The Hard Way


Most people, upon entering a subway car where 99% of the passengers were clustered toward one end of the train, would suspect that there was a reason no one was sitting near the lone man in the front of the car.

I, on the other hand, saw this as a sign of my good fortune to have found so many empty seats on what was an otherwise crowded train.

And I was wrong.

As soon as I sat down, the lone man, dressed in paint-covered khaki pants and wearing a stained cap, switched seats to the one directly in front of me. He then turned toward me, pulled on his white beard, and in a thick Russian accent, began shouting what seemed to be a combination of mythological and biblical references that made absolutely no sense whatsoever.

There were dragon slayings and fiery pits, brother against brother and eternal damnation. I tried to follow the story for a while, but all I caught was that we were all going to die, and there would be a lot of blood.

Fairly skilled in the art of subway face, I might have been able to tune him out, had it not been for the retched stench seeping from his mouth. Every time he turned toward me, I had to quickly hold my breath so as not to catch a whiff of whatever had died in his stomach that day. I leaned toward the window, only to discover that the air-conditioning had gone out in our car.

In the middle of one of his tirades, during which he stood up to demonstrate how somebody stabbed a sword into some three-headed creature, or into one of the Apostles (his story got a little foggy there), I turned back and looked at the other 99% of the train. Some of them averted their eyes. Others gave me a sympathetic shoulder shrug.

I remembered hearing that in an emergency, you are supposed to single someone out in a mob so that they feel responsible for helping you. If you simply yell, “Somebody help me,” no one will. But if you yell, “You, in the purple Northwestern sweatshirt, call 911,” that person will feel responsible and will come to your aid.

So at one point, I contemplated yelling, “Hey! You – yes, you – in the tight Cubs tanktop and the platform flip flops! Listen, Trixie. Open up that ginormous purse of yours and toss this man some goddamn Tic Tacs. NOW!”

But instead, I practiced measured breathing, waited until the next stop, and bolted out the door the second it opened. I wasn’t too far from my apartment, and my instincts told me it would be wiser for me to walk the rest of the way home to clear out my nasal cavities.

And my instincts might have been correct, had I not gotten off in the three block stretch known as Little Vietnam, where all the restaurants had piled their garbage high in the 95 degree midday sun.

Rotting maggoty fish guts, or the thick, sour breath of a lunatic. It’s just like our motto says, “Chicago – city in a garden.”

24 Responses to “The Hard Way”

  1. Dave2 Says:

    I guarantee you that I am crazier than the craziest person riding the train, and I have no problem… NO problem at all… giving right back at them with something even more insane than they’re dishing out. I have done so in an airport, on a streetcar in New Orleans, on the street in New York, and twice in Pioneer Square in Seattle (just to name a few). Nothing quite so fun as out-crazying a crazy person! They, of course, love it.

  2. Cee Says:

    God, this is exactly the sort of thing I would do – merrily trotting off to sit next to the crazy person. I hate it when that happens.

  3. shari Says:

    First the revolving doors, and now this. I mean, you tease me with tales of Disco Cabs and adventure… and then you douse me with the cold water of fetid-breathed nutjobs on trains. C’mere, c’mere, c’mere… Go’way, go’way, go’way. I’m getting mixed messages about visiting Chicago, Jenny. I really am.

  4. kat Says:

    DC absolutely smells like garbage today. i’m not entirely sure why that is.

  5. Jessica Says:

    “Subway face” – tee hee
    Shari – when Jenny holds a mirror up to the face of Chicago and not only does its breath fog it up but you nearly pass out from the stench, don’t let that keep you at bay. I was not a fan of Chicago until Jenny enlightened me.

  6. Sarah Says:

    I know and have blogged about this nutjob myself. When I was commuting to Evanston from Lakeview, I often made the mistake of wanting a seat for the long ride and finding one car miraculously empty. He was always in it, and I fell for it every damn time.
    He is massively cray-cray, and not the sort of cray-cray that you can “give it back to” as Dave2 suggests.
    God, that guy is annoying.
    Are you commuting sans iPod???? Because I found the iPod helps when you’re stuck on a car with him.

