Miss(ed) Manners

July 30, 2004

Miss(ed) Manners: So, King Wet

Filed under: Column — missedmanners @ 8:20 pm

Last Friday night it rained. I don’t mean that kind of drip drip dick trickle that turns every girl into Gilda Radner, neither. No, it was balls to the wall pouring, like God was trying to finish up in the bathroom cause Fear Factor was back from commercial break.

Normally I don’t buy into that whole umbrella fad. As the seminal author, Tom Robbins once said, “The rain’s just doing what it does, falling. Why stop it from doing what it was made to do?” Although I’m never sure if I walk around getting soaked because I’m having a literary moment, or just cause I look good wet.

Also, I grew up in upstate New York. We never used umbrellas as a kid for the same reason I complain about the cold, we were just never outside when it was snowing or raining. If you had to go somewhere, you went right from the house to the car and then from the car to the adult book store, all three of which, thankfully, were equipped with the latest in rain blocking and heat providing technology.

I wish I could say the same for the teeming masses of New York. Any time rain is threatened, or the high up perched air conditioners start overreacting, this city reaches into its collective closet and pulls out its umbrella.

Its pointy edged, sight blocking, battering ram of an umbrella.

So quick, rewind to last Friday night. I’m out and about gallavanting around town like a slightly drunk sailor during Fleet Week. The soaked city that doesn’t sleep is my oyster, and I’ve got a bounce in my step like my reeboks were pumped too much. Little did I know that by the end of the night I would be viciously assaulted, three times by these one legged nylon bandits.

When it’s raining out and you’re not holding an umbrella, to the rest of the tarp carrying street walkers, you’re less than a second-class citizen. People generally think you’ve just forgotten to check the weather today, which translates to you not having the Internet at home, which then means you’re poor, or worse off a homeless person, and obviously crazy to boot.

The first time I got hacked, it was around 7pm, I was rushing to meet a friend for dinner before we were off to see a movie (or strip club, whichever, it’s all semantics). It was coming down pretty hard and I was doing my best to hug the exterior building walls in a feeble attempt at staying only a few levels below moist. As I turned a corner off of Third Avenue, I saw something that immediately set me at unease, scaffolding.

Scaffolds are a common sight on the streets of New York, Ewoks need a place to sleep after all, right? During the dryer times, they don’t really pose much of a problem to sidewalk traffic, however, when it gets wet, this is ground zero eye gougings. Thankfully, I didn’t see anyone coming, so I made a break for it, nearly jogging to get through the tight squeeze ahead.

Just as I was about four feet from the phone booth/blue wall bottle neck, a group of about six giggling college girls came breezing around the corner like a leopard print and blue eye shadow tsunami. They were coming on hard and fast, no doubt trying to make it to Bar None before the semi-employed game watchers still had enough sobriety to remember how to pay for drinks.

I looked about frantically for an exit into the street and was met with waist high metals bars all around. As I tried to edge against the wall to let the ladies by, I was caught, right under the lip by a protruding umbrella spike. The owner, sensing the tug the dirt-stached impediment, spun to deflect off me and continue forward, raking the aluminum support up inside my mouth. In short, I got fish hooked by a 19 year old girl (Those of you who know what a fish hook is, will understand the irony here).

Unfazed, half soaked and possibly bleeding from the mouth I made it to dinner. My best friend, Nick, was waiting inside, umbrella in hand and a look of silent bemusement on his face, fucker. I stood in front of a fan for a few minutes to try and evaoporate a little bit of the shame from the first attack away.

Almost out of nowhere a young couple stepped inside the door behind me. They had been cuddling together under their one umbrella like a Rockwell painting in cargo pants and 80’s kitsch tee’s. The umbrella comes down, the man holding it pulls on the center spoke to collapse the canopy and then proceeds to shake the excess water all over me.

