Subway Announcements

If there is one thing that sets my shirts on fire more than turning on the television set and seeing Regis Philbin blathering on about neutering his cat, it's subway announcements that thank me for services or states of mind that I have in no way offered.

If you live in New York City you've probably been on the subway (and if you have, you're probably tense, queasy and feeling a bit like telling someone (probably your mom) to F off). Anyone who has taken a trip through hell has probably heard something like this: "Due to an unavoidable delay, we are going to sit in this station for the next several millenia. Thank you for your patience." In these cases I usually turn several shades of purple, rip off all my clothes and go screaming into the streets. My friend Happy Stan calls this "acting out." There is nothing about my disposition that could be described in any way as "patient." So what the hell are they thanking me for? Why are they mocking me?

Aside: All of this assumes (a big assumption) that I can even make out what the announcer is saying. It's actually rare. Sometimes I'll hear, "Blah, blah, sqauwk, kruncher, mumble, cough, Bush for President, blah, blah..." Most of the speakers on the trains and subway platforms don't work. But even when I can hear what the announcer is saying and I'm satisfied (rare) that he's not mocking me, I hate announcments. Why? Because they never give me any useful information. You never hear, "The next train will not be arriving for 15 minutes," or "Look out, that guy standing next to you is a flasher!" Second aside: The word "squawk" has the least intuitive spelling of any word I've ever encountered.

Maybe you've heard this: "Due to a police action, we are going to take a short vacation. Good luck getting to work and thank you for your patience." Or: "The conductor forgot his lunch, so while he runs out for a six pack of McNuggets we are not going to move. Fuck you and thank you for your patience." After a while this plentitude of thanks begins to sound smug, like the declaration of a haughty bully who knows you're helpless and can't help rubbing it in. Are these announcements written by Republicans? I can think of no other explanation.

Here's another explanation: the people who either utter these f-yous or program them (many of the announcements are recorded) have no regard for the English language (or, for that matter, language itself). I'm all for butchering a sentence here and there to keep my readers on their toes, but I respect language. Poets butcher language, but with occasional good cause. These subway utterers are just plain mean. Maybe it's another sign of the decline of American civilization (if there really is a way we can go lower than Jerry Springer) -- I'm not sure. But have you have EVER seen a subway door moving during this gem: "Stand clear of the closing doors." Brother, those doors are standing still! Maybe, "Stand clear so that we may close the doors" would make more sense. Or, "Step away from the entrance so that we may begin moving, stall, break down and ask you all to walk through a murky tunnel." It's bad enough we have to suffer through our daily commutes, but must the so-called workers mock us? Is this their Marxist way of rising up? Don't they know that there are lots of blue-collars riding the train along with all the doctors and pizza delivery men they seem to despise, and if they're trying for solidarity by twisting the language to their own fiendish ends, then they're failing, and mightily.

Maybe the problem is self-esteem. If I worked for the MTA I'd probably hate myself. So here's my solution: force the entire MTA crew to sit down with Doctor Phil. After listening to his smug ass for several hours, I'm sure every single "worker" would begin to understand the pain we have to endure. Praise Dr. Phil...


Valentine's Day

I happen to work in a building with a Godiva Chocolate store in the lobby and yesterday, while on my way outside to kick a few kittens and pull the whiskers off a baby sea lion, I noticed, to my dismay, a line stretching 30 deep waiting to get into Godiva. I thought to myself, as I often do since no one will talk to me, are these people really that desperate to conform to conventions created by a card company? When I asked a man in line – they were all men, of course – he shrugged rather sheepishly and said, “What are you gonna do?” Another man chimed in, “I love my wife, so what the hell.” To these desperate, conforming boy-men, I say: rebel!

It’s what we all have to do against vile holidays like this. If I got the day off from work in order to celebrate I might find something useful to do with my time, like nap or watch reruns of South Park; and then, MAYBE I could understand the appeal. But I don't get the day off and so I'm pissed (or more so than usual). I think Valentine's Day offends several groups of Americans. First, it's society's way of telling single people: you suck. If you're single and don't have anyone to spend money on, then you're a big Valentine's lonely hearts, you're relegated to daydreaming about that hot tomato who works part-time at reception and occasionally stops at your desk to chat and makes you think on occasion you have a chance with her when the truth is she just likes to flirt -- and what's wrong with that? -- and besides she has a boyfriend and you can always go home and look at porn on the internet. But I digress... The point is: you get to feel like a bit of a pariah if you don't happen to have a significant other on Valentine's Day.

