Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Who Does That?

I was reading an article in the New York Times this morning about some New York City bus drivers who are taking extended leaves of absence because they're being abused by disgruntled public transport users. Now I’m not talking about yelling, arm waving, eye rolling, frothing at the mouth, heavy sighing, foot stomping or any of the other displays of anger that I myself am guilty of committing. As I wrote last week, we are one angry city. But this new phenomenon is worse. It’s spitting.

I know this isn’t very eloquent of me, but all I can say is EWWWWAAA. Seriously? Who does that? Spitting has to be one of the most vile things a person can do. Already, far too many people hawk it up in public, spitting on the sidewalk and forcing pedestrians to dodge not only ubiquitous dog droppings, but their germafied spittle as well, or on the train tracks where they cough up their cigarette-induced morning phlegm. Some do it discreetly and quietly into a tissue (t.g.), while others feel the need to really crank it up with an accompanying rumbling gurgle that makes me wanna puke. FYI: use the bathroom and do it out of earshot, people, not on the train next to me.

But this is worse than the semi-innocent and seemingly necessary part of life that is clearing one’s throat and expectorating. To actually launch your unwanted bodily fluids at someone else is just lame. And it spreads illness…nobody wants your swine flu or tuberculosis, mmmkay?

In the article, Nancy Shevell, the chairwoman of the authority’s bus committee, suggests that going home and taking a nap might help solve the drivers’ post-traumatic stress of being spit on, and that leaves of absence may be excessive. Sorry, sleeping it off doesn't cure being spitballed. It's not just a matter of brushing it off and going on your merry way. It’s humiliating, gross, dirty and unnecessary. For someone who goes to work every day and has to haul around all of New York’s demanding, irritating, and now rabid, commuters, I too think I’d say why the flying F should I go to work today and put up with this shi-at? I can just imagine angry authors coming in to my journal and spitting on me because I put an en dash in place of a hyphen.

The article also had some interesting insight. Apparently all this time I was writing angry posts about commuting, I didn’t realize that I was suffering from a syndrome called “Aisle Rage,” which Alan E. Pisarski writes about in his report “Commuting in America.” I feel so much better that it's an actual condition and that I'm not alone.

While I can certainly understand the annoyance evoked by declining mass transit and increased costs, drivers are not to blame, and can’t be anywhere near as horrible as us passengers, so we’d do better to show a little more appreciation. Let’s grow up a little, and keep our saliva to ourselves.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Anger Management

Warning: I'm about to become the world’s biggest hypocrite. If you’ve read my blog before, perhaps you might suggest that I rename it “The Angry Commuter.” And I won’t attempt to deny that people irk me on a daily basis and that yes, it makes me angry. But today I witnessed an outburst on the train that made me question our extreme level of uptightness. Yes, my friends. I'm now defending the “annoying commuter.”

I was sitting quietly, editing a snoozefest medical paper, only mildly annoyed at the guy sitting next to me who smelled like a stomach turning mix of coffee and rotten cheesedoodles. Suddenly an irritating voice broke the silence as a young girl in front of me began talking on her cell to who seemed to be her headhunter about a job interview. Within 15 minutes, I knew her life story: she was a bartender and a temp, had a job she just accepted out of desperation, but really wanted a potential new job in advertising and was hoping for a salary “above 30.” Should she wear a “full suit” (as opposed to half?) or something more casual to the interview? Should she tell the job she just accepted that she had another interview? Should she tell Jessica? No, but really, like, should she tell Jessica?

As I sat sighing loudly with passive aggressive angst, thinking to myself “shut the helladeria up,” someone suddenly did it for me. A man actually leapt out of his chair across from us and shouted “Shut the Fuck Up Already!” The girl immediately lowered her voice, but continued to talk for the rest of the train ride, while the angry man across from us slid down into his seat, red faced and shaking, wiping a froth of saliva from his mouth.

At first I thought, thank the holy heavens someone else said it. But then I started to feel bad for the annoying talker (this is where I become a raging hypocrite). Is it really so bad to talk on the phone for a few minutes? Especially when it's a necessary call like one from a headhunter? Why are New Yorkers so angry about cell phone use? I mean, yes, it’s annoying when one has to overhear inane conversations from a teenager bragging about how wasted he got last night or a husband snapping at his wife that she was the last one to hold the freiken keys so she’d better find them. But is it a reason to jump up and curse and froth like a rabid dog? Should there not be some kind of intermediate action taken, i.e., “Hey, do you mind keeping it down please?”

