Two minutes ago a man yelled “Sieg Heil!” at me and did the Nazi salute.
But let me start from the beginning, 5 minutes ago.
I write on the subway, see. It’s like my office of creativity. No internet, a flowing motion, and everyone keeps to themselves. Better than any coworking office, I tell you what.
So there I was/am sitting by lonesome, only me, a lady, and suddenly one more dude in my train car.
The “suddenly one more dude” started putting these fliers all over the train. Like, on the signs (two on the same one!) and a bunch on the seats.
These were, you know, the kind of fliers a crazy person would spend his time putting on seats on the subway. They were proselytizing Christian (but not normal, chilled out, nice Christian, of course) sort of cards of the insane variety. They were advertising a guy who can heal you through prayer and that sort of business.
He happened to come right next to me, and then place it nicely… two inches away from my butt.
If you are unaware, I have a beard and a kippa and these white strings that come out of my butt called tztitis. So, I dunno, I guess I felt it was a tad presumptuous of him to put such a flier next to me. Although, in retrospect, maybe the fact that he was doing the thing that only crazy people do on the subway with fliers that only a crazy person would find to be reasonable, was an indication that he himself might be… crazy.
But at the time (10 minutes ago now) I guess I didn’t really take that into consideration. And so as he walked away, I just, you know… lightly pushed the paper to the floor. I’d like to say it was because I didn’t want my butt to be proselytized to by a crazy healer who sends people to advertise him on subway seats. But the truth was, I think I was kind of pissed. Being a Jew and all, and the whole trying to convert us thing. You know.
So, yeah, that was my first world anarchy moment of the day, and I was pretty sure that would be it. Honestly, in retrospect (I have a feeling I’m going to use that word a lot in this essay), I probably shouldn’t have done anything. I mean, that’s like the number one rule on the subway: don’t do nothin’. Don’t get noticed. Move on. You see someone peeing in the corner? All good, just get back to work.
Well, like I said, this time I did something. And so, of course, this did not end well.
As I’m writing my other post, the one that was meant to be published today, I hear a voice. At first quiet, almost gentle, through my huge headphones purposefully purchased to keep crazy voices quiet while I’m on the subway.
But then it got louder. Much louder.
“Hey. Hey! Hey! HEY! HEY!”
I turned and there was Mr. Crazy hurtling towards me.
I took off my crazy-noise canceling headphones, which seemed defective at that point, and looked at him. He picked up the flier I had flicked the floor and waved it at me.
“Hey! Why’d you do that!”
Now, again, I am aware in retrospect that smart people at this point don’t say anything or they apologize or they generally try and make themselves circumspect. For some bizarre reason, for the first time in my life I decided that it was the logical move to respond to a crazy person.
I calmly (read: not calmly) asked him if he was allowed to put these things all over the subway. Clearly, in my mind at the time, I thought an appeal to logic and rules expressed in angry, unruly tone would be just the thing to deal with this fellow.
In retrospect, this was not true.
He actually, and I think this was quite rude, did not answer my question and instead answered with his own question (How Jewish!): “What? Is it because there’s a picture of Jesus on it?! Is that it?!”
(I know that in writing class they teach you not to overuse exclamation points, but I promise you that this is the only proper way to express this man’s dialogue.)
And so my next tact was to go for honesty. Again, not calmly. “No, it’s because you put a piece of paper next to my butt that was proselytizing to me.”
And he said, “What, you Jewish or something? So you think it’s okay to throw Jesus on the floor?”
And I said, “Yes, I am, but it’s not about Jesus, see, it’s about the proselytizing near my butt.”
He kind of looked incredulously at me, like the words didn’t seep in, which (in retrospect) I suppose makes sense. Crazy person, subway, etc.
“You know what, that’s just racist, okay?! You’re just a racist. A racist!”
And I’ll be honest, at this point, I think it was starting to hit me that I was dealing with a crazy person. But instead of doing the things you do with crazy people on the subway, I continued to push my luck.
