I just landed in purgatory, and it’s not pleasant. It’s as bad as a Miley Cyrus concert.
You see, I’m on a crowded commuter train, sitting in the quiet car with faulty air conditioning and an epidemic of body odor. Even worse, the guy beside me is eating a stinky egg and cheese sandwich. And the ultimate worst, there are people yapping like crazed Chihuahuas, who make me want to scream, “SHUT YOUR #%@#% PIE HOLE! THIS IS THE QUIET CAR!”
In the olden days, if someone was breaking the rules — by talking in a place that was supposed to be quiet like the library or church — you usually asked them to zip it. You put your forefinger to your mouth and made that annoying ‘SHHHHHH!!!!” sound that my third-grade teacher Miss Tortora made when she came into the classroom and found us hanging out the windows and toppling our desks in a tumultuous uprising.
Nowadays, you never know what kind of reaction you’ll get when you ask someone to shut up. Many people just ignore you. Some use profanity. Others may try to push you into oncoming traffic. It’s an ugly world out there.
The quiet car was a great invention by Metro-North for the benefit of those who want to sleep, translate Aristotle from the ancient Greek or say their prayers. But nobody in America obeys rules anymore, or says their prayers, for that matter. We put our feet on the seats, we run red lights, we cheat on tests, we’re anarchists at heart.
Any illusion of quiet breaks down completely on Friday evening when the kids going home from college pack the train and chat nonstop. You’ve heard that young people would rather text-message than talk? Well, I must sit next to the few who prefer to talk instead of text-message.
The real problem is that as Americans, we’re blabber-mouths and don’t like quiet. I realize that whenever I’m in church, at the movies, in the library and just about anywhere people are expected to be silent but are overcome by the need to chatter.
From an early age, Americans are raised to hate quiet, which is why we suffer so many emotional and spiritual problems. Thoreau said we live lives of “quiet desperation.” Actually, we live lives of “riotous desperation.” In fact, we’re so distracted by noise and cyber-nonsense that we don’t even realize how desperate we are.
While I was sitting in the allegedly quiet car during the morning commute, two women were sharing horror stories about their medical conditions, and I could hear them four seats away. It was like the faculty lounge at Yale School of Medicine. Don’t get me wrong. I have medical conditions of my own, involving various body parts, and I would have loved to join the conversation, but not in the quiet car.
To make matters worse, the guy in front of me pulled out his cell phone and started bragging about his latest stock deal. I love wheeling and dealing as much as the next nitwit, and I love to play the market with my 401(k) so much that I won’t have any retirement savings left. But did this guy have to discuss stock trades in the quiet car?
Just then, Big Brother interrupted the festivities, and a conductor came on the PA system and announced — presumably to those of us about to form a lynch mob — “Your attention PLEEEASE. The quiet car is not the silent car. It is merely suggested.”
What the heck does that mean? Is Metro-North suddenly changing the rules? Is it reneging on its policy because it can’t be enforced? Do we stop at red lights because it’s merely a suggestion? There can be no order in a society where rules are suggestions and everyone wants to do his own thing, regardless of the other slob’s rights.
Maybe we shouldn’t call them “quiet cars.” Maybe we should call them “suggested quiet cars.” Or more accurately, “pretend quiet cars.”
Those two women blabbered about their medical ills for the entire ride into the city, but I really didn’t want to hear about heart palpitations and hemorrhoids at 6:46 in the morning. That’s why we have Internet chat-rooms.
Besides, didn’t their mothers ever tell them that a lady shouldn’t talk about sex, politics, religion or her aches and pains in polite company?
Where’s Miss Tortora when we need her? “SHHHHHHH!”
Joe Pisani can be reached at joefpisani [at] yahoo.com.