When I lived in Barcelona, the train going to the city was an assault on all of the senses. When the doors opened, people would literally fall out because it was so jam packed. If you were brave enough to squeeze in, you’d encounter people talking to each other animatedly; kids swinging from the rafters; dueling ring tones clashing with each other; people chatting on their phones with reckless abandon, screaming no me digues! or que fuerte, tio!; old people with scowls on their face stating the obvious (huele de cabra aqui, eh?); music (an occasional belting out of a song while listening to an ipod); and street performers playing the awful accordion. You were lucky if you got a seat; instead you’d be smashed up against people, feeling an old man’s groin in your butt and smelling the smoke breath of the person in front of you. But there was something alive about it.

After the man's cell phone flip out on the train, I looked around and saw three out of four people with laptops, working away. The only background noise was mechanical typing, the conductor’s call for tickets, and the clicking of the ticket puncher. It felt like a classroom after a teacher's reprimand. My office at work is louder. Yes, it was quiet…but it seemed so wrong…like a sterilized lab room.

I’ve witnessed manic train explosions before. Once a kid was playing his music without headphones and a businessman jumped up, got two inches from the kid’s face and said “Shut. It. Off.” Hell, I once yelled at a shrew who was complaining to the conductor. But we should ask ourselves what it is that we're all so pissed off about. If someone speaking on the phone can make us blow like the Eyjafjallajokul volcano, maybe we all need a session in anger management.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

They’reeee Baaaackkkk….

No, I’m not talking about those wily, technology savvy spirits who poke through the television as in the horror movie classic, Poltergeist. I’m talking about something way worse…a million times more frightening and horrific. I’m talking about caterpillars, people. They’re in, and my sanity is out.

Surely one of the “World’s Dumbest Fears” (right up there with Pogonophobia, or fear of beards), I developed this absurd phobia when I was around six years old, the year of the “Plague” on all of the houses of upstate New York. That summer I lost my innocence (not THAT innocence) as the Gypsy Moth variety of caterpillar descended upon us with a vengeance like the wrath of locusts in Egypt. I remember stepping out of my house to play in the sun, when suddenly I was turned into a gruesome victim a la “When Animals Attack,” and half a dozen squirming, hairy, pulsating ‘pillars began to make their way up my legs at an alarming speed (well, OK, in reality you needed a time-lapse camera to see their actual movement, but that’s what it seemed like “in my head”). I immediately began flailing around like an ape on crack and ran into the house. I never went outdoors during caterpillar season again.

But seriously, folks, it was bad! Their mass munching in the trees could be heard all around…their droppings sounded like a hail storm…they made hideous carpets across driveways; neighbors were sweeping them away with brooms. All of this formed in my young brain a serious phobia that persists today and gives me an animal-like radar for sensing when one is in my presence, even if miles away.

A year later, in the second grade, my school decided to add torture to the curriculum. We were each given a clear film canister complete with green mush and a baby caterpillar and had to track its growth into a hideous beast and then a ‘beautiful butterfly’…Yay! (FYI: butterflies are NOT beautiful. They are caterpillars with wings). The experiment almost gave me a nervous breakdown and probably started my path towards later neurotica. Luckily I met a girl who was equally scared and we became fast friends. Unluckily, at seven she was too “smart” for her own good and told me we had caterpillars living in our arms (she had misunderstood the word capillary). We started punching our arms at recess and came home with bruises.

But I’m not seven anymore, and in my mid-thirties, it's no longer acceptable to scream annoyingly and jump around spastically just because a caterpillar is inching its way across the neighbor’s lawn three doors down. As my brother once sneered, “It’s not like it’s going to catch you.” Still, what can I do? I don’t want to waste my already ridiculously expensive therapy sessions overcoming this phobia when there is so much more to ‘work through’! And I don’t think I can succumb to the shock treatment my brother once recommended (being tied up in a chair while he pelts them at me). Plus I am an “outdoors girl” now. It doesn’t fit my profile.

Yet as I rode my bike recently on the local bike trail, my radar was on red alert, as gauzy sacks laden with larvae threatened to burst open from the trees above and shower down on me as I sped by. Should I resort to cycling and hiking in a full body net? I don’t have the answer to that yet. All I know is…don’t be surprised if you don’t see me till mid-July.