Tuesday, August 24, 2004
Teenagers who have just two seconds ago reached the drinking age who are on their first trip to another city where they can learn about all the potential colours and textures of alcohol vomit should be encouraged to take Mumsy and Papa’s limo rather than torment peaceful passengers. Barring that, they should be tied to their chairs with adhesive tape on their mouths, forced to watch reruns of “Lassie” and “Father Knows Best” until tears sun down their cheeks.
The problem started when my walkman battery had decided to end its short life three hours before the train was to depart and I had to resort to the plugs to keep me in the sweet, calm, totally non-volatile disposition that I’m renowned for. I had put them in to block out all the possible annoying noises public transport has to offer, one-sided deeply personal cell phone conversations going on five rows back, the sound of tinkle and too much spicy food from the rest rooms, etc. Well, I learned on my seventy zillion million mallillion hour train trip yesterday that the only sounds that cut through earplugs are the sound of a two-year-old-screaming, the sound of Beavis and Butthead sniggering in the seats behind me, and the sound of Paris Hilton and Nicole Ritchie screeching in the seats across the aisle from me.
It was as if I were trapped in the scene in The Blair Witch Project where the three losers are lying in their tent terrified at the sound of laughter of approaching children who then – EEEEEK! – bang on their tent and cover everything with – * shiver * – blue slime! Only in my little choo-chooing scenario, I wasn’t trapped in the doomed tent with two Kurt Cobain wannabes; I was trapped with two televisions that broadcast “Beavis and Butthead” and “The Simple Life” over and over and over. All other sounds, the train chugging, the drink cart squealing, the chorus of walkmans just loud enough so that you could hear only the bass and cymbals and the occasional wailing guitar solo, faded into a beige void that echoed only screeching, screaming, and piercing giggling. Just before the earplugs popped out of my head due the raging torrent lava that was about to erupt from my entire body, I removed them. If I were going to be engulfed in sound, it didn’t have to be maddening sound.
The fun began when the screeching two-year-old realised that if she ran up and down the aisle screaming at the top of her lungs (years from new I’ll be able to say that I once met the Whitney Houston of her generation), her very passive mother would have an even harder time catching her and disciplining her by completely ignoring the fact that she was disturbing everyone else in the car. As her shrieks echoed up and down my spine in minute waves of shattered glass, I was very tempted to trip her and watch her fall on her pretty little dimpled face. Luckily I realised that that would be mean and that the real culprit was her lazy, inconsiderate mother. Fortunately for the mother, someone else asked her to rein the child in. I wouldn’t have done it so politely.
Next came the attack of the rocker bimbos on their first trip away from home apparently. At first it was funny when they read the sex advice columns of their various fashion magazines so that everyone in the car could hear. By the time one of them head a screaming match with her boyfriend on her cell over whether or not he was going to pick them up that the station if the train were late, their charm was wearing thin. When one reached across the aisle and punched me in the shoulder, saying “Where the f*$% is there to go out in Toronto”, I had had enough; I assessed their neo-grunge, multiple-pierced look, decided that the area they would hate the most for going out would be Wellington Street, and promptly showed them where it was on the map. Have fun, girls! When the conductor came by and told them in no uncertain terms to clam it, they swore loudly but remained silent afterwards.
By the time the teenage boys behind me decided to fight over who should sit in the window seat, my nerves were a little frayed. When they began kicking my chair, giving me an unwanted roller coaster ride, I somehow transformed myself into the kind of late-early-thirties guy I mocked when I was much younger, wore plaid and ripped jeans, and had hair that went past my titties. I turned into one of those conciliatory adults trying to act all good-natured and hip and with it and cool (do the kids still say those words?), saying totally wussy things like, “I know you just wanna have fun, guys” and “I don’t wanna ruin your fun, guys”. It was a perfect example of the material teens and tweens mock. I am so looking forward to my birthday in two weeks.
Predictably, Bill and Ted just laughed at me. I sat down feeling old and ridiculous. However, when my chair suffered the first of a series of kicks and blows that were obviously not by accident, I transformed into the other kind of adult I can be. I rose from my chair like the demon from “Night on Bald Mountain” and fixed them with a stare that comes very naturally to me. I then let loose a string of swears and threats of bodily harm in French. Quebec French is far superior to English in the effect its swears can have because it is rocky, melodic, and faster than any manner of English that can be spoken. After a couple of seconds of silence, one of them responded the way most unilingual English Canadians respond when confronted with a bilingual Canadian and they can think of no comeback (unilingual Québécois just swear back in English). He haughtily said to me, “I speak English” as if it were an accomplishment along the lines of “I invented email”. I knew I had won. And I responded, “You speak nothing for the rest of the trip” (which was greeted by a smattering of applause from other passengers as close to the edge as I. And they spoke nothing for the rest of the trip. Old age, here I come!
And because life sometimes often works the way it should, there was something to cut me down a peg or two from my dizzying military victories. Next to me was a young man from Sri Lanka with a name similar to Augustus, first Caesar of the Pax Romana. While I sat in my self-righteous state of spoiled desire to meld my immediate surroundings to my wishes, he told me all about his trip to the various churches of Montreal, his pilgrimage up the St. Joseph Oratorio. Even though I had already eaten and wasn’t hungry, I shared his meal with him because I could tell his feelings were a little hurt when I refused the first time. His offer to share had less to do with food and more to do with sharing. He told me about his house in northern Sri Lanka that was blown up with him in nine years ago in the hostilities that country has endured for decades and how he can’t rebuild (he and his family still own the land) until the hostilities finally end. He has the scars on his face and arms to prove it. I heard all about his family and girlfriend still in Sri Lanka he hasn’t seen in eight years. He showed me the thick packet of photos of them he carries with him everywhere. He told me that he’s here trying to save enough money to return to Sri Lanka, buy a house for his parents and his girlfriend whom he will marry, and buy a house. With such problems, such courage and such optimistic dreams within him, I felt like a petulant little child whining because I don’t wanna go to school today.
He gave me his phone number when we parted ways, saying that he knows Canadians are busy and don’t usually make friends with immigrants, but that we should stay in contact a little bit so that he can say goodbye before he goes back to Sri Lanka and invite me there should I ever want to travel to his beautiful country. And I do want to travel to his beautiful country, and meet his girlfriend I heard so much about on that long train trip. And I’ll wear my walkman for the long plane trip.
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