I was on the bus today (which in NYC doesn’t necessarily mean you’re weird, a student, or impoverished as it does in, say, Los Angeles, although it might) and an elderly woman got on. She was clear-eyed with wiry gray hair, and wearing a black coat and Reebok running shoes. Like everyone else shuffling through the bus toward the back, she struggled with her stuff, a faux Coach purse and a Trader Joe’s shopping bag. Eventually, with much effort, she plopped the shopping bag down at my feet and and grabbed the pole for stability.
I was about to offer her my seat, when the young woman directly across from me did. You’d have thought she offered to wrest power of attorney from the woman’s children and then poison her in her sleep.
“NO!” the old woman snapped, and turned back around so she was facing me. “No thank YOU!” Unlike the young woman who had offered her seat, I could see her face, which was deeply perturbed. Her lashless eyes rolled upward and her mouth hung open in disgust. She let out an irritated New York City sigh.
OK, so clearly not a nice woman. But she didn’t seem disturbed, either. She wasn’t wearing an entire cake of blush and one false eyelash and a sparkly beret, like one woman in my neighborhood who likes to comment unfavorably on people’s parenting skills. OK, my parenting skills.
I was too scared of the bus lady to ask, but I wonder if her reaction was similar to mine that time I was offered a seat on the subway. I assumed the man who offered it thought I was pregnant and I was briefly offended, because I wasn’t and that meant I merely looked pregnant. Basically, the woman who offered her seat–obviously meant to be kind and perhaps as a sign of respect–was saying, “Take a load off, you obviously feeble creature with one foot in the grave.”
I can see why the old woman got grumpy. I guess if you’re in the wrong mood, inclined to take something in the worst possible way, you’re not gonna take kindly to someone saying you look old, no matter how polite and well-intentioned a package it is.
Then again, I’m tired, and I’m just 43. If the current trajectory of tired continues until I’m as old as that woman, I’m taking the seat and saying thank you in a non-sarcastic way. But that’s just me.