Jul 24, 2010

Culture Shock

[The following is an excerpt from a collection of short stories I wrote about growing up in Boston and riding the T.]

All types of people ride the “T.” It is transportation for the masses. As long as you pay your fare you can ride. Most people on the “T” are good people as far as I can tell. The high school students are loud and considered obnoxious by the old women who are riding downtown the shop. There are young professionals who wear crisp suits and read the New York Times on the ride into town. I’ve seen construction workers, and even homeless people. The weekend is even more diverse as people shed their work clothes for more comfortable party clothes. This is the time that you see drunken people on the train. They deserve a story unto themselves. While I’ve seen all types of people on the train, I’ve seen all types of people on the train. This includes those that don’t quite fit the mold.

During the summer after my first year of college I worked as a camp counselor at a writing camp based out of Tufts University. This meant that every morning, I would meet my buddy and fellow counselor, Matt, and he and I would take the Red Line to Davis Square. Davis Square is on the other side of the city, and thus it was a long train ride both in the mornings and the afternoons. Most mornings we would pass the time by finishing the corrections to our campers’ journals. Being the good counselors that we are, we rarely saved journals for the morning commute. However in the afternoons it was a little more difficult. We could get an early start on the journals, but that would mean not having anything to do on the morning commute, so that was out of the question. We often resorted to looking at women and talking about video games that we had played or wanted to play. Sometimes we would discuss deep philosophical issues, such as censorship in the media, but this was a last resort.

On one particular trip we had exhausted video games, and seen enough pretty women to last us a life time. Matt was opening his bag to pull out a journal. I had to act quickly or all would be lost. Fortunately I would be saved from discussing the pros and cons of communism because a new topic of interest stepped on to the train. It was an Asian woman with two children in tow. One was in a stroller, and the other looked like a boy. I wish I could give you a definite answer to the older child’s sex but I can’t. It looked like a boy and even had some characteristically young male mannerisms but because of the way it was dressed I couldn’t be sure. The way they were all dresses, save the baby who was dressed normally, was enough to spark a conversation alone. The (boy?) was wearing a Japanese school girl’s outfit. You know the type. A loose white blouse with a red neck tie that splays out in two even ends down the chest, a short blue skirt with pleats, white socks pulled up to mid shin, and black patent leather shoes that reflected the overhead lights in the train.

The mother was wearing a magenta pink waistcoat that was unbuttoned down to the place where her ribcage split. She was not wearing an undershirt or bra. She had on black leggings that were pulled up and covered by the end of her waistcoat. Over the leggings she wore chaps. Yes, chaps. Like you’ve seen in westerns or more recently, as an accessory in bondage sex. These however, were not black leather, they were silk or satin, and they shimmered as she moved onto the train. They were gold in color and covered with Japanese characters. She was also wearing stiletto heels with a severely pointed toe. Her outfit caused most of us to stare; those that regained their senses looked away and opted for furtive glances in a show of discreet politeness. Others cursed politeness to hell and stared outright.

One woman in particular, a heavyset black woman seemed to take personal offence to the Asians woman’s presence. The black woman acted as if the Asian woman has walked on the train and slapped her in the face. She shook her head in disgust stopping only to look at the Asian woman, and go back to being outraged by her presence. Matt and I watched the Asian woman board the train with curious interest. We had no need to discuss communism. The Asian woman seemed to be oblivious to all the attention she had received upon entering the train. She told her son (daughter?) to sit down in a seat and be quiet while she gently rocked the stroller. As attention over her entrance died down, Matt and I proceeded to make comments in hushed voices about where she was coming from and where she was going. We amused ourselves and almost forgot that she was even there. But at JFK/UMASS she reminded everyone of her presence on the train.

As the train entered JFK/UMASS, the Asian woman coughed and then spit out some phlegm onto the floor of the train and then wiped it with her shoe. This was too much for the black woman. She looked at the spittle, and then at the Asian woman and shouted at her.

“That is just disgusting! I can’t believe you would do that!” she looked around for support from other people on the train. Getting none and needing none, she continued her tirade.

“Look at you! Who dresses that way huh? And then you spit on the train! It’s people like you who make me sick!” the black woman yelled.

“Shut up you! How dare you insult me!” the Asian woman spit back. Her accent was thick but you could make out everything. Matt and I were all ears. This was great.

“No you shut up!” the black woman countered. “You just a dirty bitch! Just filthy”

“No you bitch!” the Asian woman retorted.

This seemed to strike a nerve with the black woman. She stood up and took a menacing step towards the Asian woman. The black woman easily had fifty pounds on the Asian woman, who took a step back when the black woman stood up. I had never seen a fight on the train before. I couldn’t believe my luck. Timing has a lot to do with what happened next. I often wonder if the train was not pulling into a station would there have been a fight, and who would have won. But as it was the intercom crackled and broke the staggering silence of the compartment.


The doors opened and the Asian woman, seeing her opportunity exited the train dragging her daughter (son?). The black woman just stood there, breathing heavily, nostrils flaring. I could see the sweat running down the side of her face. She went back to her seat and sat down heavily, not saying a word. In fact the whole compartment was silent; it felt as if no one knew how to move past the situations that had just occurred. I laughed, loud and hard, clapping Matt on the back hard enough to make him shake. Everyone looked at me, but I didn’t care.

“Did you see that? She was ready to hit her, that’s crazy.” I said through fits of laughter. I was laughing so hard I was crying. Matt just nodded and opened his bag and pulled out a journal. I wiped my eye and settled down. By now the compartment had gone back to a facsimile of normalcy. That was my best train ride ever.

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