I was on a crowded bus recently, standing because I'd just surrendered my seat. I'm not tooting my horn – you don't get extra credit for doing what's right. The only real joy in giving up your seat is lording it over the guy who didn't.
"What would your mother think if she'd seen you sitting there, playing a child's game on your phone while a tired, pregnant woman stood in front of you?" I thought, glaring, and realizing the woman I'd given my seat to was most likely not pregnant, but just wearing an over-sized blouse.
It's best not to make a show of your offer; rather, you should act like you're getting off at the next stop and would be standing up anyway. That saves the old or pregnant person (or, in this case, young and not pregnant) any embarrassment.
Years ago, in Mexico, I stood for an elderly woman, who thanked me, and then turned the seat over to her husband. The bus was going from town to town rather than street to street, so I wound up standing for two-and-a-half hours, this while the man stared dumbly out the window, not even offering to hold his wife's bag on his lap.
I was young at the time, 30. And they were the age that I am now, right around 60 (which seemed ancient to me then). As I get older, I find that my standards change a bit. Of course I'd give up my seat to a woman who's visibly pregnant, or wounded … but what if she has a Swastika tattoo? In that situation, can't I just look the other way?
What's if it's not a tattoo, but just a T-shirt supporting someone I didn't vote for? What if she's talking on her phone too loudly, saying my least favorite word a lot ("Awesome!")?
On buses in Paris, I was frequently ordered out of my seat by blonde women who'd had facelifts and wore short skirts with fishnet stockings. Is it fair to be artificially young-looking, and then reclaim your age when your feet get tired?
One day I decided, no, if your hair's not grey or white, you cannot order me to stand up. I can decide to, but it has to be my idea.
Of course, now my hair is gray as well, and that complicates things further.
"Please," someone said to me on the tube in London last year, "take my seat. I insist." I did, but strangely I hated him for it.
For more info:
Story produced by Reid Orvedahl.
To listen to David Sedaris read an excerpt from "Calypso" click on the audio player below: