Friday, December 30, 2005

You look so cute when you're frustrated, dear.

The El has been horrific of late. Yesterday, I thought I'd gotten a prime seat: it was one of the inward-facing ones near the door, the kind where there's no danger of your knees accidentally touching those of the person perpendicular to you because you're wedged up against a faux-wood panelled partition and there's a whole body between you and the knees of the person perpendicular to you. What I didn't account for was the attack on the side I mistakenly thought was guarded by the faux-wood partition.

My camel-coated seatmate-to-the-left (solving her Sudoku puzzle in pen, a bad move) took up 100% of her seat and approximately 8% of mine, so I executed the preliminary touch-avoidance maneuvers: hunch shoulders, cross arms (ball hands into fists), squeeze knees together, lean slightly forward, sheild upper body with strategically placed messenger bag.

But the train was crowded that day, my friends, and no preliminary touch-avoidance maneuvers were going to protect me completely. I had progressed to Phase 2: sink chin into turtleneck, press right flank firmly against partition... when I saw the hand.

Do you remember that Vaseline Intensive Care commercial from the '90s where the spokesmodel scratches the word "DRY" into her flaky skin with her fingernail? This was worse. The hand was the kind of dry where you could see the white channels of chafing, the kind of dry that made it look like it was crafted from papier maché or birchbark.

At first the hand (attached to a standing passenger whose face I never looked at) was holding onto the appropriate pole. But then it slipped— rather casually, I think — to the six-inch gap between the top of the faux-wood partition and the partition glass that extends nearly to the top of the train. With each lurch of the train, the hand inched back along the top of the faux-wood, until the crackly fingers were mere millimeters from my cheek.

I was faced with a conundrum: lean back and risk shoulder contact with seatmate-to-the-left, or wait with baited breath, hoping the fingers wouldn't actually touch my face (I could feel them there, even when I shut my eyes, I could feel them about to touch me.) In the end, I went with a third and much more desperate option: I leaned all the way forward, forehead to knees, and squeezed my eyes shut and blew out frantically in short, hyperventilate-y breaths for five stops (five!) until the hand disembarked the train.

*****

Today was more typical and less terrifying, although Purple Puffy Coat to my right had this rhythmic schlurrrrg thing going on with her nose. It was schlurrrrg, two, three, four, schlurrrrg, two, three, four from Grand to Sheridan (when the oppotunity to move to a new seat handily presented itself). I thought of offering her a tissue, but I didn't have one; and when she finally withdrew a limp, greenish one from her own beaten handbag, I was glad I'd been able to ride so far in relative peace. She broke her rhythm temporarily with one big schlurrrrglrrrrrrgll (at which point I think I audibly gagged) and, taking no notice of my disdain, proceeded to crack open a can of A&W rootbeer and slurp and schlurrrrg on alternating beats.

*****

These incidents, perhaps only because of their rapid succession, have made me consider, for the first time in a long time, restarting my affair with Paxil. I don't know that one little pink pill would eliminate entirely my ghoulish visions (sometimes, while riding the train, I imagine myself at once inside and outside the car; from the inside, I can hear the chorus of sneezes and snarfles and croaks and coughs, and from the outside I can see, as if I'm wearing special goggles, green clouds hanging stagnantly over the unassuming passengers, pushing against the doors and grimy windows, wisking up nasal passages and into mouths agape) but it may work its numbing magic in other areas that will indirectly affect my commute.

You see, I think I'm beginning to have feelings again. This is atypical; I don't generally have feelings; I'm kind of a robot that way. But there are some things (OK, I'll name them: feelings) that I've been wrestling with lately (as it is the turn of the year, and I'd like to start aught-six with a clean slate). I haven't really made this a place to talk about my feelings, so I'm not sure this is the appropriate forum, but there are things that need to be gotten off my chest post-haste.

I've done Internet research, trying to find a shooting range within traveling distance of Chicago. There are none. If there were, this whole writing about feelings thing would be moot point. But moot it is not, so unless anyone wants to drive me and my feelings out to Aurora, you may just have to bear with me.