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How to Get a Seat on the Subway
Desperate times call for desperate measures. And rush hour in New York City? Well, that's the most desperate time of all. Thousands of people cram themselves into the subway and hope for just a tiny bit of standing room. If they get to stand near a pole so they don’t get crushed by their fellow commuters, they’re more than satisfied. It makes their day.
Of course, they don't know how to work New York. The city can be a great place if you know how to manipulate it. I know how to manipulate it. And so, I do not accept the meager half square foot given to me by my fellow workers struggling to get home after a long day at work. I strive for the seat.
Most people who want to sit on their way home from work simply drive or take a cab. The problem with driving, however, is that parking spaces are even rarer than seats on the subway, and with cabs, you never know what kind of driver you’re going to get, and it’s much scarier to be alone with a shady taxi driver than to be squeezed between two people, even shady people, because at least on the subway, there are witnesses. In cabs, you’re on your own. So if your friendly neighborhood taxi driver, Boris, tells you all about how he incorporates a quart of vodka into his breakfast every morning as you’re crossing the park, all you can really do is pray. That should be fine with Boris, because he loves God. He’s told you so several times. He even carries a foot-long metal cross to prove it (never mind that you’re Jewish). I’m sure you’re all for religion and even if you’re not, you definitely believe in the phrase “to each his own,” so the cross-and-steering-wheel combination shouldn’t scare you as much as the black leather gloves in July. Drawing images of O.J. Simpson as Boris “accidentally” takes an unfamiliar route, you’ll wish you took the subway. Well, you would have taken the subway, had it not been for the seat problem, which today, you’re going to learn how to solve.
The seat is an impossible thing to obtain. Unless you are exceedingly old or young, or homeless and drunk, don’t expect to sit on your ride home. People will not only sneer at you (not that it matters if they sneer anyway, we New Yorkers don’t care), but they will literally lift you out of the seat and give it to someone who they believe needs it more. I’ve seen it happen. And most of the time, no matter what you do, there is always someone who needs it more.
This unwritten rule is held in high regard by all New Yorkers alike. Pick any subway, any track, and you’ll see this rule in effect from three in the afternoon until seven at night. This rule is tough. It is so tough, in fact, that there is only one exception. Every rule has an exception, but the percentage of people who lie in the exception is so slim that most people never come to face it in their entire lives.
So what’s the exception? Insanity. Every crazy person gets a seat on the subway. And, not only do they get one seat, but they get three (unless you’re on one of those trains with lots of two seaters, in which case you’ll have to be satisfied with two seats. Of course, it doesn’t really matter if you get two or three seats, because you’re only using one). One to the left of them, one to the right, and of course, one to actually sit in. Nobody wants to sit next to the lunatic. So what’s the smart thing to do? Fake insanity and get a seat on the subway. And that’s exactly what I do.
I used to be a regular commuter like you, just a typical accountant named Jennifer who let people cut me in line at the bank, but that all changed on one very busy afternoon. I saw a man come in, act like he was crazy, and sure enough, he got a seat. He probably was insane, but that wasn’t what intrigued me. That incident made me realize that if I was insane, I, too, could get a seat on the subway. If I can get a seat on the subway, then why shouldn’t I?
It isn’t hard to do. You need to watch out for your wailing, though. It has to sound like you don’t know how to talk. You have to swerve as you wail, for if you don’t, people might think you’re trying to entertain them. Some of them have weird tastes. Wailing takes practice, so do it in front of the mirror at home before you go out and try it on the subway. First, take a deep breath, because it always sounds better when it’s longer. Then, make deep low noises and rise in pitch and volume until you’re shrieking at the top of your lungs. Then go lower, then higher, then lower, and so on until the kids in your car begin to stare.
