"A New York Treasure" --Village Voice

New York Minute

There’s an understanding regarding seat selection on a subway train. Don’t sit right next to someone until you have to. The way this plays out on the A Train on weekday mornings is that you’re sitting by yourself for one or two stops, but by the time you get to 168th st, every seat is taken.

So it was a few days ago. I chose a corner seat on a bench of three seats so that I’d have only one person on my right and the partition on my left. The middle seat of my bench was empty. A short woman in her late 40s, dressed neatly, occupied the third seat.  I read my book.

After a few stops, a younger woman in jeans wedged herself into the middle seat. Business as usual.

Around 168th or 145th, the woman in jeans got up and headed toward the exit. At least that’s where I thought she was headed. She crossed the aisle and found a newly vacant seat. But it was also a middle seat between two other people. And one of those two other people was the short/neat woman form the third seat of my bench.

I held my gaze for another instant to make sure I was correct. Short/neat caught my eye and looked away quickly. I felt the blood drain from my face and sweat break out all over my head under my hat. The two people who shared my bench had bolted to the exact same position across the aisle at the first chance they got.

Was I the cause? I am usually acutely aware of how I might impact a train’s environment.

An Odor? I had showered and deorderized less than 30 minutes prior to their flight. My clothes were clean. I gave my shirt, jacket and hat discreet sniffs just in case. All clear. There could be dog shit on the soles of my shoes, but I couldn’t check right then. Music too loud? I whipped my headphones out of my ears. Not even a feint guitar scream escaped.

Oh God, could I have passed gas on the subway? I was not paying attention, but I cannot believe that I did. I mean, that’s the kind of thing that just can’t slip past you in public. My book isn’t even that good - since I finished the Martin books, I’m trying to remain unenthralled for awhile. If I am going to trust something about myself, let me start here.

I finally looked around. I missed the first exodus, perhaps I missed an offensive presence enter our area as well. I scanned the train but didn’t see anyone that looked like they used their pants as their bathroom. And at this point I realized that whatever it was that sent those women across the aisle, I had not noticed it. I had not smelled, heard, or seen anything out of the ordinary.

I arrived at my stop and I had to get out. I was shaken; couldn’t think of anything else. I checked my shoes on the platform. Nothing. I’ve tried to let it go, but once in a while I return to the mystery and want an answer. And it’s not coming.

[Featured Image via Zoo Y0rk]

8 comments

1 ms october   ~  Oct 21, 2011 9:12 am

it might just be one of those weird things.

one thought - you said jeans woman wedged herself between you and the other woman. could be your 3 seat bench was crowded. i'm not saying this is how you are, but some guys take up a lot of space to the point where it is not comfortable to sit.

i almost never sit in the middle. even after my knee surgery if someone offered me the middle seat i can't remember taking it.
i get seat on the b fairly often. almost always the pole seat but if not the 3rd seat. i feel that if someone sits in the middle and someone on either side gets up middle seat should move so the middle is vacant again until someone else takes it. many people don't seem to agree though.

2 Jon DeRosa   ~  Oct 21, 2011 9:18 am

[1] in "wedged" i meant wedged in the way that anyone who sits in the middle has to wedge. i'm thin and i make sure there's a full seat next to me at all times. but yeah that might account for jeans. maybe she thought there was more room across the way. but taken as a pair, it's hard to see jeans and short/neat doing any better in their new seats.

3 ms october   ~  Oct 21, 2011 9:23 am

[2]ok - got it.
ha, i figured you were a thin dude and weren't one of these guys that spread their legs so far apart they need all 3 seats but i've seen people move because of that.

your original ending is probably where this is - doesn't seem like there really is a good answer.

4 Chyll Will   ~  Oct 21, 2011 12:05 pm

[3] I might have one. Some people are less secure than others. This happens to me a lot and it used to bother me, but you can't let things you have no control over get to you. I'm a rather intimidating figure if you don't know anything else about me, but I'm usually quiet and keep to myself. Nevertheless, people often have notions of what makes them comfortable; it's not personal towards you, it's towards themselves.

I stopped wondering about it a while ago, and your concern only confirms what I suspected. Not my problem if you're scared of me when I'm minding my own business (not you guys per se, but you get my drift).

5 thelarmis   ~  Oct 21, 2011 1:52 pm

[4] now, now, chyll. we both know that I'm a rather intimidating figure! it's my imposing size, brute strength & violent nature that cause waify women to switch seats. ; )

6 Chyll Will   ~  Oct 21, 2011 3:03 pm

[5] And when it happens, I always say to myself, "yeah, if thelarmis was here..." >;)

7 joejoejoe   ~  Oct 21, 2011 8:18 pm

Given an option I avoid sitting next to book readers on public transit. They could be nice as pie but they have low awareness of other events on the train because their focus is on the printed page and they underestimate the amount of elbow room that page turning takes.

You could have had your eyes in the book and somebody in their sightline did something they did not like so they moved, leaving you to wonder at the cause. I see that kind of thing all the time as a regular transit user.

8 Boatzilla   ~  Oct 22, 2011 1:23 am

Welcome to my world, Alex. In Japan, the last place most Japanese people will sit is next to a foreigner. And I have been here so long, my mannerisms and demeanor are that of a local. If someone does sit next to me and another space opens up next to a Japanese, the person will often move. And it's not just me, it happens to all foreigners.

Rather than getting upset or bent out of shape, I enjoy it. I relish the space.

Occasionally, a Japanese will plop down next to me. It's usually a high school girl or a jaunty young lady, often dressed in a slutty manner. Teenage and college age girls are fearless here. Even better for me! Unfortunately, sometimes it's a cocky young guy or a drunk salary man.

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