Second. This faux-holiday is also society's way of telling folks who have lovers: you'd better conform or otherwise you're not getting any. God forbid we talk to each other to negotiate these intricate matters of coupledom! Err, sometimes capitalism, as it turns every possible object, idea and emotion into a commodity, just makes me want to pee my pants. Why must a holiday tell us we suck if we don't buy a box of chocolates, a bouquet of flowers and an inane card that captures nothing of our complex selves? (Happy Stan asks that I point out that this is a rhetorical question). Don’t get me wrong. I’m actually for contributing to the great, thriving economy, especially when it’s not so great and not exactly thriving. But I’d rather have a day named “spend extra money day” or "Support Americathon!" than a day that makes people feel inadequate if their lives don’t fit inside the plot of a Sandra Bullock movie. Obviously, I don't speak for everyone, but I speak for me and that's all that's important.

Full disclosure: I recently broke up with my girlfriend. And while you might think that this has contributed mightily to my thoughts about Valentine's Day, I have this to say: you're probably right.



I do not believe in instant gratification. That is, I do believe in it, I'm human, and after all I'm writing a blog so I must have the attention span of Musca domestica Linnaeus, the common housefly. But I don't believe in it for other people, and when a certain Dr. complains, via blog comment, that I do not allow people (for lack of a better word) to post instantly here, I have only this to say: tough crackerjacks. CrankyPants has made the executive decision to filter comments and if it seems like the act of an insecure, controlling neurotic, it's because it is. It's also to prevent stupid people from leaving their inane remarks.

One of my favorite characters on the Simpsons is the tubby video store owner who spends all his time on the internet condescending to imaginary enemies. People like him are the sort, it seems to me, who comment most frequently via the web on Blogs. I've had a little experience with this, as I run a literary web magazine (http://www.ducts.org/) and we periodically receive impolite\coarse\ emails generated by borderline human beings afraid of their own shadows and compelled, as a result of their encompassing fear, to shoot down the efforts of others. Of course, I wouldn't be bothered by such things if it weren't for the above-stated insecurity\neuroticism. Recently, for example, we ran an essay-writing contest (check it out, you have until March 1st, 2006). I posted an ad on Craigslist and received several derogatory emails about our magazine, the contest, the entry fee and my hair style. Instead of heartily laughing at the folly of others, I formed a team of crack assasins and tracked down all the offending emailers over the course of several months. Some things just aren't funny to me.

The good Dr. asked, however, for a list of filtered comments and so, without further ado (and with little adon't), here's a sample of the many comments that did not make the cut. Feel free to assume all of these are made up:

1) This blog is the greatest blog in the world, except I noticed that you don't have anything useful to say, that you complain too much and that your parents smell like onions.

2) I think I saw you walking down the street the other day. Was that you? I'm watching you. I hate you. You smell like onions. --TheCandyManCan

3) You know the episode of Star Trek where two crew members are turned into gods and then battle each other until one is weakened and then Kirk jumps in and kills him before he kills the whole crew? Just wondering. --SpocksSweetAss

4) I happen to be an escalator repairman and I was offended and appalled by your prior post. Please understand that stairs are not meant to move! Escalators are complex machines and people like you who take the advances of modern society for granted should be shuttled into a time machine and forced to live through the middle ages! Catch a little bubonic plague and then see what you think about escalators. Prick. --Frank

5) You're hot. Want to party? --Frank

6) Hello, this is Saul Bellow. I know what you're thinking: "But Saul Bellow is dead!" You're reaction is further evidence of the extremely limited nature of your thinking. Is Shakespeare dead? Does that stop him from posting? Anyway, I'm writing to ask you to be funnier. You're not funny and it depresses me. And you smell like onions. --SaulsTheOne!

7) You know what? I wouldn't read your blog if it was the last blog on the planet!

8) I think calling women "tomatoes" is a great idea. Sure, and why don't we call men "celery sticks" because that's what they all are: stiff and dumb! Ha ha ha. --EvilTemptress

9) You stole my lunch money in 3rd grade and I haven't forgotten. You're so dead, dude!

10) Alas, blogs are final evidence of the complete decline of our culture. We are the first to go from inception straight to decadence, skipping civilization altogether. And your blog represents more declinishness than any I've read. --FoxyAndSlyForNigh



In the future, I'm sure I'll write about the New York City subways because nothing burns my buttons more than those overcrowded, poorly run, dirty, rattling underground locomotives, but today I'm starting small (smaller). I'm writing about escalators.

