September 19, 2005

In Which I Unwittingly Make Myself a Receiver of Residual Socialist Trauma

I'm home sick from work today, having gathered sufficient virus and germ samples to overwhelm my stressed and under-rested immune system.

I rode the CTA home at a previously unexplored time period - lunchtime. I was hoping for more available seats and a quieter ride home, but that was not to be.

First, on the brown line, I see a sweet-looking blonde college kid being uncomfortably chatted up by a grungy looking black man of blemished countenance and questionably sound mind. At first the kid is politely ignoring the man, and then makes the fatal mistake of establishing eye contact. It's one of those "I hope I haven't offended or bothered you by speaking to you," situations, where any response you offer will inevitably invite more conversation.

I'm not close enough to overhear the content of their conversation, but am amazed to watch the situation evolve to the point where the two are exchanging biographical information (the boy is a psychology student at Northwestern, the man served in the army during Vietnam and hates the "gummint"), and handslaps and knuckle raps.

Then, my own direct experience with The Crazy. On the red line heading home, I enter a train which is happily underpopulated, and I'm able to grab a seat. Exhale. Relief. I stare out the window in a rheumatic stupor. I hear a man with a heavy Russian accent talking carrying on about how hard life was under the Socialists, who promised everything and delivered nothing.

Then, I make the mistake sweet blonde college boy had only moments before. I glance up, to see who crazy ranting man is talking to. Of course, he is talking to no one. The two young hispanic women sitting half-facing him are pointedly ignoring him. The man is elderly, with thick white hair and a remarkably florid complexion. He sees me looking at him and, though I am half a car away from him, begins to direct his free-association diatribe in my direction. I put on my sunglasses and start flipping through the pages of Scientific American, hoping he'll tire of my non-reaction and change his verbal trajectory. But no. He continues staring in my direction, presumably imagining me to be a participant in his conversation, and he goes on about Stalin and starving children and the suffering of the worker.

Then he starts speaking Spanish. Just a few sentences. And then back to Russian-tinged English.

The two hispanic women exit the train, and I am uncomfortable with the worsening ratio of crazy people-to-me, so I jump up and exit behind them, running up one car to finish my ride. In the car ahead the only seat is right behind the driver, and I plop down. I must have been rattled by angry Russian man, and unused to the view from the rear-facing angle, because the next thing I know the doors are closing and the announcement is saying I've just missed my stop. Of all days, this one, when I'm sick and exhausted, I make a blunder and cost myself an extra 15 minutes getting back home.

Sometimes I think I'd be better off on my razor scooter.

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