured myself rather stupidly at a Habitat for Humanity project the day before and wasn't entirely capable of operating the stickshift; and my wife was at work that morning, which meant she was halfway there already. Thus, she was not about to come home, get me and the car, and turn around and drive back. So we bumbled our way through friends' cars and transit, and it was all well and good in the end.

Except that just before the end, we encountered this guy on the BART.

This guy settled himself noisily in the seat behind us and placed his elbow perilously close to our heads.

Here's the thing about BART culture--it's totally cool to sit down next to someone you don't know, but it's totally uncool to invade a stranger's personal space, even if it's just the strap of your briefcase against his or her leg. This guy's elbow was not yet touching us, so he was not in violation of noli me tangere, but personal safety trumps BART culture anyway, and everyone knows it.

So my wife turned around and said, "Excuse me, sir, but would you mind moving your elbow? We don't want to get hit in the head."

The guy (who, by the way, was an older white dude with a smattering of tattoos on his wrinkly arms) said, "Well, how about I put it here then?" and moved his elbow back a fraction of an inch.

We looked at him pointedly.

"Our heads are right here," I said, "so would you please move your elbow?"

He moved his elbow away, but he put his head in its place and started muttering things like "you don't like my elbow here? Well, I don't like your asses in that seat! Move your asses! I don't like them there! They're in my way!"

We ignored him.

Unsatisfied with our complete lack of response, he got up and moved to the seat facing us. All the while he muttered away--sometimes saying vaguely menacing things about our apparently inconvenient asses, other times saying largely incoherent things about girls reading books.

We continued to ignore him, but every so often we looked at him out of the corners of our eyes. Just in case.

He started rummaging around in his bookbag. He pulled out a crumpled piece of paper after a while, then a pen, and scribbled something on the paper. He offered it to my wife. She ignored him. "Read this!" he said. "Look!" and he tossed the paper onto her book. She read it.

"Is this your name?" she said. No response. "This is yours," she said, with more sweetness than I could have mustered, and handed it back.

This apparently was not the response he was expecting. He grew visibly pissed, crumpled up the paper, and tossed it onto the seat next to him. More muttering.

When he got off the train several minutes later, he said to us, "I'm sorry I was rude to you girls."

"That's okay," said my wife, ever the minister. "Have a nice evening."

Later, while we were waiting for the bus, she said, "Honey, do you know what 'ditmus' means?"


"'Ditmus'? D-I-T-M-U-S?"

"What's 'ditmus'?"

"I don't know! That's why I'm asking you. It's what the guy wrote on that piece of paper."

"I have no idea. But there was something not cognitively right about that man, and I was in this dilemma about whether ignoring him would extinguish his behavior or escalate it."

"Eh, I don't think he was dangerous. But I kept an eye on him just the same."

"High, psychotic, or both--that's for sure. Hey! The bus is here!"

I had some down time at work today, so I decided to Google-define "ditmus." Want a laugh? Follow the link for the suggested spelling.

Merry Ditmus, everyone!

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