Remember that made for TV movie, the Boy in the Plastic Bubble? If I could commute in such a contraption I would. Instead, I create my own protective bubble: listening to music and playing a game on my iPod or reading prevents me from inadvertently encouraging conversation. Talking on my commute makes my brain hurt.
Having spent most of my day watching the spinning blue circle on my computer go round and round, during my commute tonight, I transformed into “Captain Introvert” on the train platform and used the “you are invisible to me” cloak to pretend I didn’t notice “talkopotamus” next to me. Entering the train, I turned the opposite way and plopped into the last available seat. Crisis averted…until!
One stop later, the man sitting next to me got up to offer his seat to someone. He stood in front of the seat, blocking my view, and then two small children squeezed past him and climbed into the seat next to me.
I wanted to get up, but there was nowhere to go on the packed train and the man blocked my view of whoever accompanied the kids. I leaned over until I could see around the man. I caught the attention of a young woman clutching a large stuffed penguin and offered her my seat. She smiled and shrugged and said a little too brightly, “Oh no, that’s OK!”
So I would be sitting with Taylor and Tristan.
Like Bill Cosby’s comedy bit about the annoying 4-year old boy “Jeffrey,” I remember their names, because the woman they were with used them incessantly in a futile attempt to get them to behave.
Taylor and Tristan jostled for position in the seat they were supposed to share. While they encroached on my personal space, that wasn’t the worst thing. You see, children don’t respect the protective commuting bubble.
They peppered the air with very loud questions. Then they started directing their questions at me, interrogation style.
T&T: “Why did the train get broken? Why did the train get broken? Why did the train get broken?”
Their decibel level combined with their awkward grammar made me cringe. I had no idea what they were asking.
Then Taylor screamed: “Tristan bit me!” She turned on the annoying fake cry kids like to perform.
Woman: “Tristan, don’t bite.”
I shot a sidelong glance at Tristan. I wondered if he was up to date with his rabies shots.
Tentatively, I leaned over Tristan the biter and asked the woman again, “Are you sure you don’t want to sit down?” OMG, let’s please figure out how we can both climb over this man and trade positions. Of all the people on this train, I had to be the least well-equipped to interact with Tristan and Taylor.
Tristan: “What’s your name?”
Ugh. I didn’t answer. Just didn’t seem like a good idea to give Tristan my name. But they would not stop asking me questions. I started to feel the eyes of dozens of adults on me. They wanted Taylor and Tristan entertained. I pushed my headphones back so I could hear.
Taylor (pointing to my headphones): “Why do you have those music things?”
To drown out the sound of your piercing voice. Uh, because I like music.” Duh! Kids ask dumb questions.
Taylor reached her little germ-infested hand for my iPod, “What’s that game?”
Me: “Collapse.” How jerky will it look if I snatch my iPod away from her hand?
Then she pointed at the post-it note on the back of my iPod. “What’s that?”
Me: “My list of things to do tonight.” Get the hell out of this seat needs to be added.
Taylor: “Oh yeah? What did you do today?”
Some of the other passengers snickered.
Me: “Not a whole lot, actually.” I started to feel self-conscious about how deep and flat my voice sounded. Aren’t you supposed to speak in a higher pitch and add fake excitement when speaking to children?
Then Tristan rejoined the conversation: “What’s your name?”
Feeling ever so slightly more comfortable, I answered this time: “Tracy.”
Tristan (smiling): “afdl5$%k!”
Woman: “Tristan! That’s not nice!”
Wait, what? I needn’t have worried about not understanding what he said, because the admonishment egged him on.
Tristan: “Yucky! That’s yucky! Yucky!”
What’s yucky? My name? Me? Being such an annoying kid? I started to fantasize about elbowing Tristan hard enough to show him who was boss.
Tristan edged a little closer. “I want to sit there. Can I sit there?”
Hell to the no.
Me: “I think you’re good right there.”
Tristan: “No, I’m not good.”
This brought more snickering from the crowd. No disagreement from me, kid.
During a break in the action, I tried to go back to playing Collapse. That lasted about two seconds before their hands were all up in my iPod’s business. So I let them play Collapse. My iPod has some sanitizing wipes in its future. Both Taylor and Tristan were sniffling, so I’m certain to have small pox tomorrow.
After a few more minutes, their mother/nanny/zookeeper told them to get ready, they had just one more stop.
And finally I found my excited voice: “One more stop!”