An Open Letter to the MBTA

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O Hai There MBTA.

Introduction/Hypothesis

Look at the people around you.  There’s bound to be loads; your stations are perennially packed because your trains are always delayed! But anyway – look around you.

How many of those people do you think have showered today?

How many of them do you think have bothered to wash their hands? (hint: look at their fingernails)

Some of them probably have questionable stains on their clothes. Do you know what they might be? What if you can’t identify the stain? Do you assume the worst (i.e. wrestling with a corpse atop a giant cowpat on the Equator)…? How many of them do you think have brushed past their toxic cat litter box or a foul-smelling dumpster and haven’t bothered to clean the residue off their clothes?

These are the terrifying thoughts that go through my head on a daily basis.

Imagine, then, how downright mysophobia-triggering it was for me to arrive at North Station on Tuesday (and Wednesday and probably fucking later today) to this:

Method

5:27pm, and a bunch of trains leaving in three minutes still hadn’t been announced yet. The station was packed. I can only imagine what Morlock-like sensibilities you were suffocating into the T-dwellers with underground with the delays that went on there, too.

So at 5:29pm, you finally announced my train (leaving in one minute), switching the passenger call status to “ALL ABOARD”:

Train board LED words: ALL ABOARD

Passenger’s Brain Translation: OMFG THE TRAIN IS GOING TO LEAVE FOREVER IMMA DROP KICK A PREMATURE BABY TO GET TO THE PLATFORM WTF WICKED PISSAH DORITOS

The usual throng of angry passengers (most of whom I recognize as daily commuters) heaved its way onto the platform, blocking a few people from actually exiting the train into North Station. But then, (oh, you clever MBTA, you) they start to announce two other trains – ALSO leaving in exactly one minute.

Can you imagine what happened?

Results

Nope, I don’t think you can. Let me describe it for you: heaving, pushing, shoving crowds of sweaty, smelly, filthy slobs, all trying to get to the two middle platforms, blocking and/or pushing the other groups of people trying to get to the platform on the far end. A platform whose train will be leaving any minute now, without you. So what do you do?

  1. Push through the crowd like Moses parting the motherfucking Red Sea of Bitches
  2. Cry and submit – let the crowd sweep you to your inevitable, yet mysterious, destination
  3.  Jump over benches and people (as well as benches with people on them) to get to a less crowded area
  4. All of the above

Yep, all of these things actually happened. I lost count of the number of frightened elderly people, confused disabled (including blind) passengers, and utterly terrified babies/children as those crowds were SWAMPING the platforms and blocking the doors like steroid zombie jocks.

It was absolutely appalling. I have taken trains in a lot of countries and not once have I seen the kind of crowd behaviour and lackadaisical attitude to passenger safety as I did that day. It fucking enraged me, particularly in regards to the recent fare hikes/fee hikes/service cuts. What on EARTH is the excuse for such fuckery? How can these hikes and cuts be justified in any way when people’s SAFETY is at risk??

I’ve seen better crowd control than that time a two-storey fire broke up a moshpit full of angry, drunken Wednesday 13 fans. I, along with many, many other scared morons, was squeezed into the mob of people scrambling frantically to get to the train, being pressed and squeezed and left gasping for air because I could not even see where I was going. Even for a non-mysophobe (i.e. a hippie), it’s still an extremely unpleasant experience.

As the crowd finally spread out a little, I felt air and saw sky again, and as I felt the clotted sweat on my arms,  I wondered, minutes later, whether or not the sensation of someone’s cold gross sweat was actually deadened nerves from having my upper extremities  shoehorned under the clammy man-tits of one of the fetid troglodytes next to me.

I was furious. Seething. Not just for myself, but for everyone who felt like they had to endure and/or perpetrate such uncivilized brutishness to get to their precious train. The whole ride home I was grateful that, for once, the air conditioning actually fucking worked on the train, because it cooled me down somewhat; needless to say, it’s not a great idea for a woman of South Asian descent sitting on American public transport looking very very angry.

A list of things the MBTA can do and then STFU or DIAF:

  1. Start giving people their money’s worth by working to improve services instead of holding meetings about the fare hikes just to rub them in commuters’ faces instead of using said meetings as constructive forums
  2. That’s it

How many times have you been standing on a hot T platform, waiting for a train that is already 5 minutes late,  only to be told via Charlie Brown’s teacher‘s communal reject evil twin over the tannoy that the train is experiencing signal problems. Or waiting at a bus along with more criminally-foreheaded living abortions only to find out (through the barely competent driver) that the bus was delayed due to traffic? Or, as in the case of Salem Station, standing in wait, completely unsheltered from the elements  – great job aligning the tracks so that rush-hour morning commuters have to stare into the sun ..?

My guess is never, at least, not since you were students, and probably not before then, either. The lot of you in charge would probably never risk travelling via MBTA caskets of hell. As commuters, every day we trample the weak and the elderly to elbow our way onto a train that’s already late. We suffer the stench of the entire belly of the train car, wondering if someone has actually gone onto each seat and shat on it, or if the toilets just haven’t been cleaned since the train was first forged by Emmett Brown in 1885.

Then when it’s time to get off (shut up), we jump up from our seats mid-journey to race to the coveted front spot of the queue, and Odin help you if you’re wearing a skirt (which none of you probably do, unless you’re posing for blackmail photos), because you then have to stand like a stripper squatting out a baby in order to keep from careening into other passengers when the train tilts and bangs and whirrs and huffs and puffs its way to a stop.

Conclusion

I saw your “Meet the Managers” day at Salem station a few weeks back and it was a mewling farce. Absolutely no-one wanted to miss their train (which was late enough anyway) to stand around and chat with you about things you had zero interest in changing. In fact, you were stood around the bin like tramps talking to each other, as every single rush-hour commuter inched past your inconsiderate arses while you were blocking the walkway. And to make matters even more insulting, the “coffee” you provided was from Dunkin’ Donuts, which is about a vomit-covered step  (a common sight on the MBTA) down from boxed wine that’s been left down the back of a fuzzy radiator. When I asked the conductor on Tuesday who to start complaining to, she pointed to a man lounging in what looked like a beach chair, who waved at me with a massive shit-eating grin on his face.

You all, all of you, disgust me to no end, and you are by far a laughing stock compared to the rest of the world. For a country who is only just getting to grips with providing minimum adequate measures for the disabled, I shudder to think of Amtrak’s recent proposal of high-speed trains, which, considering that you’ve only just provided this newfangled Wie Fiey onboard, must seem like some sort of communist witchcraft to you. Might I suggest that you master the art of keeping the train upright on the tracks before you start souping them up to play catch-up with the rest of civilized society?

My parents grew up in India, and when I tell them about the poor conditions, schedules and general service of the train, even they think it’s disgusting. Please take a minute to educate yourself on India’s trains if it’s not terribly clear. It’s one thing to complain with a sense of entitlement, but it’s another to voice gripes about genuine safety and health issues where the public’s well-being is concerned. In my opinion, there is a line. And by causing that mob mentality at North Station, that line has been crossed.

To keep track of my various MBTA-related gripes, I had kept a running memo on my phone called “Why the MBTA are a bunch of bastards”. I do not foresee having to delete it any time soon.

Salem, MA: In Which it is Easier to Be a Geek than a Goth

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Last weekend, I did what any self-respecting nerd would do and went to see The Avengers, a movie I had been patiently waiting to see for a while, but impatiently waiting to see since that delightful Superbowl spot.  So overcome with fangirling was I at such an Event that I couldn’t quite hear most of the 7pm showing over the clear fanboying delight of a super-loud kindergartner behind me, who felt it necessary to narrate every scene – not only during important bits of quietly-delivered expository dialogue, but also during those silent pre-dialogue beats.

My companion and I exited the cinema and returned for the 10pm showing, and our minds were pretty much blown – an eloquent tour guide and (almost) a Master of Letters reduced to “OMG WTF that was awesome”; “Shakespeare in the park LOL” and “HAHA MEWLING QUIM PUNY GOD”, and (highlight for spoiler) “WUT THAT WAZ THANOS OMG DEATH SHAWARMA!!!” (end spoiler).

To me, it was a brilliant movie. Well-made and well-played, crafted by a director whose TV shows I had grown up watching (and BtVS was my first 12-rated movie, even though I was not old enough to get in). The characters and the plotlines of the comics were faithfully-rendered. The hype had been easy to generate because this had been a long time coming; threaded through the Iron Man movies, Hulk, Thor and Captain America was a tease of this movie, built up via each film’s post-credit scenes, as if one were watching a TV show with a weekly cliffhanger.

The local cinema got in on the midnight showings and themed movie drinks (Cinema Salem’s “Thor” – white chocolate mocha with hazelnut was my popcorn companion of choice) and it was funny to notice who stayed once the credits started rolling (about half the audience), and who stayed to the very end of the credits after the mid-credit scene (about seven people).

Last weekend was also Free Comic Book Day, a day in which comic book companies issue special “free” versions of their comics (usually more ads per book than usual), and our local, Harrison’s, allowed just two books per customer. Not two of each book, just two. Two of the free books. Better than last year, I suppose. Although I was in South-East England, in which not only is there just one comic book store, but he didn’t even participate.

Not free, but still awesome anyway.

For a town peddling all manner of ghost tours, psychic parlors, magic shows, illegal/unauthorized Harry Potter merch stores and witch museums, it seems to be harder to get goth supplies than it does to furnish a geek’s closet. Salem has a comic book store (plus The Red Lion’s sizable action figure/trading card/comic section), a video game store and, thanks to the recent spate of comic book movies, related merch is ubiquitous.

I could stroll into CVS and pick up a Spider-Man beach towel but not find anything with Emily The Strange. The aforementioned store that is entirely stocked with 100% illegal/unauthorized Harry Potter merchandise could rival the stock and imagination of actual, legitimate sellers, but there’s nary a Nightmare Before Christmas or horror-themed merch to be found. The Fool’s Mansion has an excellent selection for both the aspiring and seasoned goth, but their prices are not really for the faint of heart.

My bank has s0me awesome Batman cheques available. Where are the graveyard-themed ones? Of all places, The Trolley Depot has some great Doctor Who merchandise (and they’re usually cheaper than Harrison’s). I honestly can’t even think of any commercial goth characters beyond those being misappropriated by Hot Topic (The Crow blankets, anyone?), but for a city teeming with people who clearly keep Manic Panic in business, there isn’t anyone with a creative mind who wants to put their designs out there? Or are all local goths just poseurs who are selling the idea of being a goth but not capitalizing on how mainstream it’s become?

I’ve been to a couple of tiny local goth shows, and a couple of tiny mini-parties in which the same two of three songs get repeated by a goth DJ, and I have to admit I was thrown by some of the choices. The Pet Shop Boys ? Really? American goths really…listen to that? And the dancing…my god, the dancing…I really wasn’t sure how it worked.

There are regular Magic: The Gathering tournaments at Harrison’s, and a few times they’ve even hosted small gigs by Voltaire. The closest thing to a goth club night in Salem was a local Thai food place hiring the same DJ, turning the lights down once a month and enforcing an all-black dress code. When the Thai food place shut down to transfer ownership, the night moved to a local dive bar more famous for its pukey fights than as a place to be seen. Then when that in turn closed down, the club night’s website announced that they are on hiatus. Maybe it’s cursed. T’would be fitting.

On the other hand, it’s extremely easy to be a hipster in Salem. You can’t swing a dead witch’s familiar without running into one, stumbling into one of its open mic nights (and then back out again), purchasing an ironically droll accent cushion or living around the corner from a new place that serves spelt quinoa beet ginger soy tofu sprouted wheat bean kimchi raw flax applesauce granola. Oh, American subcultures, how much you amuse me.

 

An Open Letter About Manners

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Dear The Same Group of People Who Sit In The Same Four Seats On The Train Every Morning:

I would like it to be known that you do not own the seats you sit in every morning, on the same train, in the same carriage. A helpful hint is that it’s called public transport. I’d hazard a guess that your taxes do indeed help pay towards the cost of the upkeep of the train, along with your train fare, but since you live in the crab-infested sheds of Rockport and work cushy, benefits-padded jobs, you have the air of snivelling, mother-selling tax-dodgers and monthly train pass-reimbursements.

