/ commute

Hellfire on the 8:12 express

As I walked up the aisle of the train car this morning, I was delighted to see so many “three-ers” available. A three-er is a triple-wide bench seat designed to hold three people across, in relative comfort, assuming all three occupants are the anorexic Olsen twin. The reality is that when three “normal” sized people sit in one three-er, it’s close quarters indeed. Think coach class, on the 9:29 positioning flight from Abilene to Lubbock.

The key to commuting in bliss is to find a three-er that’s already occupied by someone who has spilled over into the center seat, rendering the three-er a two-er for all intents and purposes. And today, the pickin’s were lush.

As I approached one seat, I noticed that the large-ish woman sitting by the window with a Dell laptop on her lap had helped herself to the center seat to store some of her things, including what looked like a DVD/CD wallet, which was opened, revealing some covers in clear plastic sheets. Perfect, I thought. Her rudeness is nearly guaranteeing that when I sit on the aisle side, no one in their right mind will want to take the middle seat—since this woman has already set up camp in the middle seat—and I’ll have a roomy ride to New York.

I plopped down and settled in for the ride. As we pulled out of Metropark station, I grew curious about what her DVD case contained. I assumed she was watching a flick on her laptop for entertainment. Craning my head down ever-so-slightly, I saw that this was no DVD wallet. They were pamphlets, with those 50’s watercolor illustrations of people happily and joyusly reading a book. Specifically, The Book. Many of the titles were difficult to read from the angle I was trying to decipher them from, owing to the excessively frilly fonts used to render them. But one title stood out in bold relief. It was on a cover depicting bright orange and deep red flames rising up from the bottom edge of the page, and in large white type it posed the question: HELLFIRE: IS IT PART OF DIVINE JUSTICE?

I looked, but I didn’t see any pamphlets that seemed to explain which ring of hell is reserved for people who take up two seats with all their shit when they’ve only paid for one ticket.

And here’s the thing; as I sat there, with the train just pulling out of the station and me trying to decide whether I wanted to read my book or try and catch a few more minutes of sleep, my neighbor turns and says to me “Would you like something to read?” I looked at her and said: “AHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!” At least, that was the inner monologue. I politely declined her wacko-literature with a smile, as I remembered that the book I had brought with me was none other than David Sedaris’ new book. Great! I’ll fight fire with fire.

At first I thought producing the book would have no effect on my neighbor, but then I thought for sure that maybe she had some sort of homo-author hot sheet, a watch list, something. If not, perhaps the cover image of a child’s doll, devoid of clothing, revealing that androgynous anatomy at the midsection would at least raise an eyebrow. I produced the book with a flourish, and it was about then that my neighbor began typing a new Word document, often referring to the smallish bible she had nestled on her lap in front of the computer. A bulletin, perhaps. A special notice: SEDARIS BOOK SPOTTED ON 8:12 EXPRESS. REFER TO THE BOOK OF JOHN FOR SPECIAL ENCODED INSTRUCTIONS.

This whole thing struck me as so amusing that I decided to write about this woman next to me instead of reading. I pulled out my laptop and began typing. And it seemed as though every time I would hammer out a paragraph, my neighbor would respond in kind. Clackety-clack clack, clackety-clack clack. It began to feel like that banjo scene in Deliverance. Her on her PC, me on my Mac. Ber-ne-ner-ner-ner-ner-ne-ner-neer… Ber-ne-ner-ner-ner-ner-ne-ner-neer…

Ner-neer-neer-ner-nee-ner-ne-nerr…

The typing built to a fever pitch as we entered the Hudson River tunnel, each of us trying to finish our respective passages. By then I knew—without question—the entire train car was enjoying our tactile repartee. A crescendo, and then daylight. We’d emerged from the other side of the tunnel, at our destination. Moments later, we slid to a stop at Penn Station, and with the thrill of the exchange over, we each packed up our shit and shuffled into line for our turn up the broken escalator steps.

Just another day on the train.

Just wait ‘till next month, when they have the Republican National Convention here. Oh, the nut-jobs I’m likely to encounter then. Oh!