In Transit

During my 30+ years of working life, I have migrated from working into the office to home to the office and back again, each time in search of the perfect combination of work environment and family demands.  When Ned was an infant I made my first attempt to “work from home” and found it to be a frustrating oxymoron.  I was trying to establish myself as a free lance medical writer, and one little pesky detail was that my interviewees would call at unexpected times when Ned was not napping as planned.  One elusive physician happened to call when I was in the midst of a particularly grimy diaper change, so I just had to just forge ahead.  With my left hand I balanced Ned on the changing table and prayed that he would cooperate.  I then put the phone under my ear, and with no piece of paper in sight, I had no choice but to take notes for the whole interview by writing on the wall, madly flicking the pen to overcome the effects of gravity.  In one house, my office was in the dressing room next to the bathroom.  One day, as I got out of shower, the office phone rang. I instinctively answered and found myself plunged into a detailed conversation about heart defibrillators.  Little did my caller know that he was having a very cerebral and professional discussion with someone who was stark naked and dripping wet.  Time to go back an office environment!  When I lucked into a top notch baby-sitter/caretaker/household manager, I knew we were all in good hands and I scurried back downtown to work.

For about 10 years, I made the daily commute on trains, buses or the Els, and came to value the experience as my own personal time.  It became a game to always get on the first El that stopped, even if it meant absolutely plastering myself up against some total stranger.  Often I took some knitting on the train, and one time I happened to get on  a train with three other knitters on it.  We all raised our needles to each other in quiet acknowledgement.  These were the years that I subscribed to the New Yorker and could actually keep up with its weekly schedule.

I also came to appreciate the subtleties of commuting etiquette. Occasionally, I would arrive on the El platform at the same time as casually acquaintances, often neighbors.  What was the protocol here? Would it be considered unneighborly to take a different seat?  On the other hand, I really had no interest in exchanging pleasantries for the hour plus commute, particularly with a crossword puzzle, New Yorker or other word game waiting in the wings.  I could pretend that I did not see my neighbors, and either slow up during my walk to the station, or turn my head on the platform, but this was a thinly veiled and potentially insulting artifice. My usual strategy was to try and get on the train first and take a seat and then let it be the decision of the other neighbors whether or not to snub me.   One time, I got on the train through the back door, and panicked when I saw two vague acquaintances get on through the front door.  They must have had the same reaction. One said, “I have a book to read,”  the other said, “I have some work to do,” and I nodded in agreement.  Relieved we all took different seats.  Another time, I got on the train the same time as my uncle, who invited me to join him in his private club car.  He handled the situation with the ease of a 50 year plus commuter.  As we sat next to each other the first word he said were, “What part of the paper would you like to read?”

Taking the train home involved a different strategy.  I often got on the train when it was half full, but knew by the time it left it would be packed.  So although I could certainly get a seat, I knew that I would shortly have a seat mate.  If I chose an empty seat, who knows who would sit beside me?  It could be a hacking cougher, a loud talker or someone eating a bag of greasy McDonald’s French fries.  One time I sat next to someone brushing their hair so aggressively that I was covered with a veil of their ripped out black hair.  One strategy was to take an empty seat and then try to protect the adjacent seat by either spreading out or making the other seat look unattractive.  Even the slightest little bit of liquid on the adjacent seat would be a major deterrent.  Knitting needles also seemed to scare people.  The alternative strategy would be to pick your poison upfront and join an innocuous looking person, even though there were empty seats available.

The companion issue is whether or not it is in poor taste to get up and move once another seat becomes available.  People have done that to me, and it always made me wonder if I was somehow objectionable.  I remember one time feeling entirely grateful to snag a seat in a crowded and overheated car.  But as the car thinned out,  I realized that I my seat mate was appalling.  He was a huge and hairy man overflowing the seat so that our thighs were not just touching at a single point, but all along their length.  He had on a sickly hued polyester shirt with yellow armpits.  His nostrils were cavernous and tiny drips of sweat hung from his nose hairs.  And yet somehow I felt that it would be disrespectful to move to a different seat – it would be so entirely obvious that I was rejecting him.  Slowly the entire car emptied, and for the last three stops, we were the only two people on the train.  But I stayed put, trapped by some ridiculous notion of politeness.

One time I got on the train at the second stop on the way out of the city from Chicago
.  I knew that I would be lucky to get a seat.  As I stepped into the rear of the car, I noticed one available seat, and was immediately filled with misgivings.  Every single person who had gotten on that car had presumably considered and rejected that seat for one reason or another.  What was it about that seat?   I couldn’t see who was sitting there, because I could only see the backs of heads.  I could only imagine that there was something very creepy or unpleasant about the seat mate. Swallowing hard, I decided to go for it.  As I reached the seat I burst out laughing when I saw that the empty seat was next to my brother!

I am now back working at home again.  Although I have heard many people say that once their kids are in school full time, that it is time to go back to work.  It seemed to me that this was the time to come home to work, since the kids’ needs at the end of the day were more complicated and beyond the job description of a “baby” sitter.  Now that we have further segued into empty nesters, it would be entirely feasible to go back to an office to work, but at this point I am spoiled and cannot imagine a life of daily commuting.  Early this year, I waved goodbye to my salaried job, and now am a full time self employed consultant.  Although it is nervewracking to forego a regular salary, I decided to celebrate “my time is my own,” by removing the clock in the bedroom, and always sleep with the curtains open.  Now I just get up whenever I wake up, and typically don’t find out what time it is until I get into the kitchen for breakfast.  This morning I was up at 6:10, while the other day it was 9:15. 

The missing words in the following poem are anagrams (i.e. share the same letters like spot, post, stop) and the number of asterisks indicates the number of letters.  One of the missing words will rhyme with either the previous or following line.  Your job is to solve the missing words based on the above rules and the context of the poem.  Scroll down for answers.  

 As I get on the train, I try and find a relaxing and comfortable place to *** .

Avoiding the snorer, the gabber, the sweater, and the unkempt nosepicking misfit.

But as I look down the car, I despair and see there no reason to rejoice,

***  too crowded – there is only one seat left so I really have no choice.

Who is this person that made everyone reject this seat and seek another,

So *** very surprising when I find the empty seat is next to my brother!






Sit, tis, its

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