Yet every morning I step onto the train (a crowd-battle in itself, thanks to the one door that opens), and see your smug faces sitting and chatting in those same seats, as if you were in a coffeeshop, or the “cool kids” in school who sit together. Well, I’ve got news for you – you’re not the cool kids – the cool kids sat at the back of the train, not the front. Fools.

You seem to either be completely oblivious of your surroundings, or refuse to acknowledge that other people happen to exist in space and time. For example, the coffee that one of you spilled a couple of days ago. Knowing full well that everyone would be walking into that huge puddle of half of the contents of a large coffee (from the ghastly Dunkin’ Donuts, no less), you made no effort whatsoever to clean it up, and instead chose to sit back and laugh about it. Never mind the blind man who, as a result of his impairment, would not be able to see such a hazard. Being incapable of wiping your own arse, you knew that the maid would arrive momentarily to clean up your mess, and in the meantime, you can have a jolly good laugh about the ghetto North Shore Slip ‘n’ Slide you just created.

Another example was yesterday morning. A frail, elderly woman hobbled onto the train on a rather poorly-made medical crutch. One of you felt it was simply too much of a hassle to remove your briefcase, which clearly required a seat of its own, to make room for this useless freeloading wench to sit down and rest. The jostling and jerking from the train and the prolonged standing would do her recovering joints some good. And what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. Which is probably why the wretched lot of you are all still somehow living.

If you had been in England, those seats that you seem to claim every day would have been clearly marked with enormous window decals suggesting that you kindly get up off your fat arses and let someone in need sit there. People with babies/small children, the elderly, and the disabled. This woman was two out of the three and you dithered and ummed and acted as if you didn’t know how to remove a briefcase from a seat, shimmy your fat arse over or just stand upright for once and honorably hand over your seat. Someone else let her sit down, right across the aisle from you, and this woman gladly accepted. You should all be ashamed of yourselves, you thoroughly disgusting pigs.

I had the displeasure of sitting with the lot of you this morning. But while most commuters understand that standing in front of a row of seats with a spare spot means, “please move up so I can sit down”, I actually had to ask one of you to do so, and was met with a puzzled glare that means, “I’ve never been asked to do this in my life. I wish my mummy were here to help me figure out what to do – also, where’s the maid to clean up my arse?” And then you finally let me sit down. What a complete and utter display.

Now part of the Elite Seat Club, my punishment was to have to listen to one of you drone on and on and on in your revolting, Rachael Ray, cigarette-encrusted voice, and the younger one natter on and on and on in your irritatingly nasal cackle that is truly the bastard child of Sesame Street muppets and every single Hanna-Barbera cartoon.

Worse still, was the subject of your conversation – the young one bemoaning her situation that she is living at home, rent-free, with her parents, who are embarrassed that she is not out on her own, living in her own place. Here’s a little clarification: they’re not embarrassed because you haven’t got on the property ladder – they’re embarrassed because you are mooching off of them while slagging them off (especially your poor mother, who should have used condoms every time), and acting like the princess you’re clearly not.

There is no chicken-or-the-egg postulating here – if I’d had you as a child, I would taken revenge on my own ovaries by teaching you to look the wrong way when you crossed the road. What a horrendous brat you are. I do hope that my passive-aggressive phone conversation to my brother about irresponsible young homeowners might lead you to reconsider the snobby, ill-informed, moronic question of, “what’s the point in throwing away money on rent when I can stay at home and save up to buy a house with my boyfriend?” Or, to put it another way – fuck you while I play a tiny violin for your troubles. Can’t see the tiny violin? Look here – a bit closer – lean in further – oops, just punched you in the face. Now grow up and stop whining, you ungrateful little gob of insolence.

I understand that, while you choose your seats so strategically, you (the nicotine-stenched one) are thus entitled to Rise Up and rightfully claim your place at the front of the queue to disembark the train. Well, you’re wrong. Whenever I can feel like it, I purposefully start to move into that tiny bit of space you think you can use to edge out the competition to get off the train first, and block you from exiting before the 50-odd group of people who were standing up for two-thirds of the journey.

