One of the main attractions of a large city, at least for me, is the subway system. There’s just something about riding in a large metal tube several feet underground that makes me absolutely giddy, and it has nothing to do with my lifelong dream of becoming a supervillian named The Trainiac. Public transportation mostly gives me the opportunity to abandon the fierce rage that boils within when I drive a car. The only time the urge to scream at my fellow man overtakes me is when I’m on the highway, most often in stopped traffic.
True story: I once yelled, “Turn signals keep you from crashing and going to hell!” at an elderly woman. Sure, my windows were up and she couldn’t hear me, but Jesus could, and that doesn’t bode well for my chances of becoming an angel. Papa wants those wings, so driving needed to become a thing of the past. So for both the betterment of my mental health and my “eternal soul,” I sold off my car and moved to the land of cheap(ish) transit.
Of course, I’m not trying to argue that people don’t hulk out on the subway on a daily basis, because, believe me, they surely do. On certain lines at certain times, you’ll find cars packed to the brim, bits of people rubbing where they shouldn’t be rubbing, and in an instant, someone will blurt out, “I COULD JUST KILL A MAN!” That’s when I apologize meekly and slink out onto the platform. I jest, of course, but the only reason this doesn’t actually happen is because I’m not in the safety of my own personal vehicle. Anyone in a family sedan can find the cajones to scream out a window if the fear of a violent retribution doesn’t exist, but having an outburst in a crowd full of crankies, some of whom are carrying shivs? That’s when common sense overtakes the power of hulkamania.
In my time here, I’ve slowly developed a method for avoiding peculiar interactions (read: getting molested) on the train. This is for people like me that do not like to read while in motion. Sorry, nerds, I get headaches, so burying your face into a book is not an option for prolonging awkwardness/death. My method is threefold:
First, do not make eye contact with anyone. I don’t care who they are — an 80-year old woman carrying a purse full of yarn or a teenager with eyeball tattoos — you just never know who will peer into your very soul at first glance.
Second, select a spot either above or below to direct your gaze. This means either involuntary signing up for online technical school, thanks to superbly designed advertisements, or developing a shoe fetish. I’ve chosen the latter. Sure, I could earn another useless degree, but becoming intimately familiar with the entire line at Shoe Carnival? You can’t put a price on that kind of education. You gain this profound knowledge, because dozens of pairs of shoes are presented before you in a nice, little row — an urban vegetable garden of sorts — except this one grows orthopedic nursing shoes. Edible? Your call, boss.
Lastly, having chosen your target, do whatever you can to maintain your focus. Sing a song, list off the starting lineup of the Harlem Globetrotters (don’t forget El Gato!), use the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh to achieve Nibbana, you know, whatever works for you. Personally, I like to use writing exercises. This means taking your surroundings, whatever you see or hear, and turning them into something original, like a joke or a story. Effective, beneficial, nerdy — it gets the job done. My favorite? Without taking into account the people attached to them, create a character based on whatever shoe you see at the moment. Where has that shoe been? What has it seen with its shoe eyes? Does it have scars/scuff-marks? This may sound ridiculous at first — mostly because it is ridiculous — but it really does help get those stubborn creative juices off the futon and into action. To help illustrate that I’m not completely batshit, here’s what I came up with on my commute this afternoon:
What I see: A size 17 Reebok basketball shoe, visibly worn, originally white with red fringe, but now more of a beige.
What’s its story: This shoe has seen the floor of dozens of college gyms throughout the country. It has become very familiar with the floor, because it rarely moves more than a few inches off the ground. This shoe is attached to a former Division II college basketball player named Sergei, a 37-year old, 7’2″ Slovakian with a dream — to play for the New Jersey Nets. Sergei and his Reeboks have been through a lot: thousands of line sprints, rebound attempts, posterizations by more athletic players, the works. But they do not give up. After every slamajama humiliation, they pick themselves up off the floor and run back on offense. They will impress the scouts. They will make the league before their 40th and 19th birthdays. So they will continue to play garbage time minutes for D-League teams throughout the country. It is destiny, even if Sergei is starting to get liver spots on his legs and the Reeboks smell like death tastes. It shall be done!
Now I have a character with a background to work with. This could be an amusing story, yes? Just agree with me, for argument’s sake. Instead of getting into a staring contest that can only end in tears with a smelly guy wearing ancient gym shoes, I created something. Win/win, if you ask me. Of course, it didn’t occur to me that staring at someone’s feet and suddenly starting to cackle like a lunatic might be a little unsettling for a select few. This is still a work in progress, so if you get smashed to bits utilizing one of my methods, expect a full refund within 5-7 working days (The unemployed don’t have working days, suckers!).