The Best Time Someone … Surprised Me on a Subway Platform

by Lindsay Hood

It happened back when I was living in Queens. I was heading to yoga, waiting for the train, and listening to music. A woman walked up to me and started speaking, and because I couldn’t hear her, I removed my headphones.

Before I get to the exciting part of this story, I’d like to note that this woman looked perfectly put together. Her red lipstick was meticulously applied. Her coat was stylish and weather-appropriate. She had a tidy little bob of a haircut, and I thought she was going to ask for directions. What I’m trying to say is there were no obvious signs she was crazy.

“Do you like books?” she whispered.

Wuh-oh, said the little thought bubble above my head.

“Oh yeah, sure. I mean, who doesn’t like books?! Books are great!” I said with one of those uncomfortable, high-pitched laughs.

“What kind of books do you like?” she asked, inching toward me.

“Oh, all kinds!” I said in an attempt to be cheery and inoffensive.

“Do you like sci-fi books? Which one is your favorite?”

Now here’s where things get tricky. The rational part of my mind told me to end the conversation as soon as possible, but the truth is I do, in fact, have a favorite sci-fi book. It’s Ender’s Game. And in my never-ending quest to be a smarty-pants, I still wanted to answer the question. So I hesitated. And I’ll always be left to wonder, did she notice my hesitation? Is that what tipped off her crazy?

Anyway, after a few seconds I told her I didn’t know.

So she clocked me.

Like, flat-out punched me in the face.

I was disorientated and the bridge of my nose stung and OH MY GOD SOMEONE HIT ME. IN THE FACE. I was so stunned I just stood there — until she started to come after me a second time, and I learned my flight-or-fight response definitely errs on the side of flight.

“WHY WON’T YOU ANSWER?!?!” she screamed, chasing after me. Then she let loose a stream of obscenities, and I’ll spare you the details, but most started with “c.”

I was sprinting down the platform shouting “Oh my God!” with her right behind me, and, this being New York City, of course no one helped. But finally I left her behind and made it up a staircase to the upper level, where I watched as she boarded a train, still cursing under her breath.

In shock, I went on to my yoga class, where I stood numbly in Warrior Two. The reality of the experience set in, however, when I got on the subway to go back home. That guy right there, eating a sandwich, was HE going to punch me in the face? That woman calmly reading her Bible, was SHE hiding a shiv? She looked totally capable of stabbing me. And what about those CHILDREN? What was that lump in the back of that one kid’s jacket? WAS THAT A GUN?!

Naturally, three weeks after the face-punching incident, a little old lady stopped me on the street and I, once again, removed my headphones because I’m a person who doesn’t learn anything EVER. She looked me up and down several times. Then she told me that she wanted to make sure I wasn’t “calling on anyone.” As I stood there dumbfounded, she turned around and muttered “whore” in my direction. I was dressed like Peggy from Mad Men that day.

The moral of this story is NEVER TAKE OFF YOUR HEADPHONES.

Just don’t.

Lindsay Hood is a freelance writer who lives in New York City. She runs The $30 Project and still rides the subway.