And other people are starting to catch on, too. Many times I’ve seen other commuters watch you try to get up and they slot themselves in there before you get a chance, taking their sweet time exiting the train and leaving lots and lots of room in front of them. Room you can’t get to.  This is what you get for displaying such foul disregard for anyone around you. If someone has been standing up for most of the train journey and they kindly let you disembark the train first, at least make eye contact and say “thank you” or “excuse me”, instead of just shoehorning your unpleasantness in front of us mere peons.

America ceased their Isolationist viewpoints before WWII, so be aware that there are other people on this train. Even Bhutan aren’t isolationist anymore. It’s pretty much just Switzerland. Do you want to be Switzerland? No, no-one wants to be Switzerland. So either let people sit down and clean up your own messes or GTFO and commute in your gas-guzzling, ozone-raping SUVs you keep bragging about.

And don’t think I didn’t see that puzzled side-eye you all gave me when you heard me speak. Just because I bear a faint resemblance to the people who rip you off at the convenience store doesn’t mean I can’t speak posh. You berks. Now fuck off back to Dunkin Donuts.

An Open Letter To The Crabby Bitch Who Sits Next To Me At Work

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Dear Perma-Crab-Faced Wench,

I would like it to be known that I am tired of knowing exactly when you bluster into the office. Would you like to know how I can tell, despite your relatively slim frame and the five and one-half-feet cubicle walls surrounding me, that you’ve graced us with your sour presence?

You are angrily huffing and puffing as you clomp and stomp your ill-fitting clodhoppers like a bitchy Transformer all the way to your poor desk, who did nothing to deserve having its meek little drawers flung open so violently, or its timid surface slammed on by your fashionably humungous handbag (which seems to contain a pile of rocks). To your credit, you fill in any pleasant gaps of noise with more huffing and puffing and sighing, as if you were some sort of ghetto dubstep record (which is all of them).

During my first week here, everyone else was pleasant and either introduced themselves to me, or, as is usually the case in corporate settings, said hello and made small talk as if they knew me already (without knowing that they had no idea who I was). You on the other hand, acted as if I had farted in your coffee while trash-talking your grandmother – you have a permanent scowl on your face, in your voice and generally in the way you carry yourself.

I wanted to give you the benefit of the doubt, that perhaps you were suffering from a breathing difficulty like asthma, or that maybe it was a one-off-huff-puff and that you were just having a shit day.  But no, you huff and puff and sigh angrily and bam and smash things all day, every day, like a self-loathing, everyone-loathing, corporate yeti.

You seem to eat the same thing every day (cold oatmeal-covered steroids?), because I hear the same angry scrape-scrape-scrape of your spoon against whatever it is you’re threatening down your own throat. I hear the same flinging open of the drawers, the same tossing of the mug (why is it never in pieces??) against the desk, and the same villanous slam-dunk of the wretched remains of it into the bin cowering under your desk. This is an office, not fucking Gladiators. Calm the fuck down. Maybe if you ate some chocolate once in a while you might perk up. Actually, the next time I hear you scraping I am going to toss in half a Chomp bar when you’re not looking. Hopefully you’ll also think it’s poo, because that’s what I think of your attitude. Bitter (like chocolate). Also: poo.

chocolate keybard by Michael Sholk

Because you never eked out more than a grunted sigh in response to seeing me, I’m not sure what the hell I’ve done to provoke this kind of response, since I’ve seen you attempt a smiling conversation with other people in the office, even though the grimace you attempt seems to test the very limits of your naturally bitchy face. So I know you’re not shy. But any encounter we have ever had in the hallway makes me paranoid and uncomfortable, like you’re suddenly going to stun me with your death-laser eyes and I’ll wake up two days later in a bath full of ice with one of my kidneys missing.

