A Worksheet to Better Acquaint Yourself with Both the Subtle and Overt Realities of Public Transportation

A.J. Harris

 

Contents Include:

One loose narrative Sentence fragments Second person narration
A healthy dose of pretention Inconsistencies A contradiction or two
An activity Borderline plagiarism 954 nouns 588 verbs Grammatical mistakes
Some sort of theme Q and A Comma splices (probably) Self-importance Clichés
Pejorative senses Statistics

 

You Will Need:

One no. 2 pencil One pen (any color) One turkey or ham sandwich (in case you get hungry)
One German to English dictionary

 

So Now Then

1. You don’t like public transportation. Highways and train tracks and airways. It’s not that there is something wrong with you, you don’t have anxiety when riding in sardine tins with so many people (well, you do, but that’s irrelevant). You just don’t like the starting and the stopping. Starting and stopping. It leaves you feeling empty. You do your best not to look around. Not to look at the faces of the people sitting on top of you. They look so disappointed all the time. They cling to the tiniest scraps of anything in their lives that might make them feel less desperate, but it never works. When you look at them, you realize that you are one of them. Their disappointments are yours, and you are reminded. So you don’t look at them.


2. That was the somewhat plagiarized bit.


3. So you ride in cars with the window cracked. You ride on trains and in airplanes. They get you from where you were to where you need to be. That’s why you don’t like it though, that and the people. It’s an in-between time, you are neither where you were nor where you are going. It’s like temporal limbo to you. Your thoughts wander.


4. And that’s all you do. You let your thoughts wander. You are sitting on an airplane, flying over a landscape that looks like a patchwork quilt. You don’t want to look at anyone. So you look out the window (you must always have a window seat) and you let your mind float out over the quilted earth below you. Your thoughts are as random and as elegantly philosophical as the digits of pi.


5. 3.14159265you glare downward realizing nothing important, how or why avoiding your turgid or crazed mind. You see hysteria. But it speedily dissipates. Again 02884197169 and 9937 again 10880 panic 7 is 0 prevalent.


6. But you fight through it, concentrate on not the 30,000 feet separating you from certain doom but instead on the loose thread unravelling from the seat in front of you. This comforts you, reminds you of a sweater you hated wearing when you were a kid. You flew on an airplane then, too, but you were simply too dumb to realize what a terrifying prospect flying really is. You rather enjoyed it, pretended it was a spaceship. Convinced it was a spaceship. You weren’t going to Birmingham, Alabama to see your great aunt whoever, you were going to the goddamn moon. And you still have the certificate the stewardess gave you because it was your first time on an airplane. And your mom gave you a pill that tasted like chalk so you could sleep.


7. When you think about this pill now, however, you realize that your mother drugged you, you were a stoned eight year old, and that airplanes shouldn’t have unravelling seats.
8. You must now avail yourself of the little white bag tucked in a pocket right below the loose thread. But you land safely.

 

9. Q. Did you catch the mistake made above?
A.

 

10. Q. Is a mistake made intentionally really a mistake?
A.

 

11. You are riding in a train, slowly moving towards the place in which you were born. It is a town that is small enough so that just about everyone knows who you are yet large enough so that no one really notices when you leave. It has been a while since you have returned, and the reasons for your return now are once again irrelevant. You were reticent to come return to that place, but not because you had a dreadful time growing up. You simply don’t like to travel by things of which you have no control, especially if you are going to a place you have already been.


12. But if there must be a reason for your return – your grandpa/childhood friend/sister is sick/getting married/having a reunion. You are going home to see __________ because he/she is __________. Fill in the blanks as you see fit.


13. Riding on the train is slightly better than being trapped on a cylinder hurdling through the air at impossible speeds and at impossible heights. Airplanes are unnatural, trains allowed for manifest destiny. There is something strangely numbing about the rhythmic sounds of the tracks beneath you and the annoyed looks on people’s faces as they sit in their cars at intersections, waiting for you to pass by. The convenience of your travel is perhaps hindering theirs, making them late for a meeting at work or a blind date or whatever. You aren’t soothed by their annoyances, so to speak, but it feels like when you pass them by your destination is more important than theirs. It makes you feel arrogant.


14. The dining car is never open. Not that you’re hungry anyway.


15. Sailing along on predetermined rails, you allow yourself to look at everyone crammed in the train car with you. You don’t like to notice people, but at this moment in time it’s better than your headphones and you can’t read a book or anything. Motion sickness. You don’t feel a camaraderie with these individuals, not like how you would on a two day bus trip across the country. In that situation it’s like everyone bands together, reveling in your shared misery. Every passenger is sleep deprived and smells of stale clothes and bus station vending machine coffee and body odor. You strike up conversations (or rather, they are stuck up with you) in spite of yourself, and when you reach San Antonio or wherever you can’t imagine leaving these people behind. They have, over the course of two days, become your brothers and sisters and trusted confidants. You might have even felt one up in the very back row when everyone else was asleep. You have all suffered together and must now part on the other side. There is something sadly poetic about that.


