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Parade of Weirdness

The Set-up:

Although I usually profess to hate humanity, the truth is that I am a dedicated observer of human quirks and oddities, particularly the collection of human quirks and oddities that rides Chicago public transit. Most days, I enjoy the parade of weirdness that I see there. Even when my transit experience is objectively unpleasant -- when someone is yanking it on the El, vomiting off the platform, or yelling about how Al Gore is a Chinese robot who controls the weather -- I still feel that I am better off for having witnessed it. All that has changed. Yesterday on the train I sat behind two individuals who grossed me out on every level. I am not all that easy to gross out, and I will share my collection of tropical skin-parasite photographs with you if you need proof of that assertion. These folks? Way worse than anything you can pick up while bathing with open sores in the Amazon. Maybe I was just abnormally sensitive that day, but you can judge for yourself.

The Catalogue of Atrocities:

A. A tweaky-looking African American man. His clothes are kind of dirty, but not really in a "homeless" way, just in a "not giving a fuck about stains" way. There is something odd lodged in his hair, and try as I might to avoid looking more closely at it ( Eyes on the book, Mimi! Eyes on the book! ), my morbid curiosity forces me to note that it is a large clot of macaroni and cheese. B. His girlfriend, or perhaps wife, is an overweight and much younger white woman. She is wearing a hospital bracelet and carrying a wad of clothes in one of those "Patient's Belongings" shopping bags. She has a poorly done tattoo of Tweety Bird on the back of her neck. At least I think it was supposed to be Tweety Bird, or else maybe a blurry and jaundiced Bea Arthur.

C. The couple is having a loud argument. They are having trouble staying on topic, but for the most part it seems to be about money and is kind of cryptic in that the terms "fives," "tens," and "twenties" keep getting tossed around, along with many accusations, recriminations, and angry diatribes about someone named "Nancy." The more I listen, the more it is obvious that Tweaky Guy and Big Mama are drug dealers involved in some complex crack-for-rent scheme, and Nancy is their main customer and landlord.

D. The conversation shifts to a discussion of whether or not Big Mama slept with someone named Darrell, with her swearing it was "just that one time." Tweaky Guy gets kind of upset, but Big Mama soothes it over, repeating "it was just that one time, it was just that one time" like a mantra right through his litany of complaint, although at one point she switches it up to be, "It was just that one time; we needed the money." Ah, but of course. High roller Darrell! Pimp daddy extraordinaire!

E. I wish I were making this up.

F. Abandon hope, all ye who read further, because it gets worse. The argument starts to dwindle and, as part of calming Tweaky Guy down, Big Mama reaches over and starts popping the zits of her mac-n-cheese-headed paramour, squeezing and pinching and, yes, there is blood and zit-juice, which she daintily dabs off with her forefinger and wipes on the shoulder of his shirt. At this point, I have my hands over my face and am peeking through the fingers like a girl at a horror movie, and I am considering climbing over the woman next to me and running for the exit, crowded El train or no crowded El train. I picture myself hitting the panic button for the conductor, babbling gibberish into the intercom. I picture myself being carried away catatonic on a stretcher, a victim of the grossness of humanity.

G. After a hellish eternity of zit popping, Big Mama lays her head on Tweaky Guy's shoulder and sighs, "I want a baby." "Damn straight you want my baby," Tweaky Guy says cheerfully. "You going to have a dozen of my babies, bitch." They smile at each other. They get off the train at Wilson, crazy in love, on their way to do whatever people like that do. I wish that I could pluck out my eyes and soak them in bleach, or at the very least sustain some nonfatal but short-term-memory-erasing head injury. The end.

The Aftermath:

So now we have proved that not every transit story is quirky-sweet-uplifting, or even roll-your-eyes-at-our-urban-existence funny. A drunk peeing his pants and singing the theme from The Love Boat ? I smile indulgently and look the other way. Dumb big-engagement-ring, ex-sorority-girls yammering about nothing on their cell phones? The flame of annoyance flares, but soon dies down. It took Tweaky Guy and Big Mama's vile, inappropriate grooming and moronic, circular, in-any-other-context-it-would-have-been-performance-art arguing to make my brain cringe. I guess I should thank them, really, for showing me that even a dedicated amateur anthropologist such as me has limits.


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