She was a tiny woman, perhaps in her 20s, and she sat down next to my husband on the subway and opened a paperback book.

My husband Paul was across the aisle from me and our three friends, Karen and Martin and their teenaged son Sam, who were visiting from out West, where Subway is a sandwich shop. We were talking across the sparsely-populated car and, I confess, we were using our Outside Voices so we could hear each other over the ratcheting of the wheels and the random conversations of strangers.

Even so, we were taken aback when the little woman turned to Paul and told him he should go sit with the rest of us rather than talking so loud. She’d had a bad day, she informed him.

I can honestly say I’ve never heard anybody on a subway upbraid a fellow rider for being too loud. Unlike Amtrak, the MTA does not offer a Quiet Car. Subways themselves are loud: the wheels, the rattles, the beggars, the babies crying; people yelling into cell phones when the train’s above ground, as it often is in Brooklyn. Being loud comes standard. In fact, sometimes, being loud on a subway is an Art Form.

But more about that to come.

Paul will banter with anybody and everybody, the more so since he retired and only has me to bait—which doesn’t work as well as he’d like because, after 42 years, I’m onto him. Sometimes he’s provocative. Sometimes he’s outrageous. Sometimes he’s very funny. Whatever he says and does, I’m always somewhat amazed—and relieved—that the New Yorkers he deals with cut him slack. In no time, he can jolly, nudge or bully anybody into a smile. Perhaps it comes of being 6’3” and looking a bit like Steve Martin. Or maybe it’s because he’s un-self-conscious and quick to make himself the butt of his own jokes. Little old ladies, random strangers, even the local drug dealer on our corner—almost everybody returns his jests and jibes in kind.

But not the little woman with the book.

It probably didn’t help that, after she upbraided him, he began to whistle under his breath.

“Behave yourself,” I chided him from across the aisle.

Suddenly, she snapped her book shut, rose to her feet, and stood in front of him, her face furious, her clenched fist raised. “I’d punch you in the face if I could, you condescending a**hole,” she said, and stomped off to sit in the next file of seats, near an entrance.

The woman who’d been sitting on her other side raised her eyebrows. “Wow. Now, that’s something.”

Paul shrugged. “She’s had a bad day.”

“I feel kind of sorry for her,” I said. “Except…that really was a bit much.”

“I think that’s ‘assault,’” Paul said. “If she did punch me out, it would be ‘battery,’ right?”

“This is New York,” Martin said. “I’m surprised there’s not a flock of lawyers jumping up and handing you their cards.”

I glanced around. “You’re right. Can it be we got the only subway car in Brooklyn that doesn’t have at least one lawyer looking for a client?”

Sam giggled.

Karen said, “You’ve got to hand it to her: she’s quick. Usually, it takes awhile for people recognize that Paul’s a condescending a—“

“I CAN HEAR YOU ACROSS THE CAR!” the young woman shouted from her new seat.

The train rattled to a stop.

The doors opened, and two young guys marched into the car with a boom box.

Paul and I glanced at each other. “Uh oh,” I said. We’d seen this a million times; we knew exactly what would happen next.

The older of the two kids set the boombox on the floor—right next to the little woman’s foot—and cranked it up past 11, rocking the car with hip-hop. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he announced–

To the jack-hammer beat of Loudness as Art Form, the younger kid spun on the subway pole while the older kid clapped along. They both danced, flipped on the roof racks, flopped on the floor, yipped, clapped and stomped, and even though the little woman with the book streaked down to the far end of the car when she could get past them, even though she clamped her hands over her ears, I had no doubt she could hear them across the car even more clearly than she could us.

Poor woman. I do feel for her. This city can deal you some really bad days.

Still…there’s something to be said for Karma.