I like escalators, in theory. That is, I like what they stand for: hey, this city is for everyone, even lazy people like you, and so we're going to install stairs that move so you don't have to walk to your jobs where you're underpaid and underappreciated, it's a place, like your couch or your toilet, where you're treated like a king. Rest ye weary limbs, dear peasants! I would continue this italicized description of the meaning of escalators for several paragraphs, but my friend (lets call him Happy Stan) is looming over my shoulder and threatening to pull the plug on my computer if I don't find something nice to say about someone soon (he thinks that New York subways are a "miracle"). Stan clearly doesn't get me.

So I would like escalators if they and the people who rode them all existed in a pristine, perfect world (such as the universe of my mind). Alas, we live in the real world and I believe it was either Jean-Paul Sartre or Daffy Duck who said: "Hell is other people."

There are approximately 7 escalators on my commute each morning and I'm one of those who doesn't mind walking up them. I prefer to hop into the left-passing-lane and glide up the steps two at a time: it's like flying, except without the danger of crashing (and without actually flying or getting anywhere nice, like Hawaii). Those in the right lane are more patient than I am, and I don't begrudge them their brief moment of luxury, as long as they stay over there to the right where they belong. For those who drift into the left lane and then stand, lump-like, blocking the way for the scrum of neurotics and Type-A's working up a coronary behind them, I propose this: the death penalty. [An aside. I'm basically against the death penalty for things like murder, because I can't see how it's a disincentive to others. I can't imagine anyone who, in a fit of rage, would pull out a candlestick to kill someone and then stop and think: wait, I'm going to get caught and then get sentenced to death, I'd better chill out with a pitcher of Budweiser and put down some money on the Steelers to win the SuperBowl instead of killing my friend Happy Stan. Thus, the death penalty amounts to a simple act of revenge.] But I'm all for the death penalty for standing to the left on an escalator during rush hour because if it were a crime and you knew the penalty for standing there was death, you wouldn't do it. Unless you wanted to die, and then I say, good for you, you've found something you're good at! Why not clear the population of malcontents (who don't have blogs), anyway?

So where was I? Oh yes, escalators. My biggest problem with these ambulatory devices is that they are always breaking down. And by always, I mean: every 17 seconds. I would estimate that the average escalator works only about 50 percent of the time (I've done extensive research on this matter, including sleeping on this topic after a heavy lunch). I live in New York City, and thus I have two choices: numb myself to the incompetent, careless, feckless, heedless, inattentive, irresponsible, reckless, thoughtless, unconcerned, unmindful people who work for our public transportation departments or work up a lather of anger and frustration that leads only to an increase in my blood pressure and a thinning of my hair, but that does nothing to contribute to the public good. I choose the latter. (By the way, I looked up "lack of care" in the thesaurus and copy\pasted the entries above. I noticed "New York Public Servant" wasn't listed, so I'm crafting a letter now to Roget's). So then why are escalators always breaking down? I've considered two possibilities: 1) they're just built very, very badly. Imagine if your car worked only half the time. Or your computer (wait, that might be an upgrade if you're using a computer with Windows). I suppose it's the American way. Build something badly, make it so it needs lots of repairs and thus, keep a lot of people employed (and keep a lot of other people, like you and me, but mostly me, really cranky). I guess that's called "Built-in Obsolescence." Geez, though, couldn't they at least last more than a week? It seems unlikely to me that builders can construct airplanes that fly for years without incident (it's the safest way to travel, they tell us, and lord knows "they" are always right), but escalator architects can't build a decent set of moving stairs that don't break down after fifteen minutes. That brings me to my second theory. Lets call it Possibility 2) they're doing it on purpose! They just want to piss us off, maximize our inconvenience, because, well, they can! It's not that they're laughing at us or particularly enjoying the misery they've inflicted on millions (yes, visit Grand Central and count the teeming masses (and if you get bored, count toupees)). But there's no incentive to do it any better. No one is holding them to a higher standard, since this is New York City and there are 11 million of us here. You can overcharge and underwork and as long as you can sleep at night, you can also just say fuck it, let them suffer. So while the escalator workers might not consciously be doing it to us the hard way, they're unconsciously doing it. I bet no one who works for these various companies has ever had any therapy. A little Freud, a little guilt, and we might all be traveling like Kings again.

Another possible solution to this whole mess: the death penalty.