The other week, when I was microwaving my peasant cup of (vegan, all-natural) noodles in the break room, you stomped in with your huffing, dressed in what I can only assume was the result of you going to Nordstrom and thinking “this is uncomfortable, revealing, tight, and shows off my man-shoulders and my inability to co-ordinate my hips in a feminine manner”, and clomping your “trying not to walk like a riled-up pigeon” heels. You slammed down your Weight Watchers (why??) twelve-cheese-beefaroni next to the coffee maker with such a thuggish thud that it nearly dislodged the k-cup handle, put your hand angrily on your hip and tap-tap-tapped your foot while staring at me.

Your powers of staring were nothing compared to mine. While you could reduce me to an awkward, sweating, neurotic, lip-chewing mess, my feeble stares at the microwave did nothing to speed up the passage of time. It took me back to the longest three minutes of my life, in June 1999, when the last bit of silence in Biology A-Level exam was punctuated by the humiliatingly loud sounds of my stomach rumbling. I had only had a single hot dog to eat all day, and my abnormally-loud acid churning let out the unholiest sounds for three. long. minutes. Staring at the clock did nothing. Holding in my stomach muscles did nothing. Pushing out the stomach muscles made it worse. Water made it worse, sort of giving the gut something to conduct the damn sound through. Once I left, I had vowed never to let myself go that hungry again. Which brought me to this awkward break room moment.

In the end, I pretended that the food was done/overcooked and made some facetious apology about having your food smell like my food. I mumbled timidly, “have a good one” and then scampered off to eat my pauper’s lukewarm, crunchy, undercooked noodles to avoid having to look at your grimacing mug for the 2 minutes it would have taken to safely cook my food.

I don’t understand why you constantly walk around with a permanent lemon-sucking-face. You went to an Ivy League school, keep fit and active with sports and seem to be in generally good health. You also have a lot of friends, given the sheer amount of personal calls you make on an hourly basis. I notice that you got a big, layerful, 80s-style hairdo makeover with tons of blond highlights/extensions which more than likely cost about three weeks of my pay (but an hour of yours). You’re a permanent employee with a job whose low-visibility (not a bad thing) duties are shared among other people in your business unit, whereas I am doing the work of four people without a safety net, thick and fast deadlines, extremely high-visibility (i.e. high panic) work and way less than a third of your salary.

You are always late into the office and you always leave at least fifteen minutes early. You are constantly on vacation. The Cuntess of Bad Manners, you are always rude and curt to people in your phone meetings and act as if you have somewhere better to be. Why? Did you read this article?

You huff and puff and slam and sigh and fling and throw things so much that, as a human being on the other side of that tiny, non-soundproofed cubicle wall, I have to just assume that I am doing something to piss you off, maybe the sound of my eating, which made me so damn paranoid I now open a bag of crisps with a pair of fucking SCISSORS to minimise the noise of fueling myself. Never mind eating a motherfucking APPLE. Even WATERMELON is too damn loud!

This led me to explore other avenues of loud. My sneezes are loud (but yours have a sort of throat-singing quality to them, too); my stomach-rumblings are loud. I have perfected the art of sneeze repression (hold your breath ’til the tickle passes, then sniff to redistribute the nostril-tickling agents), but to remedy stomach-rumblings, I need to eat food (and like you and everyone else, it will be at my desk). So STFU.

Why can’t you be more like the adorably-sweet, constantly-smiling, Julie Benz-like lady who sits behind you? Your demeanour is that of a “fed up bitch” as opposed to a “maudlin, help-needing, depressed soul”. I know because I’ve been both. It’s a shame, because the more I see you, the more I feel compelled to avoid you, and I would have liked to have chatted with you like I do with everyone else in the building, even the cleaners who only speak Latin-American Spanish, and I do not speak any Spanish (I made the foolish decision of taking German in school instead). It’s now an instinct to avoid you. Sometimes I pretend to schedule meetings with you via your Outlook ID so I can see when you’re out of office so that I can RELAX.

So please…stop being such a miserable cow. Or, if you must be a miserable cow, at least have the decency to inject some misanthropic humour into your slumpy-shouldered, platform-heel-stomping, happiness-vacuuming dirge with which you insist on festooning this place.

Sincerely,

The lowly temp You Never Speak To

P.S. I am going to gargle pop rocks with Sprite every day with an open mouth until we all move into our new cubicles next week.