Insult to injury, and that was two drive by umbrella attacks in less than ten minutes. Following a light meal of shalamarawarma (I have no idea how to spell or pronounce that stuff, you know, the non-falafel non-vegetarian stuff at pita joints?), we headed off to the movie.

Two hours later I’m finally dry, have a stomache growling for some vodka and the rain has picked up to Mekong Delta monsoon caliber. Forsaking my silly principles in favor of not getting pneumonia, Nick and I huddled together under his five dollar God-Smite shield and headed off in search of some drinks.

There’s something about sharing an umbrella with someone that you’re not sleeping with that’s exceedinly creepy. Not to mention all the class issues involved. Is the person carrying the umbrella acting out of charity, or is he being your butler? Move a little, my shoulder’s getting wet, no, don’t press your chest against my back… etc. etc.

Somewhere east of Second Avenue we spotted something that made me giggle, which adding to the already “Annie-esque” scene we were acting out, didn’t help things. About half a block away was a midget carrying an umbrella. Now, by midget I mean she was about four feet tall, and by umbrella, I mean one of those giant Lands End beach umbrellas.

The advancing lilliputian comedy resembled one of those walking mushrooms from Super Mario brothers and we both laughed. Laughed that good kind of laugh, like when a baby farts or something. The merry times would not last, however. When the wee lass was but twenty feet from us, the wind shifted directions and blew the water right at her face (at our backs). To keep her jeans (they could have been jean shorts) from getting wet, she bent down the six foot diameter umberella, effectivelly blocking her view of the street ahead of her and forming Voltron style into a red and white bowling ball.

Nick tried to jump out of the way, and I tried to jump with him, to stay under the umbrella, but the ensuing sidestep only landed us right in the middle of the oncoming midget freight train of doom. We got slammed pretty hard. For a little girl, that midget could tackle like LT. Again, insult being heaped onto injury, our solitary umbrella was lost in the collision, bent and reversed. We stood, looking at the wreckage, and the teeny shadow of our assailant running off to the corner, getting drenched by the second.

What’s there say here? Why does our civilization dip a notch when weather rears its ugly head? I’m all for umbrellas, if that’s your bag, but for chrissakes, if you’re going to be a bitch about getting that perm wet, at least realize that while getting wet may not be such a big deal, risking tetanus at the end of your corner bought street kite is

July 16, 2004

Miss(ed) Manners: Bummer

Filed under: Column — missedmanners @ 8:18 pm

Miss(ed) Manners: Bummer

I’ve been smoking for just under ten years. Ten years is a long time to do anything. If smoking was a job, I’d have a pension plan by now. I certainly have a growing 401k of phlegm and paid vacations of ash mouth.

The culture of smoking ranges from one made up of silent, solitary Marlboro men to a raspy cackle filled cacaphony of Virginia Slims-smoking housewives. What most non-smokers don’t realize that we masochists love the very device that landed us this habit in the first place, peer pressure.

There’s this sort of unspoken language that binds all smokers together. A brotherhood of self massacre, a fraternity of hacks, coughs and sailor talk. When someone walks towards you with an unlit cigarette in their mouth, you know they’re not coming to ask you about that unfortunate colonoscopy accident. No, you’re in your pockets looking for a match like if you don’t find one fast enough, they’re going to die.

Ironic, I know.

Like all secret societies, there’s an initiation, a code of ethics and a secret handshake. For obvious reasons, I can’t get into the details of the handshake, but let’s just say that it involves finger sniffing.

The initiation is simple, anyone who’s ever smoked has had one of those after school special-type scenes where you’re in some alley in downtown Bangkok, running from the state police and your younger, loose cannon rookie partner, who got you into this mess in the first place, offers you a cigarette. What are you going to do? Say no?

The code of ethics, on the other hand, is as varying and malleable as Goldie Hawn’s upper lip. There are a few rules:

1) If a friend of yours asks you for a smoke, you must give them a one. Regardless of whether or not they are trying to quit, it’s your honor bound duty to get them off that wagon like a heroin addict having a bad hair day.

