Drama on the Red Line | Our Town | Chicago Reader

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Drama on the Red Line


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We've reached the Wilson stop on the Red Line when a skinny young guy gets on and swaggers to his seat. He isn't dressed funny and he doesn't smell or talk to himself, but there's this angry energy in his strut that makes him seem like a troublemaker. We're all watching him, but furtively, out of the corners of our eyes.

He plops himself down next to this other guy and right away turns on his CD player, loud. Not hysterically loud, but loud enough. The Beastie Boys are singing "Just a Test." The other guy is a studious type: glasses, nose in a book. In his 20s, maybe, same as the troublemaker.

Troublemaker, turning to Studious: "So, you like to read on the el? That's crazy, nobody can read on the el."

Studious: "Actually, I wonder if you'd mind turning down your music. I am trying to read."

Troublemaker, folding his arms: "No way. No way am I turning down my music."

Studious shrugs and noses deeper into the book.

Troublemaker, voice rising: "Hey. I said, no way am I turning down my music. If you want to read on the el, that's your problem."

Studious, mildly: "Look. I think you're being rude here, frankly. I have a right to read on the el if I want to. But let's just drop it, man, OK?"

Troublemaker: "Hell, no. You got an issue with me, I want to hear it." He looks around the car. Everyone in the car tries to look at anything but him.

Troublemaker keeps at this poor fellow, and they argue. Studious talks about live-and-let-live, but Troublemaker goes on about this-is-a-free-world, about nobody-pushes-him-around, and about his musical taste, which Studious apparently doesn't appreciate. It gets to the point where Studious finally calls Troublemaker an asshole.

Then Studious stands up--we're approaching the Loyola stop by now--but he can't get out to the aisle, because Troublemaker has raised his skinny legs and stuck them out until they touch the seat back in front of him.

Studious: "Hey, man, this is my stop."

Troublemaker: "Uh-uh. You're not going nowhere until you apologize for calling me an asshole."

Studious, turning red: "I'm not apologizing, forget that. Now let me out." He looks back and forth, first at the window where the Loyola platform is coming into close view, then at Troublemaker's legs. He says again that he's got to get out. For the first time, he glances around the car.

The train stops. The door opens. The skinny legs stay out. If anyone's going to help Studious it had better be now.

No one moves. The door shuts, the train rolls forward. The next station, Morse, isn't far; in a minute we're almost there.

Studious, looking out the window at the station coming up: "All right. I'm sorry I called you an asshole. Now let me out."

Troublemaker doesn't move.

Studious: "I apologize, damn it! I'M SORRY I CALLED YOU AN ASSHOLE! Now let me OUT!"

Troublemaker, shaking his head: "Uh-uh. First you have to tell me that you're sorry you called the Beastie Boys crappy."

Studious, going purple: "I don't believe this! I'm not going to apologize for calling your lousy Beastie Boys crappy!"

Troublemaker starts humming the Beasties' "Putting Shame in Your Game." We pull up at Morse. Troublemaker and Studious both look around the car. Now everyone's staring.

There's more shouting, and then Studious, grunting, shoves hard against Troublemaker's legs. Troublemaker grunts too, shoving back, but in a moment, just as the door opens, Studious breaks through. With his book tucked under his arm he races past all the seats and out the door.

The silence that follows doesn't last long. With a lightning-fast movement, Troublemaker jumps up, charges up the aisle, and bounds off the train just before the door shuts.

We look at Studious out there on the platform, and sure enough, there's Troublemaker walking fast, straight toward him. He smiles wildly as he gets nearer.

Studious is walking fast too. Only he's walking toward Troublemaker. And he's grinning.

As they near each other, the smiles turn into laughter and the laughter turns into guffawing. They reach up and slap hands in a hard high five. They turn, still hooting, and disappear together down the stairs.

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