One of my biggest fears is being publicly shamed. Specifically, to be scolded in public as an adult for doing something that I shouldn’t be doing. I live my adult life just trying not to get yelled at. But since my life typically plays out like a sitcom or romantic comedy (minus the romance), I am continuously finding myself in situations where, more than likely, I’m going to get a stern talking to for doing something that I shouldn’t be doing—and most certainly should have known better.
Case and point: At my recent high school reunion, as we cruised down the canal, the staff on the boat yelled at me for standing up as we were approaching a low bridge. And I totally deserved it. I should know better. I grew up in Rochester, where everyone with a fourth-grade education knows that on the Erie Canal it’s “Low bridge, everybody down! Low bridge, because we’re coming to a town.”
As I said, I make a concerted effort to not get in trouble. I got caught shoplifting once when I was sixteen, and I have been walking the straight and narrow ever since. Or at least, I try my damnedest. But because I’m usually thinking about anything other than what I’m actually doing and routinely have my head up my ass while out in public, I am, at times, unsuccessful.
Like once, on a visit home to Rochester, I was at the Ground Round with my mom and needed to use the ladies’ room. When I walked in, there was no one else in the bathroom with me. So I decided to treat myself to the luxuries and comforts of the handicap stall. They are so spacious, and this was one of the fancy ones with its own sink. While in the stall, I heard someone else come in. When I came out of the stall, I saw that the person who had come in was a woman in a wheelchair. And unfortunately for her, some asshole was occupying the handicap stall despite the fact that there were four other open stalls. I immediately felt like a stupid jerk (emphasis on “stupid”) and was left speechless by my insensitivity. Clearly, so was she. She didn’t say a word. She just stared at me for a solid thirty seconds, shook her head, and then rolled past me.
In my defense, I was maybe 23 or 24 at the time. So that incident I could blame on being young and stupid. I’m thirty thousand years old now, so I don’t have that excuse. Not that it stops me from making similar stupid mistakes.
Recently, I was taking PATCO (a commuter train that runs from Philly to Jersey, for those of you who aren’t familiar) out to visit some friends. Now, in the interest of full disclosure and to give proper context, I will be honest and admit that I wasn’t 100% sober when I embarked on this journey to Jersey. I was not wildly impaired by any means, but I will say that perhaps my ability to thinking things through was a smidge off and that my paranoia and anxiety was slightly elevated.
The train platform was pretty packed with commuters ready to go home at the end of their Thursday. Based on the number of people getting on the train at this stop, I knew the train was going to be PACKED. With that in mind, and knowing that I was going to be getting off at one of the first stops, I figured grabbing a seat up front near the door would be my best bet. Once the train arrived, and people were flooding into the car, I couldn’t help but notice that all of the seats closest to the doors were wide open. So I think, SCORE, and sit down. But I notice that even with the other empty door seats, everyone walks past them. Pretty soon, a young girl in her early twenty’s sits next to me just as we are leaving the station. It’s between station stops that I notice a handicap sticker on the wall above my head.
AH. So that’s why everyone has passed up the good seats. They are better people than I am.
Naturally, at the next stop, my worst nightmare comes true. A morbidly obese woman with leg braces and two canes gets on the train. She stops in front of the seat I’m sitting in and asks the girl next to me the rhetorical question, “Do you need that seat?” Of course, the girl mumbles “No”, stands up, and scurries away in shame. I start to stand up, as well, because I already feel really dumb for being there and would like just to nip this whole thing in the bud. But as I do, the woman says, almost insulted, “I only need half the seat”. In the interest of not drawing any more attention to the situation, I sat my ass right back down.
It took this woman more than a few moments to get into the seat, make herself as comfortable as circumstances would allow, and then situate her canes so that they were neither in the aisle nor in my personal space. That was very considerate of her. It’s me that’s the asshole.
Now I have a dilemma. I know that I have to get off the train in two short stops. I also know that one could make the argument that since I knew I had to get off the train in two short stops, maybe I should have just stood instead of taking up a seat. Particularly, what turned out to be a handicap seat. So it was in complete terror that I rode over the Ben Franklin Bridge, thinking of the worst case scenario of what will happen when I tell this woman who had such a hard time getting into this seat that I need her to get up, stand up, and get out of my way so I can take my completely abled body off of the train.
I imagine her publically shaming me as she points out the fact that I had no business sitting in that seat in the first place, ESPECIALLY when I was only going to be on the train for a few stops. I picture her yelling, screaming about my insensitivity to the handicapped. Then, since everyone on the train would be watching, someone would catch the whole rant on their iPhone and put it on YouTube. And then the video would go viral, and I will be an asshole in front of the whole country. For the rest of my life, I will be recognized as that dumb bitch on PATCO who did that shitty thing that time.
AND I HARDLY EVER EVEN RIDE PATCO.
So now, convinced that this woman IS going to yell at me and that this will absolutely make national news and be shared repeatedly on social media, I start mentally planning out my demeanor when she’s actively yelling and what my response will be. It was pretty much was just me trying to be as visibly contrite as possible and involved a lot of head hanging, shoulder shrugging, and me repeating “No, you’re right, I’m the worst” over and over again. In the end, nothing dramatic happened (outside of my head). Actually, that’s not true. One thing happened. I learned the valuable lesson to not go near anything with a handicap sign on it.
Now before you go thinking that I have it out for the handicapped, please know, I get scolded under other circumstances as well. Just last summer, while swimming with my niece and nephew, I got scolded by a lifeguard. A teenage lifeguard with a megaphone.
*BLOOP* “Ma’am, please don’t throw your kids?” Sigh. Please don’t call me “ma’am”.
So, yeah. That’s just a day in the life of Raina B. Next time you overhear some adult getting a talking-to at Trader Joe’s or being singled out for being a dumb ass in a Barnes and Noble, good chance I’m nearby.