Man, I wish I could share his look of shock with you. It was like… it was priceless. I mean, it was funny, okay? And, I dunno, I was feeling in antagonistic mood still (this is why, by the way, people who read this blog and think I am a good, calm, and nice person should understand that writing never truly gives over a person’s true idiotic personality).
This was at the point when the Jew-hating began. Which, and this one I didn’t even need to realize in retrospect, I felt was kind of in conflict with his previous stance of being anti-racism.
It started off with a little, “They should have finished the job in Auschwitz.”
I think this was the moment I finally woke up from my daze of momentary insanity, and realized what I was truly dealing with. Or rather, I think I was just stunned and had no idea what was going on. Because no matter how crazy a person is, I usually don’t expect to hear such things from them. I’ve met lots of crazy people in my life, being a bipolar fellow whose spent time in a mental hospital, as well as just the fact that I lived both in Jerusalem and New York City. Up until that point, no Auschwitz references directed at me.
I suppose I have become a bit complacent in America, which I consider to be a truly all-loving nation, with some hateful people sprinkled around, but where even the crazy people are like, “Antisemitism? That’s uncool. I’ll stick with peeing in the corner, thank you.”
Back to Mr. Crazy. He said that, and really all I could say was, “What?” in a kind of attempting to keep my crazy not-calm voice but really coming off more like not-crazy and complete-woosie voice.
And he said, “Yeah! Auschwitz! Shoulda killed you all.”
Now, I’ve been on YouTube. And from what I understand, in these situations, you usually follow the person around with your phone and video record their rantings for the world to see, just to kind of remind people we’re not as safe as we think we are.
But unfortunately, I had gone into shock (read: woosie) mode, and I was just kind of frozen in my seat.
We arrived at his stop, I guess, and he walked out, he turned to me and said, “Seig Heil!” and gestured to me with a Nazi salute.
I just stared.
In retrospect (sorry), I wonder why I was surprised. I suppose it was because I’ve lived for 30 years without anyone ever doing that to me. Crazy or non-crazy. I suppose it was also because I kind of was in this “I’m-invincible-and-ranting” state of mind that I got shaken out of.
And I guess, I feel like I should just shrug this off, right?
I mean, the guy was crazy. That’s kind of what I’m grappling with now, thirty minutes later, and also even the moment after it happened.
I suppose that’s what this post was meant to be about when I started it: my trying to convince myself that I should shake it off, that he was a Crazy Subway Person and that it meant nothing and I shouldn’t take it as a “sign” or anything.
But it’s weird, I can’t help shake the feeling that there was something more going on, that maybe the crazies have mutually decided it’s okay to start being antisemitic again.
But that’s also silly, because it was one person. It’s not like I did a statistical analysis of New York City, as well as its subway-dwellers.
I suppose it’s because there’s been a lot of talk about antisemitism rising in the world, and even in America these days. The whole Israel thing, the whole post-post-Holocaust age thing, the whole antisemitism that didn’t actually disappear but went underground thing.
For example, when the last war between Israel and Gaza occurred, it was like a rush of reality shocked the Jewish world, even in America. A rabbi was killed in Florida just for being Jewish. Antisemitism rocked more and more Jews on college campuses. And we as a people started to think that maybe… maybe nothing had really changed as much as we thought it had.
Should I think anything of what actually happened? I guess not.
But then again, those statistics are real. And those things happened, and are happening.
And, being a religious person, I like to believe everything happens for a reason. And a deeper reason than just to write a semi-funny post for my blog.
I think I needed a wakeup call. Even if this man was an anomaly in his own way… he represented something to me in that moment. He represented the reality that many of us Jews these days are waking up to: that antisemitism hasn’t disappeared with the Holocaust. That there are countries we thought we’d be safe in that we are now leaving in droves. That we can use the words “crazy” and “anomaly” and “outlier” all we want, but that these realities are both true and not true.
I guess that’s why I sat there in shock (in addition to my woosieness). It was like those fears that were in my brain had finally reached my heart, my emotions. It was like he was just the catalyst for what I perhaps should be feeling more and more.
But then again, maybe he was just crazy and I’m also crazy and an over-stressed/neurotic/paranoid Jew.
Let’s hope so.
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