Friday, February 01, 2008

Great Moments in Commuting

I'm still sick, so this will be short1 . They say "Less is More". I give you a veritable cornucopia of never-ending lessness.

This entry concerns events that took place eight days ago, during my inbound morning commute.

I had set out early for my train and so did something I usually forego these days: I swung by a local deli and picked up a cup of coffee, which I consumed in the early part of the journey. The coffee itself plays only a minor role in the story, so it is probably an unimportant detail that the quality of the beverage was distinctly average even by my rather pedestrian coffee yardstick. I like plain ordinary delicatessen coffee. I dislike intensely the post-90s obsession with acidic brews that bite back. I am willing to acquire a taste for strong liquor on the grounds that it will at least offer sweet oblivion from the hellish assault on my person and mentality that is my daily life. All Starbux can offer is a strong urge to throw up and a headache if I can actually drink one of their foul brews. Even so, I like my deli coffee to be unburned by standing too long on the hotplate and to have skim milk in it that hasn't begun to turn because the nitwit deli owner doesn't know that unrefridgerated skim milk turns in an eyeblink. I digress.

Back in the 80s, when I first began this long-term relationship with the LIRR, I used to commute the way everyone else did, with coffee and dead pig'n'egg sandwich bought from a coffee and breakfast truck in the station car park. The ride in was a joyous feast in which the stomach was rewarded for not bleeding out after the previous night's attempt to deplete the nation's strategic rum stocks with a delicious sandwich and a refreshing beverage over a copy of the Long Island Newsday. I gradually learned to loathe the journalistic style of the paper2.

The doctor moved dead pig, eggs, bread and butter to the head of the TOXIC - NEVER EAT list and Mrs Stevie put paid to the experiments in rum consumption. C'est la Guerre, as they say. I was left with the coffee, which I almost lost to the tidal wave of "Friends" era coffee-pseuds that seemed to spontaneously pop up in the early 90s, and who had the weird idea that coffee had to hurt. Fortunately, there were too many Delis for Starbux to take out entirely.

But time has worked another indignity on me by ensuring that if I drink a cup of coffee during the first ten minutes of my commute3 that my bladder is bursting by the time we get to Flatbush Avenue.

This normally wouldn't be an issue either, except it means using an on-board lavatory, since the Flatbush Avenue men's room is usually locked so it can be cleaned from 5 minutes before my train arrives to an hour after. I've tried varying the train I come in on, but the attendant seems to have some sort of Anti-Stevie radar. At Penn Station one has many alternatives under these circumstances. At Flatbush Avenue one's alternatives involve a trip to the local police station on a charge of exposure and public indecency, and once is plenty for that experience I can tell you. Even if the attendant screws up and somehow I manage to enter the men's room, it will be lacking soap of any kind in the dispensers. You don't want to shake hands with anyone in this area, I can tell you.

So the only other alternative, as unthinkable as it would seem, is to use the facilities provided on board the train.

Things have gotten immeasurably better since the new trains came into service as far as the bathroom facilities are concerned. The cramped, smelly little cubicle, floor awash with blue fluid and filled with the refuse left by fellow travellers of the older M1 and M3 trains has given way to a spacious, wheelchair accessible room with modern fittings. Of course, since it is used by the same people who used the older ones it is smelly, awash and filled with scattered refuse. New Yorkers can be the dirtiest people in America when they put their minds to it, and some of them display a disturbing lack of familiarity with the use of a flush toilet.

Anticipating that the paper towels would all have been used up, and not wanting to chance unrolling the toilet roll on the grounds I didn't know what previous visitors might have done with it first, I made sure I had a pocketful of paper napkins (I always carry some in my bag) and set off on my journey of discovery.

I have mentioned in the past the tendency for these new trains to rock from side to side, so much so that a commuter can feel as though he or she is starring in an episode of the old undersea adventure series Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. This adds a frission of excitement to the whole business of peeing, at least for those of us who do so standing up4. The technique involves folding all the requisite clothing out of the predicted path of the urine stream5 pointing one's equipment in the right direction, adopting a wide-footed stance 6 and grabbing the bars with both hands before relieving oneself. Attention to detail is paramount. Forgetting, for example, to unzip in all the commotion is a real danger and one that can lead to embarrassing questions at the Flatbush Avenue security station, as I have found to my cost.

I managed to complete the aforementioned process without undue problems, and was shaking the water off my hands after washing them and prior to drying them on the nice, fluffy paper napkins I had laid out on the sink when a deep gurgling came from the commode and a column of "water" erupted out of in a fountain of unpleasantness approximately two feet high. I leapt backwards, feet skidding around like mad in the reflex motions of one with years of experience on blue-liquid swamped flooring, and managed to avoid getting hosed down. The napkins weren't so lucky though. I wasn't going to touch them on a bet, let alone dry my hands on them. Snarling, i searched my pockets with my soaking wet hands for another way to dry them. I located a postage-stamp sized paper napkin with a large coffee stain on it and did the best I could, using it to trip the door lock so I could make good my escape from this latest fiendish anti-commuter measure deployed by the LIRR. As I was struggling with the door lock there came a second eruption from the commode, and a second, even more impressive geyser of greywater shot ceilingward.

I escaped to the vestibule and leaned back, trying to regain some composure, whereupon an oriental lady jumped up, shot me a filthy look, ripped open the door and raced into the bathroom slamming the door behind her. She was in there about one minute before I heard once again the signature sound of Old Filthfull erupting.

When she came out, the lady scuttled back to her seat with a haunted and disgusted look on her face.

  1. pauses for the unseemly hysterical cries of "Thank God" to die down in the cheap seats
  2. the writers use the same trick you used at school when made to write 500 words on the Tudors. Say everything you have to say. That takes up 150 words. Say it all again, changing a few prepositions and adding some adjectives. That brings the count up to 400. Then add a "conclusion" to this "introduction" and "main article" by saying it all a third time but stripping out all the padding you put in the other two versions. Viola! One 500 word essay/Newsday article.
  3. Nominally a 50 minute affair but subject to changes in temporal length that would surprise Stephen Hawking if he found them going on in a Black Hole
  4. and who would be mad enough to sit on the seat voluntarily?
  5. only experience can lead one here
  6. care is needed to avoid slipping on any spilled blue liquid here: the required technique leaves one vulnerable to inadvertently "doing the splits" if shoe-sole traction with the floor is lost, which, for a person of my manly build, could be catastrophic on many levels

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