Sitting in a train to Florence, I am pondering my need for control and personal space. I am usually a master of squashing any idea one might have of sitting beside me on a bus or a train. I slouch in my seat with my legs spread like a woman giving birth. My arms hog both arm rests and I put my bag on the seat next to me. That's amateur, but I take it to pro by putting both little tables down and loading them with my iPad on one, diaries and whatever snacks I'm sporting.
I up the ante by putting headphones in my ears from the Hop on Hop off which lead to nowhere. I use my spidey peripheral vision from a bowed head vantage and either act consumed with all the work in front of me or distraught. No one wants to sit with a fat distraught lady.
And yet, every once in a while, someone does.
This infuriates me to no end because I have to pack up my temporary apartment and smell stranger for the next few hours. Once someone is next to me, I cannot concentrate on anything but them. I hate everything about them so I pretty much pout the entire trip regardless of how bright and shiny nice they are. These are the rules and they do not bend.
I am so demented I even hold a ridiculous double standard. When I see a me on a bus with her stuff all over the extra seat pretending not to see I sometimes DEMAND the seat. I DON'T EVEN WANT TO SIT BESIDE HER! I do it on the insane principle it's not hers and it's not fair.
I am the same on the street. I walk on the left because it's what civilized humans do. If I see an oncoming wall walker approaching and giving me the "Oh, I'm not looking" attitude so I will move, I do not. I have perfected my reaction which is to stop in their path. I don't say anything. I just stand there looking at them and they usually pass, but like the train, there is always that one kid who has no regard for the rules. That kid pisses me off to no end and we either have a wild west stand off or a wild west swear dance.
I like to bust through Asian girls who hold hands as though they are lost 5 year olds. I walk into anyone who tries to cross my path. I get great joy from creeping up behind slow text walkers and breathing on them. Equally satisfying is passing them and then walking directly in front of them with the same Zombie gate. Like a Chicago Bull guarding the net I move like a ninja turtle with my back in their face instinctively anticipating their every move.
I have literally walked past my destination just to harass people, and though I am without remorse, I have time on this train to question both my motive and my sanity.
On stairs going up, the right rail is mine. Down I claim the left. I have no regard for age or ailment. If you are old you should already know the rules. If you are crippled you should take the elevator.
I do not tolerate people who butt into lines and without fail shame them out. I have a below zero grocery line tolerance. I watch people dodge from this one to that. I note the twofers who try to divide and conquer by having a person in each line. If I see a singleton standing in a line with nothing, I immediately get in front of them. When I feel a buggy nudge from behind, I ram it back into their ribs.
I despise the brazen fools who ask to go ahead because they only have the one item. I don't care if you are poor. I have 1,000 items and I have done my time so do yours. I was once about to check out and a man came rushing over and asked the cashier for change. She proceeded to open her cash. As though my very kingdom was being attacked, I put my hand on hers and said, "I WAS HERE FIRST!" The poor girl had no idea what to do.
The man got irate and said, "I just want change!" I said "I JUST WANT TO PAY FOR MY GROCERIES LIKE THE REST OF US WHO STOOD IN LINE FOR FIFTEEN MINUTES!" I looked back at my team for solidarity but there was none. The man started a rant and called for the manager. I enjoy managers and countered his rant while we waited. The manager asked what the problem was. I said "No problem, I just want to check out and this guy wants us all to stop what we are doing and cater to him because his change is SO FREAKING MUCH MORE IMPORTANT!" The manager asked the man to wait until I had checked out. Not good enough mister. I demanded he get in line and wait his damn turn. While I am checking out smug in my victory he calls me an ass.
I turn to him and say "SO I'M AN ASS? I'M AN ASS BECAUSE I DON'T THINK SOME ASS SHOULD BUTT IN LIKE KING SHIT DEMANDING SPECIAL TREATMENT?" I AM AN ASS MISTER! I HAVE TO BE A BIGGER ASS THAN YOU SO I CAN STOP ASSES LIKE YOU FROM BULLYING EVERYONE ELSE WHO HAVE JUST AS MANY IMPORTANT THINGS TO DO AS ASSES LIKE YOU!
That's not verbatim but I do remember saying ass so much it started to feel like the only word in my vocabulary and the needle was stuck. Suffice to say, it was a victory. As soon as I was all packed and paid I saw the manager hand the ass his quarters and could not resist screaming at him. "ASS!"
I shouldn't regale you in bad behaviour stories, but there could be a moral somewhere.
