who nose how to get a laugh on the subway?

To the unidentified man wearing a black, hooded sweat shirt and a red clown nose on the F train Saturday: thank you. In the oft-contested debate on clowns – funny or scary – I generally side with scary. But the clown nose gave me such an unexpected burst of laughter and recurring smile that I may have changed my position.

Maybe it was the venue. The clown nose was an unexpected and welcome break from the stone-faced subway riders. It’s an unfortunate fact, but people on the subway generally do not look happy. This may be part of New York City subway rules of conduct in which you are supposed to avoid eye contact, look apathetic and keep to yourself. According to one guide to urban etiquette:

Read your book, listen to music (whether portable or imagined), stare at your feet. Don’t engage other passengers in mild conversation; they’re preoccupied with the same activities and usually don’t wish to be disturbed. The very act of riding the subway is a performance in itself. While many riders may secretly wish to have a chat with you (you may be very hot), they are far too involved—as should you be—in complete submersion in their chosen character: that of the mute.

While I agree that there are a number of things best not shared on the subway – germs, religious convictions and sloshing foods or drinks immediately come to mind – I’m an advocate of sharing laughter or a smile.  Laughter is a way to transmit kindness, goodness and happiness; unlike germs, it’s a contagion worth spreading.

Sadly, the clown nose didn’t appear to have the same make-‘em-laugh effect on others that it had on me. Still, I’d like to think that at least a few subway riders were laughing on the inside. Maybe they even laughed out loud after leaving the subway like I did.

Subway decorum aside, there is a special kind of joy and humor that comes from the unexpected. Fear of clowns is understandable, but don’t be afraid to share or provide a laugh. That’s really scary.

Thank you, and be kind.


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