16. Anyway, on the train you merely watch. There is a gentleman sitting across the aisle from you, talking on his phone. He is in his forties and clean-shaven, wearing over-priced middle-aged-man Hawaiian shorts and flip flops. His shirt has a rip on the back of the collar. His voice is low and polite, so as not to disturb the other passengers with his phone conversation, but you can hear what he is saying. His hands are tan and rough and he wears a dingy wedding ring and on his wrist is an awkward bracelet made out of either thick string or foam, you can’t tell. You assume he is speaking to his wife. He says “yes honey” and “tell him not tonight” and “enchiladas make you fart” and so on. Every now and then he looks around and he catches you looking at him more than once. He gives you a friendly and sarcastic eye roll, as if to suggest you know how phone calls with the wife go. You smile back but have no idea what a phone conversation with a spouse is like. He has attempted to engage you in shared commonalities, and you already know that when his call is ended he will try to strike up a conversation with you. This is against the rules, you are not on a bus travelling across the country. You have not listened to him shit in the closet of a bathroom situated eight feet from everyone’s seats, have not seen him emerge with that shameful look on his face that we all get after exiting those bus bathrooms. His attempt at friendliness will be out of place, an affront to train etiquette, so you pull the hood of your sweatshirt up over your head and close your eyes. But you still listen. “I’ll be home around 8” and “we can do that this weekend” and “yes I got it” and “yes, I said I got it” and you fall asleep listening to the steady clicking of the tracks and his trivialities.

 

17. Q. Is this man a good father?
A.

 

18. You pull into the station and you hear the hiss of the hydraulic brakes and you open your eyes, try to rub the feeling back into your legs. The man on the phone is already on the platform when you disembark. He nods at you. He understands maybe. At this point you realize that his disappointments are not your own, and you feel the slightest pinch of envy. Next time say something.


19. Have (230) you (423) counted (231) the nouns (424) and verbs (425) yet?


20. Studies show that 19% of all married couples meet when they are in between destinations (meaning when they are transitioning between two significant aspects. Places, careers, relationships and so forth. When their lives are ill-defined).


21. Studies also show that roughly 33% of all quoted statistics are made up.


22. That statistic is made up.


23. Activity: Using your no. 2 pencil, in the space provided below please draw what happens when you aren’t paying attention. Or, you know, draw a polar bear or something. Whatever, it’s your paper.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

24. Well done.


25. You are in a taxi. Sitting in the front seat. Taboo in bigger places, but here it’s almost expected. Ride in the back if you imagine yourself haughty or don’t pay particular attention to the awkward silences that exists between two strangers with no one else around to distract from one another. You are not haughty and you don’t enjoy the silences that hang between two strangers. So you talk to the driver. About nothing really. Small pleasantries and disinterested questions just to pass the silence. Neither of you really listens to the other one, but as long as there are words in the air you feel a bit better invading the driver’s day. You will soon be silent. You tell this driver the address and the driver takes you down streets that were once familiar to you but you have lost the knowledge of them. Somewhere in your brain they exist with all the other knowledge you have accumulated but which has ceased being useful. The streets are located next to the capital of Iceland and the Pythagorean Theorem and the like. You continue along, past buildings that weren’t there before and empty lots where buildings used to be. It’s like someone built a new city on top of the ruins of your childhood. But you are ok with this, this place is not your home. You are here to attend the __________ and then have people forget your name once again.


26. The capital of Iceland is Reykjavik. A squared plus B squared equals C squared.


27. Silence now.


28. You arrive at your old home and are hit by a wave of nostalgia so horrible and thick it makes your stomach ache. You remember some forgotten melody drifting in from some unknown place. You remember tip-toeing out of your house, quieter than you thought you could be, the streetlights became your chaperones. Meeting the other kids in the neighborhood to tp houses or smoke cigarettes underneath the park pavilion. In these moments you owed nothing to anyone. There would be consequences later but you were invincible and later meant later meant nonexistent. It was night and you were free and stupid. The memories are intoxicating.


29. But you are reminded that while you sometimes thought you were happy in your life, you are not. You forget to breathe.


30. But, and this is most important, don’t pass out. Breathe in the unfamiliar air, let it bring you back. You realize that you are in real danger of becoming lost in what is past and what is present. It is difficult to ignore. But then, all at once, you know that your past and your present are merely fighting to exist in the same moment. That is nostalgia, and then that moment passes.


31. You come back, are still sitting in the front seat. The cabbie politely asks you to get out of the car.


32. In two or three or seven days repeat steps 1-31, in reverse order.

 

33. Please see below for German instructions.

 

34. Gebrauchsanweisung:


Dies ist der Teil in dem Film, wo Hinweise werden entfernt über den tieferen Sinn des Films in einer anderen Sprache, ohne dass jemand es zu wissen gegeben. Nicht, dass es viel zu tun in diesem Fall kennen. Wie viele von euch Deutsch zu sprechen oder sich die Zeit nehmen, dies zu übersetzen? Wenn Sie haben, dann lassen Sie mich sagen hallo! Wie auch immer, zurück zu dem Stück oben. Vielleicht machen die Reise zurück, vielleicht auch nicht. Vielleicht auf den Zug, drei Wochen später, treffen Sie Ihren zukünftigen Ehepartner. Vielleicht wechseln Sie von einer Karriere, die Sie unglücklich, eine, die macht Sie glücklich macht. Vielleicht haben Sie sich scheiden lassen und haben einen hässlichen Sorgerechtsstreit. Nichts davon, innerhalb der Grenzen des Arbeitsblattes, wirklich wichtig ist. Was zählt, ist, dass Sie die Aufmerksamkeit auf die mal zahlen, wenn Sie nicht sind, wo Sie einst waren, noch sind Sie, wohin Sie gehen. Sie machen den Unterschied. Danke.

 

35. German is a funny language.


36. Q. Is it possible to say something without ever really saying or anything?
A.

A.

A. No

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