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March 03, 2007


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J0399990 My commute from Manhattan to my little homestead on Long Island is, on a good day, only 40 minutes.  Depending on my fellow commuters, the condition of the train, the competency of the LIRR, or any number of other variables, that ride can be a long 40 minutes or a short 40 minutes.

I need three things for a good train ride:  quiet, clean and smell-free.  I can tolerate just about anything else, no heat, no air conditioning, people sitting in the middle seat, but I need those three things to make my train ride bearable.

As soon as I sat down on the train last night, I knew it was going to be a long 40 minute ride.  I had just gotten my hair cut for the first time in about six months (My hair money has been going toward Daisy's vet bills.) so I was in a lighthearted mood.  It was the 8:09 from Penn Station and could sometimes get crowded, but I got a nice seat by the window on a three seater.  Scrabble can kill a lot of time on the train.   My Palm is fully equipped with a game and I started playing.

Then I smelled it.  Chicken.  Not just any chicken mind you.  Fried chicken.  Actually, a chicken dinner.  I even smelled the rolls.  I sniffed the air trying to find the source and quickly discovered the woman directly in front of me had a full fried chicken dinner perched on her lap, chowing down like no tomorrow.  The smell was everywhere.

Now, I love good fried chicken as much as the next person, but in the close confines of a commuter train car, short of the putrid aroma of beer, the smell I desire the least is that of fried food.  By this time the train had filled up.  People rustling, moving their bags, taking off their coats, wedging themselves into seats.  There was no where else to move.  I was stuck. 

I went back to my Scrabble and tried to mentally disconnect my nose.  I needed to make a word out of I-I-I-J-C-R-N with just the word "V-E-S-T" already on the board.  I's, V's, R's and N's are my least favorite letters in Scrabble.  I think I have a mental block where those letters are concerned.

The conductor announced a last call and we were just about to leave.  I'd almost Img_0233 put the horrid chicken smell out of my head when a young woman stopped in the aisle by our seat and said, "Excuse me," gesturing to the middle seat.  I'd read somewhere that people would do just about anything to avoid sitting in the dreaded middle seat of a commuter train.  Evidently this woman wasn't one of them.

I tried not to make a face as she sat down with her Macy's bags, her coat, her satchel.  I kept my focus on my Palm...T-I-N, S-I-N...I had to get rid of those I's.  We were finally on our way, whizzing east through the tunnel.  The horrid chicken lady was still eating, scents of grease and butter flowing freely through the air.

We'd just got out of the tunnel into Queens when the woman beside me, who'd been continuing to settle herself into her seat, maneuvering bags, suddenly pulled out a plate from one of her satchels.  Before I knew it, the next thing that appeared was a slice of pizza.  With mushrooms.  And congealing cheese.  She then proceeded to hunch over and chow down on her oily, dripping, smelly slice of pizza.  With mushrooms.  And congealing cheese.

What was with these people?  Didn't anybody eat at home?  Wouldn't a snack have gotten them through so they could eat in their own homes?  I was morally outraged.  I glanced at the Scrabble.  I-R-E...that seemed appropriate.

In my head, I called the horrid pizza lady every name in the book, as she shoved chunks of pizza in her face, wiping her fingers with a napkin after every bite.  Her elbow dug into my side every time she lifted the slice. I couldn't see the expression of the guy in the aisle seat, but I bet he wasn't too pleased either.

Img_0236 Meanwhile the horrid chicken lady was done and wrapping up her portable dinnerware.  If you drop that stuff on the floor I'm reporting you, I thought.  It seems she wasn't a complete pig because she didn't.  By the time we got to Jamaica station, halfway home for me, the horrid pizza lady was just about done.  So was I.  Don't you dare drop that pizza bag and plate on the floor, I thought. It seems she wasn't a complete pig because she didn't either.

Fifteen more minutes and I'd be home.

I-C-E...I-C-E-R?  No, "icer" wasn't a word.  Between the horrid pizza lady and the horrid chicken lady, I hadn't gotten past the first word.

The intense smells were starting to dissipate now that the dining was over.  The horrid pizza lady was digging around in her bag for her lipstick.  She used it and then took out a nail file and starting filing away.  Oh, how I love that sound.  At least it didn't smell.

All of a sudden a coughing spell got hold of me and wouldn't let go.  I'm getting over a cold and sometimes I have terrible coughing fits.  They're like having something sharp and scratchy lodged in my throat.  Hacking, hacking...hacking.  I couldn't stop.

"Would you like a Sucrets?"  It was the horrid pizza lady.

My eyes were tearing from the coughing.  I said, "Yes, please."   She took out the familiar tin from her purse and let me reach in for one.  I thanked her and explained I was getting over a cold. 

"Oh, me too," she said.  "I always carry these with me.  Coughing fits are just terrible.  Especially on the train where you're trapped."

I nodded as I unwrapped one and popped it in my mouth.  As soon as I felt the soothing lozenge on my tongue, the coughing gradually stopped.

"Thank you," I said, feeling slightly guilty about all those names I'd called her in my head.  A little less morally outraged.

She nodded, pulled a book out of her bag and started reading.  Okay, so maybe she wasn't so horrid after all.  Just hungry.  I glanced back at the Scrabble.  N-I-C-E...that worked.


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