By: Pete Johnson
If there is one thing in the world that everyone always likes to do, it is talking about themselves. This is why the high water mark of human happiness seems to be finding a person who can stand to be around you for the rest of your life. People definitely do not couple with each other for the sex. They do so because each of us wants to believe that who we are and the feelings we feel are important and true and great, and because we desperately need someone to spout off to at the end of the day about the shit Brenda from HR pulled today that you absolutely will not even believe.
I've read a few new things about people getting angry at other people on airplanes. This is not because there has been an outbreak of unspeakable behavior on airplanes all of a sudden. Complaining about things that made you angry on an airplane just happens to be a very basic form of talking about yourself. You go somewhere on a plane, something other than fun always happens because it is a plane, then when you arrive at your destination someone politely asks you how your flight was, and boy oh boy jackpot. You get to prattle on for hours about a minor inconvenience to YOU and how it affected YOUR important existence, and then they say "wow that sucks," and the feelings you have been feeling by yourself for the past 1-12 hours are validated. It is great. I hate it.
I ate a sandwich on a Metro train recently, which is not allowed. It is probably a good rule, and a reason why the DC Metro is one of the cleanest subway systems in the country. However, the sandwich in question was not made out of anything anyone I've ever heard of is allergic to, and had no particularly smelly ingredients. The train was empty enough that there was easily enough this-sandwich-might-bother-you space clearance, and I made it a point to not spill a crumb or, like, lick my hands and then smear saliva and sandwich grease all over the community hand-touching areas of the train like some kind of a sandwich maniac. I'd like to think that even while I ate the sandwich in a technically no-sandwich zone, I maintained a polite respect for reasonable sandwich protocols. But also, crucially, I had a sandwich in my hands and I was hungry for a sandwich. I mean, come on. I was not eating an abstract referendum on white male privilege or "rape culture" or anything. It was a sandwich. Turkey. Mayo. Bread. A Sandwich. I was eating it like a normal human would eat a sandwich. I didn't even have my dick out or anything.
Nonetheless, I could feel an older woman staring at me the entire 3 stops it took me to eat this sandwich. When I was finished I looked up and she shook her head at me while still staring daggers. She was furious. When I left the train, she let out an amazing 'the nerve of this asshole' scoff, shook her head again, and physically pounded on the sign that says I have to wait until I get home to eat my sandwich. This is how I imagine it is like for Casey Anthony to negotiate public spaces. To be fair, I understand the comparison. Casey Anthony might have gotten away with murdering her own two year old daughter, duct taping her body, burying her in a shallow grave, and then partying in Florida for a week. I ate a sandwich on a train. We're basically the same, as far as this lady is concerned.
I've always had a bit of a problem with authority, I guess, or at least the kind of authority this woman represents, which is the rules-are-rules-just-because-we-love-rules, but-only-when-we-say-so variety. Dollars to donuts, if I was a 19 year old black kid in a sideways ball cap eating the same sandwich, she'd be clutching her purse and praying for safety for the whole ride, and halfway home for good measure, rather than throwing regular old goofy white professional sandwich-eating me a full-blown "known child murderer who walks freely among us" amount of shade. I have a problem with that kind authority, maybe. It would be more accurate to say that I have various opinions of various authorities, all of which boil down to my steadfast beliefs that A: almost every rule standing between me and eating a sandwich I am currently holding can go fuck themselves, and B: anyone who gets that worked up about some simple sandwich rule breaking definitely deserves it. I am punk rock as fuck when it comes to sandwiches.
