Saturday, February 03, 2007

Can't I Just Read in Peace?!

I sit down on an empty bench on the N train with my new copy of Mountains Beyond Mountains. All I want to do is get some reading in before meeting my friend for lunch. Suddenly, a rowdy family with two kids who are jumping all over the place and yelling at the top of their lungs sits down beside me. The father is right next to me with a huge subway map completely unfolded. He is turning it this way and that, elbowing me with each turn, then loudly apologizing. I nod politely and try to smile each time, then start rereading the first paragraph of the book again. I am trying not to be bitchy.

Then a man from outside the train yells, "Hurry!!" He jumps onto the train, then stands in between the closing doors, holding them open for his very slow family of five, paying no mind to the annoying "ding" that is repeating, along with the robotic words, "Please stand clear of the closing doors." I start on paragraph number one yet again...

It soon becomes clear that the daughter of this family is the one who lives in New York, while the others are just visiting. She is desperately clutching her NFT guide, going around to her parents and two older siblings and asking each individually where they want to eat. Each responds that she should just pick a place. She is whining, "I don't know where to eat. I can't afford to eat out." Finally, she appeals to her father. "Just pick a neighborhood!" He says, "How about the Lower East Side?" Her response? "Ummm...I don't think it's open on Saturdays." I conclude she is either a hermit or an idiot. Then I start the first paragraph of my book. AGAIN.

After about ten minutes of her whininess, her brother gives her one of the most condescending speeches I've ever heard about how choosing where the family eats lunch gives her a chance to practice her leadership skills. "This is what leadership means: making decisions without having to consult anybody." I openly gape when he says this. I conclude he is probably a huge fan of George Bush.

Just when I thought it couldn't get worse, a group of four middle schoolers jump on the train at the next stop. They are seeing how long they can hold the doors open before the train conductor yells at them. Finally, the doors shut. They begin a game of running up and down the train car. When we get to the next stop, these four jump out and play the same game in the next car over. Four more of their friends jump into our car, playing the same FREAKIN' game!! I try not to scream. They get off at the next stop, and I restart my book for the seventy-sixth time.

Except now the idiot/hermit-girl's brother is talking loudly to his father. He is posing "moral dilemmas" in an amazingly snobbish tone of voice that he clearly wants everyone in the near vicinity to hear. He says, "Okay, answer this one: There is a small child drowning in the middle of a lake. Do you jump in and save him, even though it will ruin your expensive, new pants?"

At this point, I loudly slam my book shut, glare at him, then take out my ipod, put in the earphones, and turn the volume up far too loud. Maybe it is rude, but it isn't as rude as screaming at him, "That's not a moral dilemma, you idiot. That's not even a dilemma!" Even over my blaring music, I can hear him saying, "Three percent of the population answered 'no' to that question. And to think, they walk among us." Meanwhile, I'm worried about the three percent sitting among us on the train.

Maybe I've lived in New York long enough to catch a small bit of the rudeness contagion, or maybe I just channeled some of the Matthau-esque crotchety old man that hides in the darkest corners of my being; but I'm not so far gone to stop appreciating the humor in the ridiculousness of the whole scene. In the end, I had a great lunch with my friend, did a little shopping, and finally got to start my book on the train ride home.

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