2) You must, must, MUST light anyone’s cigarette if they ask you. If you find yourself without flame, shame on you, you underprepared smoker. Just flick on the MacGyver theme in your head and find a length of garden hose, some KY Jelly and a bucket of golf balls and then ask someone else for a match.

3) You have the right to refuse non-friends and aquaintences when they ask you to bum a cigarette.

To illustrate, an ever popular anectdote:

This past Tuesday evening I was doing my laundry. In general, I work up the motivation to clean my apartment, my clothes and myself at least once every two months. This of course, leads to me balancing a duffel bag the size of a corpse on my shoulder, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to walk a whole block to the laundromat more than once a lunar cycle. Fuck that.

Around 10pm I had finished folding my myriad collection of evening wear (jeans and half-shirts) and that one pair of underwear that I never wear, but somehow always ends up in the wash, and was walking back to my place.

Along the way, I notice someone walking towards me shift his course and begin heading right at me. Any smoker will tell you right now what that guy was coming to ask for, he wanted to bum a smoke. Sure, fine, no problem. But there are a few other important details to keep in mind about my situation:

1) I had a giant bag of laundry hanging over my shoulder.

2) I had my head phones in.

3) I had a cigarette in my mouth.


Normally, any of these conditions is a clear indicator that I am NOT willing to engage in any sort of person to person conversation, let alone hand out a cigarette. However, the situation was so ridiculous that I stopped and put down my bag of laundry, smack dab in the middle Bed-Stuy on Broadway.

At first, all I could hear was a muffled string of fuzzy vowells, and as I went to take off my head phones I could see him pushing a quarter into my face. That’s right, he was going to use the old faithful, “Can I buy a cigarette off you?” line.

To me, the quarter for cigarette sales pitch is one of the most insulting of all methods for acquiring free tobacco. It’s like saying, “Hey, I’m not broke, I’m just too embarrassed to count up all my fucking change and get myself a pack of smokes. However, asking random strangers in the middle of street to give me one of theirs isn’t a problem.”

I said “Free Tobacco” earlier because who in their right mind takes a quarter for a cigarette? What the hell am I going to do with one quarter? Put a down payment on a red bull? He knew I wasn’t going to take his quarter. So what did I do?

As cars whizzed by me, threatening to splatter me and my palate-less wardrobe all over the intersection, I looked him straight in the face, took a drag off my cigarette and told him, “Sorry, this is my last one,” threw my clothes over my shoulder and walked home.

Jeez, have some common sense, New York!

July 9, 2004

Miss(ed) Manners: No Track Minds

Filed under: Column — missedmanners @ 8:17 pm

I’m going to go ahead and get right to the point here, at some point during the mid 80’s the people who run Amtrak were replaced with monkeys. I’m not even talking about the super cool genius space monkeys who run MENSA, but rather the shit throwing, red assed, frenetically masturbating, hump your leg type. It’s really the only possible explanation for the absolutely ridiculous state of affairs that anyone is subjected to when they pay a hundred bucks to take a freaking two hour ride somewhere.

My parents live upstate, close enough that I can take a weekend and go see them, far enough that I have to habitually patronize Amtrak’s services. Please note that I mean patronize in both meanings of the word, because there isn’t a time that I’ve ridden with them that hasn’t left me in a state of homicidal fury.

This past weekend, I was treated to two chances at playing my favorite Amtrak game: “Try To Find A Seat-a-Palooza.” You see, such is the managerial intelligence behind Amtrak that when it’s time for a holiday weekend they actually decrease the amount of cars that they haul on their routes. It’s the same five year old boy mentality that makes it alright to tear off the legs of a daddy-long-legs spider, just to see them shake around. I’m convinced they’ve installed cameras at Penn Station and in the train cars not for security, but instead to watch all the fist fights that ensue.

