Generally, there's not a lot of behavior that will faze the people on the Rapid 7 to Santa Monica, but on my commute home the other day, they proved something I'd long suspected: everybody hates a loud talker.
And these people know loud: At any given time, there are two to three people on this bus who are bellowing nonsense out of the window, screaming at their daughters through their Bluetooth headsets, or proudly demonstrating how close they are to knowing all the words to "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road." The rest of us are politely ignoring them because we didn't come here to make friends -- we came here to offset the loss we took on that $40 haircut.
But when an otherwise normal man started up a particularly noisy conversation about architecture with the woman sitting next to him, he raised some eyebrows so high that they sent monocles crashing to the floor.
We're usually willing to put up with people who flagrantly ignore the rules -- we tend to respect confidence, even when it means confidently wolfing down the contents of a KFC Bucket in front of terrified children. But this guy wasn't confident. He wasn't cool. He just didn't understand how or why his behavior was offensive. In short, he was just a weirdo, and that's something almost nobody wants to put up with.
My interest in this incident is, admittedly, somewhat defensive. I, too, have been known to speak at high volumes, especially when I start to feel intellectually engaged. This habit has a way of turning people off, especially people I'm meeting for the first time. I used to think my friends were just afraid of challenging conversation when they told me to "chill out" (if you ever think this to yourself, it's probably in your best interest to chill out).
It wasn't until a little later that I realized that this was about more than just rattling people's eardrums. What they were really afraid of was being associated with somebody who had no good reason to be acting like a weirdo.
Of course, one's excuse for behaving outside of social norms doesn't have to actually be good. If you're hot and minimally well groomed, for instance, people are more likely to assume you're ahead of the curve and not on the very brink of a mental collapse. On the other hand, some people without amazing jawlines are able to get away with odd behavior just by being graceful about it.
I rarely use the word "grace" because it sounds a little too theological, but it strikes me as a good definition of that fine line between a charismatic person and a "weirdo." It hints at something irrational that decides how we react to people who are somehow different: charismatic people are interesting, while weird people are unsettling. Being charismatic draws people towards you, while being weird pushes them away.
But the average person is typically bad at telling these two kinds of people apart. For reasons that are probably evolutionary, most people are more resistant to "weird" than they are attracted to charisma. As nice as it might be to celebrate every eccentric we meet on the bus, we'd probably end up celebrating a lot of people who would just hold us at knifepoint and demand all our Martian crystals. Some of us are amazing visionaries who can't be restrained by our small-minded customs, and others are just talking way too loudly.
If you're lucky, some of the people you love most in life are people who are actually weird. I don't mean that in the "10 Reasons Your Best Friend is a Total Weirdo" sense: I mean people who are strange at first glance, people who are somehow unsettling or uninviting until you get to know them. These people are especially valuable because they do more than just share your interests. They appeal to your sense of grace, hint at something beyond what you thought could be appealing or beautiful. They seem to prove that love is much too big to be constrained by our petty systems of etiquette.
But in the end, of course, we need these systems to define ourselves. Petty as they may be, they are also the basis for most human relationships: for every aspiring architect being ostracized on the bus, there are two other people who look deep into each other's eyes and, at the exact same time, say, "get a load of Frank Loud Wright over here." Judging people might be snobby, but it's also the only way to find what and whom we like, eventually allowing us to find the weirdos who will change our lives.
But for those of us who aren't sure whether we're graceful eccentrics or just cranks, this can be something of an agonizing wait. It takes a while for people to decide whether you are the kind of eccentric that is fun and endearing or the kind that is irritating or even dangerous. As a person who is new to this city, I know that winning people over takes patience, not changing my personality. In the meantime, though, I'm trying to work on my indoor voice.