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Saturday, Sept. 19, 2009
WHEN EAST MARRIES WEST
Sometimes you just have to shout it out
The other day I met this crazy lady on the train.
Well, I didn't actually meet her. I only saw her. But I saw her very well.
To start, I watched her stagger down the carriage as the train snaked through suburbia. Just a dumpy, everyday woman with a crumpled shopping bag curled into each arm.
Yet, something about her grabbed my eye. She didn't look crazy, exactly. Nor did she look normal.
Instead, she wore a sour expression that suggested she was ready to bite. The only question was . . . Whom?
So when she approached, I leaned back. No one else seemed to notice. But they were about to.
For just then the crazy lady screamed — as if stabbed. Every passenger jumped.
The crazy lady then faced a person standing before the door. Except . . . There was no person standing before the door.
And a good thing too. For if there had been, he would have been cut in half by a sizzling volley of rage.
For the crazy lady was upset. She was upset with an invisible man by the door and she was now unloading on him the way Union artillery once unloaded on Pickets Charge. The train car shook with her voice.
Nobody moved. Passengers eyed one another, strangers connecting with strangers. "What do we do?" the eyes read. "Don't look at me! I have no idea," came the shared response.
Yet as the crazy lady kicked her tirade into second gear, it became clear she was nothing but a mousy middle-aged woman who carried shopping bags — not butcher knives — and the only thing she was assaulting was air. The car of people exhaled.
Oh. It's OK. She's just a crazy lady. A loud one. Nothing to worry about. Nothing to worry about at all.
A few passengers — those removed from the crazy lady's line of vision — ventured wiry smiles. Everyone else looked away.
Those sitting right before her developed intense interest in their comic books, cell phones or the floor. Interest that they maintained as the crazy lady raked her invisible foe with round after round of invective, startling in its ferocity. She shrieked her anger while everyone pretended not to hear.
Twice the crazy lady turned to the opposite door, her guns apparently cooled. Yet, each time she spun back to give her riddled opponent one more violent broadside. She had no limitations on ammo.
But then the train slowed, the doors opened, and the crazy lady hugged her bags and stepped out.
The doors closed and the train continued. Quietly. As if nothing had happened.
"I met a crazy lady on the train today," I told my wife.
"Is that politically correct?" she said. "Shouldn't you say 'disturbed'? Or perhaps 'sensibly challenged'?"
"No, this lady was cuckoo."
"Well, you should know."
"The thing is no one did anything. We just let her be cuckoo."
"But that's something, isn't it? I once saw this guy who kept smashing himself in the face — over and over. But he seemed to enjoy it, so I just let him. What else was I to do? Say, 'Excuse me, sir, but I think your face has had just about enough?' That would have been nuttier."
I don't know, I told her back. In the wash of humanity — especially prim and proper Japanese humanity — the vision of one person behaving irrationally can be unnerving.
In the packed sardine can of a commuter train it was a more than just a reminder that troubled and needy people are everywhere. The sharper prompt was that stress is hounding us all. This time it got her. Last time it got him.
The next time it could be you or me. Isn't that why the train grew so quiet? Everyone was chewing on that very thought.
She eyed me. "Does that mean . . . You see someone by the door?"
"No, it means there but for the grace of god went someone else and not me."
"OK," she said. Then paused. "And how about by the window? Is there anyone there?"
"C'mon, I am trying to relate to all of humanity, here."
"All of humanity does not see invisible people."
That's my point, I told her. Humanity is very selective in whom it sees.
Maybe it has gotten better at it. Maybe it hasn't. But humanity — and perhaps especially prim and proper Japanese humanity — does not like to look at those who are different. Be they handicapped, be they foreign, be they cuckoo. Or be they whatever.
There are lots of lost, lonely "whatevers" in Japan. Sometimes it takes a good scream to get attention.
Maybe the crazy lady knew that. Maybe she knew all along there was no one by the door. Maybe she just wanted to be seen.
And she surely was.
Meaning maybe — in the end — she wasn't so very crazy after all.