For the record, here's what I do when somebody starts shouting. In no particular order, I:
- Whip out my mobile phone and prepare to dial 9-1-1;
- Reach into my bag and grab my canister of tear gas (pink, cute);
- Go into fight-or-flight mode, ready to defend freedom, justice, and The American Way.
These are involuntary responses, reactions rooted deeply in my Chicago upbringing. Last Saturday, I was given a perfect opportunity to explore them.
Saturdays are always tricky for public transportation, especially the train lines that ferry denizens of the suburbs to-and-from Chicago.
"Let's go to Chicago this weekend!"
"Chicago? Seriously? Where Rahm Emmanuel is mayor?"
"Sure! It'll be fun. We'll take our crabby husbands, our cross-body bags, and our New Balance running shoes. And the train."
The defense rests.
The worst weekend offenders are:
- Hockey fans;
- Football fans;
- Baseball fans (basketball fans don't take public transportation);
- People returning home from popular musical productions (bonus points if they ask you if they're on the right train more than twice);
- Meth dealers (bonus points if they're drunk; double the points if they're carrying non-concealed weaponry).
But last Saturday, I ran into something totally outside the realm of any of my previous close encounters. And I immediately knew I was in the presence of a contender for the list above.
It was a scout master. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the American institution known as the "Boy Scouts", they are an organization dedicated to teaching boys to be responsible, nature-loving, self-reliant good citizens. They go camping. A lot. The "scout master" is the adult in charge of supervising this task, and is usually a male person, since peeing outdoors is not a lot of fun for women.
To be specific, he was an Eagle Scout master, from the bucolic paradise of St. Charles, Illinois. Mr. Eagle Scout Daddy sat directly in front of me on the train home, head-to-toe in paramilitary scouting regalia, and - though a young man - he was sporting a beard, the likes of which hasn't been seen in or around a major metropolitan area since 1972.
For one fleeting moment I felt an implausible feeling of security, having a person of such obvious authority sitting so near by.
(Cell phone, check. Tear gas, check. Fight or flight?)
Numbers, recited sequentially, wafted through the train car, recited by The Master's charges. All scouts accounted for. With a sigh of relief, I settled back into my crossword puzzle.
"WHO NEEDS TO CALL THEIR PARENTS?"
"IF YOU DON'T HAVE A CELL PHONE, YOU CAN USE MINE!"
(With caution. It might be contagious.)
"PARENTS SHOULD MEET US IN THE ST. CHARLES PARKING LOT IN ONE HOUR SHARP!"
(Oh, I get it, you think you have a private car! Which allows you to shout your communiques instead of hauling your skinny ass around speaking to your followers individually, at civilized decibel levels. Remind me never to go to St. Charles.)
"JONAH, WHY IS YOUR SHIRT UNTUCKED?"
(A social nicety, the importance of which clearly outranks shouting at the top of one's lungs in a confined public space.)
"WHO HASN'T TURNED THEIR QUIZ TO MR. THOMPSON YET?"
(That's it. I'm leaving. I'd rather brave the Black Hawks fans in the next car.)
I gathered my belongings and moved, preferring the relative sophistication and congeniality of inebriated sports fans, and spent a few minutes wondering what a fully-outfitted troop of Eagle Scouts would be doing in Chicago that could possibly require a quiz. ("What is Chicago best known for?" "Pizza and crime" "What did you like best about Chicago?" "The pizza. And not being the victim of a crime. Oh, and getting out of St. Charles.")
A unique and amusing experience, in retrospect, though it took me a while to see the humor. Understandably so, given that I'm still living in exile, with all of my possessions in the hands of Disaster Restoration professionals, in the middle of the Michael Buble onslaught that is now Christmas in America.
Can someone check my karma account for me? I want to know the balance.