  7. jenny Says:

    Dave2: Ha! Well, unless you’re willing to up the ante by crapping your pants, there might be some Chicago crazies who’ve got you beat.
    Cee: Glad to know I’m not alone!
    Shari: Now you know what it’s like to date me. ;)
    kat: Shift in the wind perhaps?
    Jess: Exactly my point! You have to love Chicago, not despite its occasional stench, but *because* of it!
    Sarah: I know – I should never travel w/o iPod. Although, I would’ve needed a nosePod, too, for this particular situation.

  8. shari Says:

    HA! 10 points for that reply.

  9. Camilla Says:

    You so got off at the Argyle stop, I would recognize that smell anywhere.

  10. kapgar Says:

    So did you scrub yourself down with a Brillo pad upon arriving at home?

  11. sween Says:

    Wow. Stinky.
    (Sorry. It’s been a while. My Pith-O-Lator is still warming up. Give it some time.)

  12. peefer Says:

    ‘You ever wonder of YOU’RE the crazy? ‘Cuz really, the crazy probably doesn’t ever know he’s crazy. He probably thinks some freak just sat beside him. I bet he’s writing about it on his blog right now. I even bet you did one of your armpit smell checks before feeling sure about blaming his breath.
    Don’t worry: I’m only speaking generally here, like “ONE might check ONE’s armpit before …” It just came out a little harsh. I love you whether you’re crazy or not, generally speaking. Love Peefer.

  13. jenny Says:

    Shari: Yes! What am I up to now? At least 495 points, right?
    Camilla: Indeed, I was. N-a-s-t-y!
    kapgar: No, but I did sterilize my stomach lining with alcohol later that evening. ;)
    Sween: That’s okay. All that ultimate frisbee saps the pith right out of you!
    peefer: Do I wonder if I’m crazy? Honey (oh, I called you Honey, all right), I want to be known as The Bat Lady – I’m pretty sure I’ve got more than a few synapses misfiring. BUT – the difference is – I always carry gum and Listerine breath strips in my bag.

  14. Christie Says:

    Again, have you submitted this stuff to the Networks?! OMG you make my day!

  15. Neil Says:

    Does this guy have a blog I can visit by any chance?

  16. jenny Says:

    Christie: Ha – thanks! Glad my pain and suffering brings joy to others. :)
    Neil: Yes, he does. It’s
    It’s kind of a bummer, though, because he doesn’t allow comments.

  17. Sunny Says:

    Oh, ick.
    I should have something more creative to say, I know.
    But… ick.

  18. Tracy Lynn Says:

    Dude, I had a spanking swank snark of a comment all prepped and ready to go, then I read your response to Neil, and by the time I had cleaned myself up, it was gone. So don’t blame the fact that I’m not funny on me, blame it on you being TOO funny. That’s right, I SAID it.

  19. Justin24601 Says:

    The things I miss living in a city with horrible public transport.

  20. sandra Says:

    Maybe it was his way of making sure he NEVER made out with anyone?

  21. jenny Says:

    Sunny: My sentiments exactly!
    Tracy Lynn: Well knowing you, it was the spankinest swankiest snarkiest comment yet, but I guess we’ll never know. So really, we all lose.
    Justin: I know – it really makes for exciting adventures!
    Sandra: Hey – I never said I didn’t want to make out with him. Let’s not get crazy, now!

  22. Cheryl Says:

    So wait, did the Apostle and/or three-headed creature make it? I need to know how this story ends. Maybe you could go back and ask him. I’d do it myself, but I live in LA, where our subways are sub-par and the crazy people on them are sub-par as well (if plentiful). The best the guy on the Red Line Sunday night could do was rub his bare belly and tell me I looked like this girl he knew.

  23. jenny Says:

    Cheryl: Well, I’m not 100% sure, but I think it’s safe to assume that everyone dies in this man’s stories. And OMG – you totally look like that one girl!
    [rubs belly]

  24. Pants Says:

    You make me want to visit Chicago.