This one was at a movie theatre. I needed 2 tickets and 3 gift certificates. I heard the man behind me sigh when I said gift certificate and I ignored him because I have a certain amount of grace. The girl had a problem with her swiper thing, then with finding the right card to swipe. She was getting more flustered as the line grew longer. I hate this for cashiers. It is usually not their fault. Asshole behind me starts yapping at his wife about it all. I ignore him. The girl is flustered, but I want to see the movie like everyone else, so I wait and smile and offer peppy comments to let her know I have the patience of a saint. Asshole can't take it. He knocks me on the arm and says 'Do you mind if the rest of us have a chance to buy tickets?"
Volatile sweary script runs through my head, so I wait for it to subside into normal people words. "I'm not doing anything. I am waiting for my tickets just like you. She is having a hard time with her machine." I have no idea why this sent the man into a rage but he starts spit yelling in my face about my gift certificates, my bank card, my laughter. Lunatic. The friend I am with presses herself against the counter as though she is trying to be absorbed by it. She knows me well. I turn to the asshole and retaliate.
"IT'S NOT MY FAULT ASSHOLE! I DON"T FREAKING WORK HERE! AND IT'S NOT HER FAULT EITHER! IT'S HER FREAKING BOSS WHO THINKS ONE CASHIER CAN HANDLE A LINE FULL OF ASSHOLES LIKE YOU! Enter manager who escorts asshole to a new wicket. Asshole gloats. I scream.
HEY! I'M FIRST IN LINE HERE. GET OVER HERE AND FIX HER DAMN MACHINE OR GIVE ME A TICKET FROM OVER THERE BECAUSE I AM FIRST! Asshole grunts, turns red and leans like he may want to fight me. Said manager stops, gives girl grief about machine and hands me a ticket. I could have walked away, but had to do my signature final word yell. "YOUR FREAKING MACHINE IS BROKEN. YOU'RE THE MANAGER. IT'S YOUR PROBLEM ASSHOLE NOT HERS!" Two ladies in line give out a little back up cheer and asshole number one looks at me says, "CAN I GET MY TICKETS NOW?"
I love applause. It soothes and validates me. In a beautiful calm voice I answer " I don't work here sir, but I'm sure that more than competent girl at the counter can help you as soon as this guy fixes his machine." More subtle cheers, a few giggles and much laughter from the audience and I am healed.
So there it is. I am a control freak extraordinaire. I've studied examples, considered outcomes vs damage and here on this train I feel I can learn to surrender some of my personal space issues.
I kick off my shoes and stretch my legs across the four seater I am hogging and put my bare feet on the seat across from me. I ponder my suitcase acting like a guest on the seat next to my big feet. My purse, hat and miscellaneous soft things sit like children beside me, and together we have unloaded all manner of crap on the four tables between us. It looks like a pathetic garage sale and I feel a tad selfish, so I clear the table and the two outside seats. I reluctantly lower my feet.
As if on cue, a man at the next stop sits beside my foot perch facing me. He smiles in silence. This is the international sign for Hello, I am sitting here but I don't want you to talk to me or look at me. Thank you.
I nod and smile because I speak fluent control freak.
In that moment I feel mature and generous. Kind even. Virtuous.
I stare out the window contently looking for sheep. I hear the familiar rustle of a chip bag. Yes, by all means sir, enjoy a snack. I try not to listen but I can hear him chewing. An incessant crunching and swallowing that grates my nerves like a wire brush. I hallucinate he is doing it on purpose, somehow sent to test my resolve. I am wise to you sir. I shall endure. He pulls countless chips out of the bag like circus clowns out of a tiny car.
Trains in Italy are often and suddenly gobbled by dark long tunnels. I use these to make faces, glare and regroup. Once back in sunlight, I appear normal and calm during the chip assault. I am impressed at how keen my sense of hearing is in tunnels. He has moved on to lip smacking, digging for crumbs and finger licking which means it is almost over. I am glad he enjoyed his chips. In the sunlight, the crushing of the bag hardly bothers me at all. We are done here sir. In the the next tunnel I hear the pop of a soda and cringe. I clench my teeth as though I am inspecting for parsley. I see my reflection in the darkness. I see his. We see each other. None of my faces or silent curses have gone unseen.
I don't care. I surrender. You win mister. You are a jerk because you eat chips and drink soda. I am a jerk because I think that. I have no excuse or apology. I put my feet up on the chair and decide trying is not really my thing. If I knew how to fart at will I would.
I dig into my purse, find those peanuts I was saving for Florence and savour the oh so crunchy little darlings one at time for the next 40 miles.