On Monday afternoon, my girlfriend and I decided to try and get a jump on the evening train traffic by getting to the station about fifteen minutes early, what a mistake. You can usually bank on Amtrak trains being about ten to fifteen minutes late, on a good day. So there’s thirty minutes of us waiting in a convoluted queue under 90 degree summer sun already.

As I looked around I noticed that there was no less than about four hundred people waiting along with us for what would be no doubt, a three car train. One of these cars would be the cafe car. Have you ever been to a political rally? If you have, you’ll know the kind of fevered buzz that surrounds a crowd that’s about to start looting and wrecking shit. That’s what this crowd was like.

You see, Amtrak has this novel feature to most of their trains that’s called, “Unreserved.” This is short hand for, “We’re going to sell as many tickets for a two hundred seat train as we can, and you’re going to have to pay even though you’ll probably be standing up for two hours, how do you like my genius red monkey ass now, cracker?”

Everyone knows this and the result is a jumble of people slowly and cautiously jockeying for position just behind the hallowed “Yellow Line.” Any time you shift a bag, hop from foot to foot or scratch your ass, you get eyed up and down from everyone around you, because they’re assuming that you’re trying to edge a little closer. Such paranoia! (I actually used kissing my girlfriend as an opportunity to get ahead of about four people, sorry for the jimmy feet, baby).

All of this goes to hell once the train shows up, anyway. Once the engine is in sight you can almost hear the rapid devolution going on. Animal grunts and squeals replace, “Excuse me,” and “Pardon me.” By the time the train’s come to a complete stop (which is when the space monkeys lower the force field shooting up from the Yellow Line), you’re in the midst of a full on stampede.

This seething mass of half human neanderthals swarmed towards the two, yes, just two, entrances of the train. We must have looked like a school of drug addict piranhas being fed the corpse of a crack whore, deplorable, any way you look at it.

Amtrak’s gotten wise to one of their problems, they’re tired of people standing up for four hours and refusing to pay, so they’ve started taking tickets outside of the train, brilliant. The ensuing drama is very similar to the bank collapse scene from “It’s A Wonderful Life.”

“I need a seat! I want my seat NOW!”

“Can you get by with standing up in the cafe car, letting the table poke you in the taint?”

“I guess.”

It’s horrible displays of humanity like this that force introspection upon one’s self. Do I act like that? I don’t think so. Are we no better than animals? Looks like it. Do I keep my wallet in my front pocket not because of safety reasons, but because I want my ass to look nice? Of course.

After both myself and Eileen got elbowed in the face a few times, we made it onto the train. I’d realized a long time ago that the chance of us getting a seat together was nil, and even the chance of getting a seat at all was beginning to look slim. By a stroke of luck, I got her seated quickly. I looked around for myself and was sure that I saw nothing.

But then I looked down at one of the four person seats, you know, the kind where if you’re seated across from a buddy, you’re going to spend the entire trip with your knees constantly grazing his nut sack. There was only three people in there! On one side, two sleeping African American children, across from them, was seated someone I assumed was their grandfather, seated next to him was a cooler. It looked like the kind of cooler that you carry organs in. So after I asked him to raise his kidneys on up out of my seat, I was blessed with being able to sit down.

And now my favorite part of this story. When the kids woke up after we left the station, they both stared at me in utter horror. I could almost hear the thoughts racing through their heads. Where did this white guy come from? Is he our new older brother? Is he adopted? Are we adopted? Do our parents love us? These are the things I do to pass the time.

In closing I’d like to quickly send a shout out to Amtrak:

Fuck you non-genius space monkeys! Your draconian “cost-saving” measures routinely turn normal human beings on vacation into raging feral animals. Even a non-genius space monkey should know that on holiday weekends, you’re going to have a LOT OF PEOPLE RIDING YOUR FUCKING TRAIN! Put another car on there, hell, make it a fucking box car and charge extra for getting to go on a “hoboe ride.” Whatever, as long I can sit down.

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