It starts like this.
It’s 6.48am and I’m sitting in a window seat of the 7am Metro-North reverse commute train weighing up my options. I’m half asleep in a stationary train in Grand Central Station. Just contemplatin’ and Noodle-atin’. As you do.
“Should I, best viagra cialis ” my internal monologue inquires. “Should I set the alarm on my watch to wake me up at 8am just before my East Norwalk stop in Connecticut, viagra buy viagra or should I continue reading this Jack Kerouac biography that needs to be returned to the NY Public Library by Friday. My brain is pure flummery at this time of the morning. It doesn’t know if it’s considering either option, ampoule or just having one of those ‘death on a train’ dreams again.
And then it happens.
A man steps into my peaceful train carriage and flips the itchy-switch. Right in the middle of my contemplative sleep-think.
“Who owns these bloddy bags!” he nasalates (yes, a made up word), in his Caribbean accent. His accusing index finger waggles at some embarrassed pieces of luggage sitting in the mid-train, four-seat area. I try not to pay attention to this show, even though I have a prime, ring-side-beneath-the-Chapiteau seat. The phrase “Don’t look anyone in the eye” is still chiming in my ears as I feign indifference.
I glance at my reflection in the carriage window. Oh, shit. I’m wearing my fear face!
Fortunately, the baggage owners feel game. Or should that be ‘feel like game’? They pipe up and say, yes, the baggage in question is theirs.
“How bloddy rude!” says the man in sing-song anger. “This space is for people to sit and you put your bloddy bags there! People want to sit there!”
There is stunned, eye-goggling silence from the luggage offenders. Their confused thoughts waft my way and press and kiss my forehead, seeping easily into my brain.
‘This guy’s nuts,’ the thoughts whisper to my oblongata medulla.
‘He could have a knife,’ they murmur to my hippocampus in hushed, frightened tones.
My facial wrinkles prickle and grimace.
“I WANT TO SIT THERE!” he yells, indicating the area while not breaking his eye contact with his chosen victim.
Damn! New York skin is just so ridiculously itchy! It creeps and it ripples and begs to be scratched roughly. Search as many pharmacy shelves as you want, you won’t find the right eczema cream for this damn city.
And this isolated incident is just so stupid and unnecessary. See, there are a plethora—’would you say I have a plethora? Oh, yes, you have a plethora’—of seats in this carriage. But this guy, he wants to make his day a little exciting. There is no need for it. No one wants it. I mean, it’s not even 7am and this guy is yelling—really yelling—with fevered brow. My brain is shivering in immigrant wonder and small-town hick confusion.
Not even 7am and two guys are arguing in the rumbling hush of the subway depths about who is ruder.
“You’re so rude.”
“I’m RUDE! HOW RUDE ARE YOU TAKING UP THESE SEATS?”
On and uncomfortably on it goes.
The threat of impending violence. It peeked out at me from under the seat. It dripped on me from the luggage rack above. People stepped inside the carriage, saw the ruckus and took their steaming coffee and briefcases to another carriage. I, and a bunch of other non-eye-contact people, was stuck.
Then I watched as these poor guys tried to wrestle a suitcase—which may have contained a body just going on the struggle they had with the weight—onto the overhead racks. The rude back-and-forth accusations continued.
Some people call me lucky. But as I sat there and looked sadly at my face in the reflection, I wondered if my ‘dumb luck’ gene had a shady brother with a bad sense of timing and skew-iff compass. The ‘Slightly right place but slightly wrong time’ gene. I mean, think about it. There are seven carriages on this train. I instinctively pick the second. Bad vibes instinctively follow me in.
There is a weird lull. Both parties sit in their chosen seats, left to scowl at each other for the next hour. And that, as they say, is that.
So, I must apologize right this second. You see, this story has no real climax. There was the threat of violence, and nothing happened. And that’s the stupid thing about all these things that always happen to me. Such potential for something to go down, but the scriptwriter of my life just pops out for a beer break or something at the critical moment and everything just fizzles out. I emerge unscathed—not that I’m ungrateful—with a story that you can’t even tell at a bad Christmas party. No potential to make people’s eyes a-pop when you tell it. What’s the point? They’re just stupid stories that make people say “Noodle…that could only happen to you.”
Now you’re angry right? You’re bored and annoyed with the anticlimax of the potential train brawl. So, let me divert your attention for a second. Have you asked why I’m on a train to Connecticut?
Well kids, I dun gone and got me sum gainful employment as a copywriter. Unfortunately, to keep my skin in the game, I’m not working in the city of Gotham but in Connecticut where all the rich people hang out and show off their powerboats to anyone who’ll look. Lots of trees in Connecticut by the way. Very green and lush.
Anyway, I have to get to Grand Central Station every weekday morn to make sure I get a nice comfy seat by the window. This is to ensure I catch another hour of zzzzzs before I crawl into East Norwalk, emerging from the train with a halo of positive creative energy and a real go-getter attitude.
Well, that was the first two days anyway.
WELCOME TO THE CULTURAL EXCHANGE
“My tongue feels…like…” Zolty pauses and adds the word “funny”.
He’s been out the night before and has a bit of a hangover on the train as we both head out to East Norwalk to work. I know the kind of feeling he’s talking about, that rough tongue awful sensation, so without really thinking I commiserate and say, “Like the bottom of a Cockys cage?”
As soon as I said it I knew I’d have to explain it. And it’s these kinds of unthinking comments that have gotten me in trouble ever since I started work. Sure, I am turning it up a bit just to really confuse people and saying Australian expressions that I rarely use myself. But at other times I’m just saying what I’d normally say and people don’t know what the hell I’m talking about.
For example, I told Jordan, the guy from New Jersey (South, it’s very important to mention that apparently), that I would shout him a Snapple. Shout? You weird Australian, what the hell are you on about? Jordan sits next to me and he’s bearing the brunt of the cultural exchange. He’s actually taken a particular shine to “I’m flat out like a lizard drinking.’ And as time marches on, I’m sure I will saddle him with further pearls of Australian-ness. And get him to try Vegemite toast. At least once.
And the exchange?
Well, I’ve tried Wendy’s, Buffalo Wings, Big Red cinnamon chewing gum, Papaya King Hot Dogs, Budweiser beer, Pretzels in Central Park, Dunkin’ Donuts, (still looking for a Krispy Kreme, which is apparently superior), a cream cheese bagel, a strawberry cream cheese bagel, a salmon cream cheese bagel, Drake’s coffee cake, Twizzlers, and cheese fries.
I now own a Pez dispenser, I’m addicted to Dr Pepper, I like Blue Cheese dressing and I’ve watched the Macy’s 4th of July Fireworks display from the roof of someone’s apartment on the Upper West Side. I’m still too scared to try a Twinkie, but it will be done just to say I’ve done it. I’ve also not done the Philly cheese steak because Jordan says I should go to Philadelphia for that.
So, the “Branding and Cultural Tour of America” list is still pretty long. I just have to remember to keep running while I’m doing these things or they’ll have to lift my body out of my apartment with a forklift when I die. I don’t think that’s the real American dream. Well, not the one you see on Disney channel anyway.
Toodle-Noo. Here endeth the missive.
©Janeen McCrae 2003