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Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Misadventures in human behavior on the CTA

You know, when you get on the train and it is comprised of cars from a different line, things are going to be weird. As I stepped on the Brown line and it bore the characteristic stripes of the Purple, I kept my eyes peeled for some strangeness. I didn't have to peel very much at all.

His grotesque, overweight body sprawled across an entire bench seat, a sweaty white male was eating some sort of fast food. The air conditioning was emitting only the weakest of air blasts on this sunny, 85-degree morning. This was defnitely a good sign for the commute to come.

Smeared across his face (I am not making this up) were copious gobs of mayonnaise. Whatever it was he was eating (I could not bring myself to look too closely), he was smacking his lips quite approvingly with each bite and swallow (I assume he was chewing, again, I did not investigate too closely).

As I furiously dig for my iPod, I realize it is happily sitting on my nightstand - unable to offer any sound-isolating bliss amidst this already doomed commute.

Disgusting human beings are everywhere and, by and large, I am not particularly judgmental of them. One man's idea of disgust is another's idea of acceptable cultural variation. And this bit of relativism holds up quite nicely until people:
-Speak
-Expel some sort of bodily gas or odor
-Fall asleep while slumping against you

So this festering gob of humanity turns to the yuppie woman in the next bench (who is aggressively trying to ignore him, and was silently cursing her bad fortune for having sat there), and, while wiping his face with the one napkin he was provided (certainly not enough for the surface area present) says, in the whiny, unmodulated voice only used by the developmentally disabled (socially or otherwise):

"Do I have anything on my face?"

If people routinely crapped their pants in consternation, this woman would have had a nice load down there at this point. If the guy had said instead: “Excuse me miss, has one of my oozing pustules just burst upon you?” the reaction would have been quite similar.

So she is like “I’m Sorry?” Because of course, she had already attempted the iPod isolation technique. But obviously she heard (using the stock earphones), and as he motioned to his mayonnaise-encrusted mug, the best she could stammer was “Um, it looks like you missed a little.”

This is the sort of social interaction that, upon witnessing, makes you start to wonder. If this guy goes apeshit, could I take him down? Could I get out of the car? Is the Red Line going to be waiting at Belmont, could I make my escape there?

As we stood momentarily for a security check, this guy starts singing: “I hate the Chicago Police; You Hate the Chicago Police; We all hate the Chicago Police; Fuck the Chicago Police.”

I tried to bury myself in my book. This is most commuters’ alternate, if less successful strategy, for dealing with lunatics, vagrants, people with offensive body odor, drunkards, and the like.

He went on happily chattering, to no one in particular. Some of the comments sounded pretty heated – I wouldn’t be surprised if some of them were directed at me. Oddly enough, people with these social maladies seem, despite their lack of empathy for those around them, to know when others are trying their best to ignore them.

As the Belmont stop approached, I got up and camped by the door, awaiting my chance to escape. Then I hear behind me: “Yay, Red Line!” and I’m like “Shit – how to back up and sit down again without being noticed and spewed upon?”

Luckily, he went to the other door in the car, so my awkward retreat back into the boweld of the Brown Line went unnoticed. In fact, because whatever god exists has a perverse sense of humor, the A/C started blasting as soon as mayo-man made his exit. So all was good.

This story has no moral. Or punch line, really. But isn’t that very much like life? And like life, the question falls solely upon the liver of it, without narration or commentary from an omniscient author: What should we draw from a given situation?

Did this man have a mental illness? If he did, it wasn’t in the stage where police get out their night sticks. He wasn’t as threatening as say, the guy who coughs spasmodically without covering his mouth, his insides rumbling and rattling with something that must be akin to Tuberculosis. But then, he wasn’t as innocuous as the fat, unbathed black lady who tittered to herself with glee and muttered commentary as I made eyes with the pretty girl across the aisle. He certainly was in a realm of grossness with the gob of mystery goo you’ll come upon on every tenth train window. What is it? Is it a human secretion? Hair product gone awry?

The scary thought is that perhaps, he had no illness whatsoever. Maybe these behaviors are symptoms of a larger disorder, a systemic one. Maybe there are just more of these people cropping up in our socially alienated, pre-packaged society. As more people shut off their ears and eyes, trying their hardest to ignore everyone and thing around them, could these people, born with a higher sensitivity to such things, be crying out, waving their mayonnaisey hands in a desperate attempt to grasp at something, anything, which is real?

I don’t know. But I hope they wipe their fingers off before they do.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

why are you making eyes with the girl across the aisle.

you have a f'n girlfriend.

2:14 PM

 
Anonymous ktp said...

Hmm.. I think I would've said an f'n girlfriend (but, of course, a fucking girlfriend). My logic is that f'n is pronounced "eff-in," necessitating the an before a vowel sound. If f'n were pronounced "fin," then the a should be used.

Sincerely,
The fucking girlfriend, who doesn't mind as long as eyes are the only thing being made. :)

7:47 AM

 
Blogger matthewweflen said...

There is no indication given in the article that I had a girlfriend at the time I was "making eyes" with a girl on the bus. There have been times that I have been single in the past 7 years. Careful reading would show that the two incidents are not temporally related.

8:57 AM

 
Anonymous e said...

You should tell one of the many CTA stories you have where you were yelling at someone. Oh, those are funny.

11:07 AM

 

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