Once you have your wailing down and have a little more standing space, it’s time to scare the passenger. Don’t worry, it may attract attention but it won’t attract police. It’s really nothing to worry about, considering that you’d never really hurt any of them, because, of course, you’re not really crazy. Or at least I hope you aren’t crazy. But then, if you truly were insane, you wouldn’t need instructions, would you? So, to scare the passengers, you must make conversation. Conversation is a useful tool in building relationships between humans, but it is equally useful in destroying them, as well. You don’t need friendships on the train, anyway.
Talk to them loudly, and remember: never make conversation with those bigger than you. They could get annoyed and get physical. They usually don’t, but if they say not to come near them, and you talk to them anyway, you could very well end up in the tracks. Eight years ago, I came up to a male ballerina, thinking he’d avoid trouble and just stay back, but instead, he picked me up and threw me across the tracks at the next stop. I narrowly missed getting run over thanks to the violinist who saw the entire thing. I was only feigning mental illness, but there was definitely something wrong with that ballerina. Use your common sense. Stay away from body builders and ballerinas. Choose a nice looking girl in her early thirties and talk (loudly!) about how if she doesn’t own a grocery store, then she has no reason to exist. Talk about any subject as if you’ve studied it, but give it a philosophical twist, even if it doesn’t make any sense that way. Especially if it doesn’t make any sense that way. Don’t forget to speak loudly, by the way. You want other people to hear you so they’ll move away.
By this point, you should have a quarter of the car largely to yourself. People haven’t given up their seats yet, but you can see it in their eyes that they’re just hoping you won’t come near them. Here’s a word of advice before you do anything rash: don’t bother the children. They did nothing to you, and approaching them will make them cry and the other passengers angry. You don’t want to anger them; you just want them to want to stay as far away as possible from you. They won’t do that if they get angry.
Now you take out your secret weapon: the gleaming eye of insanity. It is vital that you practice this before you get on a train. You must perfect your wild look or else people will realize you’re acting and they’ll either call security or pick a fight with you.
Imagine your face elongating and widen your eyes. Sway your head back and forth a couple of times for extra measure if you feel that it is necessary. Stumble towards the seats and bother the seated passengers enough to take off their headphones. If your show doesn’t faze them so far, talk to your imaginary friend, Clyde, and you should be okay. Clyde likes racing ferrets, so that’s always a good subject to talk about with him.
By now, somebody should get up for you. Once you sit down, the people next to you should get up as well. Nobody wants to sit next to the insane on the subway (unless, of course, they’re insane themselves, in which case you might want to move).
It seems I have completely forgotten to discuss the specifics of faking certain illnesses for a seat on the subway with you. Some say that it isn’t morally correct to fake real illnesses and you always run the risk of being potentially offensive, but I think it’s okay, as long as you don’t imitate anyone you actually know. Once in a while, it’s fun to play the schizophrenic, or the person with multiple personalities. Hallucinations are always exciting to have, and I think everyone should become obsessive compulsive at least once in their lives. There’s nothing more enjoyable than playing someone who compulsively sprays glass cleaner everywhere. It’s especially useful to do this when the car smell is less than pleasant. Use your illness for good!
Don’t tell too many people about our little secret, by the way. If everybody faked insanity, then there would be complete and utter chaos on the subways. They’d have to eventually shut down, and then nobody would get the seat. I hope you understand me when I speak so highly of the seat. The warm citrus colors are so enthralling that I’d be doing it a disservice by not doing everything I could for it. Plus, it’s completely unattainable, and the thrill of finally getting to sit down after a long day at work is completely worth the effort. You’ll understand when you try it.
Think of what you’re doing as a service to humanity. They get a story to tell during dinner that night, and you get to save yourself from standing up for 40 minutes without rest. What would the subway be without your local crazy person professing the end of the world? Nothing. The world is nothing without us. Remember my words, and please, if you ever decide to pass this on, don’t forget to give me credit. I wish you the best of luck on your future endeavors and I hope that when you think about this on the subway tonight, it’s from a seat. Oh, and by the way, I take the one local uptown. Don’t take the one.