I thought to myself as I was strolling home on a pleasantly full stomach that I had ruined this woman's evening, and despite my general belief that ruining someone's evening is wrong, I was pleased. As time went on and I kept envisioning this lady's sneer as she pounded her fist melodramatically on an illustration of a sandwich with a Ghostbuster circle over it, I realized that while I still stand 1000% behind my defiant act of in-your-face public sandwich eating, I almost certainly did not ruin her evening. In fact I probably made her evening, because she could then go home and tell someone with hilarious and sad enthusiasm about the despicable thing someone did near her on the train today. For weeks, she will become the lady nobody was talking to who pipes in about young sandwich-eating hooligans on the train, eating sandwiches with complete impunity even though there's a sign, right there on the wall, and yet they are out there eating sandwiches with no respect for the sanctity of human life, what is this world coming to, hell in a handbasket, etc., and then when people say something noncommittal like "yeah, people really don't have any respect these days" with a subtext of "I hope my saying this will get me closer to not listening to this person who has been driven borderline insane by loneliness," she'll get to think "what a lovely couple" and "I am not alone." Even if she did not realize it in the moment of her fury at me for having eaten a sandwich, and will likely go on living her life without knowing it, she was, on balance, absolutely glad that I ate that sandwich in front of her.
I am obviously a pretty bad offender when it comes to talking about myself. Everyone is, but probably especially anyone that writes something about a time they ate a sandwich. I have tried to work on being aware of this need that everyone has to feel validated, and have made a conscious effort to focus on listening to people, but I still suck at it. Put two drinks in me and I'm instantly doing that thing everyone does where instead of listening I'm just looking for another opportunity to talk about myself. I'm getting a little better at not complaining, but that is hard too, because complaining is such an easy way to talk about yourself. That's why there are so many people in the world whose main goal in life seems to be finding things to complain about. When I think of the Rules Are Rules And No Sandwiches Is A RULE Lady, I remember that in her eyes, behind all that misplaced anger, I could actually see a palpable pre-complain excitement in there.
I'm not saying that complaining sucks, although it does. What sucks most is the big lie we all tell ourselves during any anger that comes before the inevitable complaining. It would be nice for everyone to know "oh, this is just me feeling vulnerable and isolated and ignored, and this guy eating this sandwich without carefully considering my feelings on the matter is just one more instance of that," and understand and accept this in real time without ever feeling the hot, angry thrust of endorphins caused by that terrible involuntary spike in awareness of the human condition. It would be nice if we could actually ask for what we need, and actually listen to each other, and be present and available and gracious instead of just stuffing our faces with sandwiches and treating each other like war criminals for no reason.
But I know that's not realistic. It's tough out there. Some of us are going to eat their sandwiches, and some of us are not going to like it. Sure, we all could wake up everyday and decide to be happy we're alive. That is a real choice we could all just make and no one would ever get too miffed about sandwiches. We could all just be grateful that an amazing series of miracles happened so that we can even be here to experience whatever homeless guy shitting on a baby type of thing always happens during our commute to make us angry for the rest of the day. But the only people who can really do that and be chipper all day every day no matter what are probably insane, and definitely sometimes insufferable. So we have to take what we can get.
So if you're out there, Angry Sandwich Rules Lady, I'm sorry. I'm sorry I was too hungry and impatient to wait to eat my sandwich. I'm sorry there are other things like this happening to you every day, compounding the grand uncaring universe's ceaseless message of "you will one day die without your existence ever having mattered," to the point where you don't even understand the world or any of the sandwich-eating humans in it anymore. I wish I could say I am interested in you or your stamp collection or whatever, and I'm not, and I'm sorry. I hope that you receive some comforting validation from whoever you complain to about me and all the other sandwich-eating assholes as metaphor for encroachments against your essential humanity. That is my hope for you. My hope for me is that I will in the future get to enjoy sandwiches without a vague fear about the existence of normal-looking but actually insane sandwich-hating old ladies with bricks in their purses.
People are going to be real dicks on airplanes sometimes. They will even eat gross smelling and possibly dangerous sandwiches practically right on top of you. Remember that no matter how angry it makes you, you can and should decide to not act like a dick in return. But hopefully either way, you can still go home and tell your girlfriend about it while she watches reruns of X-Files and pretends to care (she does not).