I used to hear that phrase a lot. I was a hyper little kid. I’d jump around and just shout and yell and generally make a fuss, and then the teacher, my mother, the bus driver or the part time employee at Orange Julius would just shout at me, “Sit down and shut up!”
Goddamnit if I didn’t hate it. I hated sitting down and shutting up. So I’d sit down and wiggle. You know that phrase, “Ants in the pants?” They totally made that up for me. I’d wiggle around like a life size bobble head doll in Osh Kosh corduroy until I got yelled at again.
I only bring this up because I find it incredibly ironic that today as an adult, I would kill a small wiggling child to be able to sit down while riding the subway to work. I haven’t had a seat during my rush hour morning commute since that time I woke up one Saturday thinking it was Friday and arrived to a cold and lonely office.
My ride to work, today was not much different. I had been out later than I should have been, I had gotten much less sleep than I should have gotten and apparently I had slept on a copy of the Oxford English Dictionary because my back was tied up with more knots than an ascot at a yachting convention.
There were no seats and I stood in pained anguish, staring out through the key-scratched & sticky gray windows on the gray subway car going over the gray B-burg bridge at a gray city covered by an even grayer sky. It doesn’t get much better than that, let me tell you. I made my transfer and again, found myself standing.
There is a magical moment, and all New Yorkers know this moment, when the doors slide open on a packed train, it is a moment fraught with excitement and a little bit of danger. You, and all of the other wretches who’ve been standing for the past thirty minutes, realize someone might be getting up. There’s a chance you, yes you lucky contestant, could be sitting down and resting your weary bones. It’s like the tense seconds before a cockfight complete with clucking, flapping, pecking and all.
This morning was no exception. As the train pulled into Second Avenue, myself and the other vertically inclined passengers noticed someone shift in their seat. You know, that shift the sitting people do to let the standing people know that the rumble is about to be on. Everyone saw it, and we all started moving in.
When you know a seat is about to open up it’s like you suddenly get transported into a Shaolin Kung Fu movie. You size up the other people looking at that seat, you work out the path they’d have to take to get into that seat and imagine the events unfolding: If the sitter gets up and goes left, you’ll have to move fast around the pole to maneuver into a more favorable seat grabbing position; if he or she goes right instead, there’s a fifteen percent chance the woman doing her makeup will block you out from making it to the seat in time. You take note of other course obstacles like the asian grandmother’s grocery cart or the baby stroller blocking the aisle left of the pole, and map your route over and around them accordingly.
It’s a bloodless fight, but you usually know if you’re going to win before the doors even open. If your seat opponent is for example that same little asian lady, you’re generally screwed before you begin. Even if acquiesing the seat wasn’t the socially decent thing to, she’d knock you down and rush the seat anyway (don’t be fooled by that gray hair, they’re spry, and it’s a long ride to Flushing). So sidle on up to that door and get comfortable cowboy; you’re in for a haul.
This morning, fortune was in my favor as I spied a seat opening up right next to me. I looked around and saw I was the only one with even a shot at snagging it. Some dude in one of those army green, “I’m sensitive to the Cuban worker’s plight” canvas jackets leaning against the door opposite me made eyes at my seat and I stared him down. I could see the scenario play out already: the lady would get up, move to the door, block all approaching traffic and it would be mine. Sweet release for my aching feet was but seconds away.
As the doors opened I made my move. I could feel the lactic acid that had built up in my legs start to wash away like so much chemical run off after a meth lab explosion. I moved into the seat and began to bend at the middle.
That’s when I saw it. I saw someone who I had to give my seat to.
Let’s pause a second and explain the complex hierarchy when it comes to who gets to sit first on a train. It’s not just a simple law of supply and demand. It’s incredibly old fashioned and prejudiced. But it’s alright because I’m at the bottom of the totem pole. Here it is from least deserving to most deserving:
*Healthy young urban professional male with no bags
*Healthy young urban professional female with no bags… wait HAHAHAH! That’s right, that doesn’t exist! Man I crack myself up.
*Healthy young urban professional female with a purse or whatever you call them nowadays.
*Healthy young person with some luggage, perhaps going to the airport.
*Healthy young person with a child.
*Healthy young person with a stroller.
Now just repeat these steps, alternating between male and female adding ten years with each iteration, in about twelve cycles you’ll get to what I saw walk onto the train.
She looked like Grandma Moses’ walking corpse and she must have been 145 years old, I swear to God. She was pushing a stroller and dragging behind her a full set of luggage. As she tottered into my car I noticed she had another kid attached at the hip. She looked like she was fleeing the Titanic. She probably did flee the Titanic.
Just my luck, I thought to myself as I unbent and moved towards the center pole. I motioned to her to sit down in the now vacant spot. I can hear you collectively saying, “Awwwww.” Well shut it, bitches. I didn’t give up the seat out of any battered sense of chivalry or beleaguered form of ancestor worship. I really gave it up out of guilt, or the staving off thereof. Nothing ruins a good subway seat like sitting on completely functional legs and watching the AARP poster lady tumble around like a pair of fuzzy dice in your windshield.
So I gave it up and stood the rest of the way to work, it was, as usual, a hellacious experience.
The more I think about it, I’m convinced that the MTA are in cahoots with the big corporations of this city, coniving a way to pacify the workers of this city by breaking our will. There are maybe four people who live in the ass end of Brooklyn who get on the train at 6am and get those seats. The rest of us stand and stare and some even cry, quietly, I’ve seen you, it’s ok. The standing commute we endure is such a pain in the ass, literally, that by the time you get to that cubicle, you’re actually happy to see it just because it means you can finally sit down.
Am I wrong?
Is there a better way to make you sit down and shut up?
March 25, 2005
Miss(ed) Manners: Sit Down and Shut Up
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