by Shoshanna Silberman
As a seasoned commuter who’s been riding the rails for over 20 years, my morning routine is always the same: when the 8:03 express arrives, I shove my way through the crowd onto the train, slosh piping hot java around dangerously in my green plastic Thermos, and grab the first two seats I see. I heave my bulging leather attache case to the spot next to mine, take out that day’s copy of the Journal, and spread my legs as wide as they’ll go in the little nook I’ve staked as my own.
While everyone else shuffles their way into my car, I avert my eyes and keep them glued to the stock report, long enough so that the gobbledygook actually begins to make sense. It took a lot of foresight, determination, and sore elbows to get this seat for my Very Important Carry-on, and I’m not about to give it up because some pregnant lady dressed up in a business suit can’t stand for the 45 minute ride. Not my problem, missy; no one owes you simply because you decided you were ready to be a working mom!
When I sense someone politely standing by my seat for a few seconds too long, I put on a pair of headphones (not connected to any device), close my eyes, and pretend I’m on a deserted island. If anyone taps me on the shoulder I cock my head as if in a dreamy reverie, open my mouth slightly, and hurl stale Maxwell House breath into their face. I smile on the inside as I hear the poor sap scurry away to try their luck far from me.
As the train inches closer to the city, it gets packed with more seat-desperate people who don’t scare as easily. That’s my cue to gird my loins, bring out the heavy artillery, and activate Plan B: Operation Noxious Fumes. I rustle my paper, spread my legs even wider, and turn towards the window. Then I pick my nose with a phlegmy ‘harumph’, take a sip of my lactose-rich concoction, and force a silent fart. Within 3 seconds my idyllic dominion is safe again.
Once in a blue moon, an annoyingly persistent know-it-all will demand to sit down, holding up the crowded line of people behind her, and angrily waving her ticket around her head as if that gives her any sort of right to enter my territory. With an audience this large, no amount of uncomfortable leg spreads, sleepy fake-outs, or sudden bodily emissions can save me. I begrudgingly acquiesce, painstakingly folding up my newspaper and unfolding myself from my seat. My face a mix of displeasure and impatience, I glare at her through slitted eyes, affronted by the audacity of her request. I make her — and the growing horde behind her — wait as I sloowwwly move my briefcase to the rack above, where it sits amongst everyone else’s, like a third-class commoner in steerage. I remain half in my seat, so she needs to shrink herself uncomfortably as she squeezes by me to the middle seat I’ve assigned her. I sit down heavily, my jacket strewn open and encroaching on her personal space. Then I audibly sigh and mutter under my breath about all the empty seats in other rows she could have asked to sit in. She asks me to repeat myself. I shake my head, push out a little gas just for kicks, and rest my Thermos by my feet.
When we go through a tunnel, I knock it over her shoes.