Pissing on a train is easy if your goal is to cover everything in piss. If this isn’t your goal, you will find upon entering the bathroom that it was someone else’s goal and they’ve risen to the challenge.
Unfortunately for you, it will be very difficult for you to maneuver around the piss because Amtrak has decided to sacrifice volume in order to have more bathrooms; so while there are six bathrooms on any train car, each one is so tiny that when you open the door, you can almost imagine 12 clowns walking out.
(This is my infamous clown-car joke. I think it’s hilarious. Nobody else does.)
The bathrooms are small enough so that when you sit on the toilet your knees pop the door open. It’s like short-sheeting someone’s bed. It makes you wonder why they didn’t just put saran wrap on the toilet seat, which would still take your dignity but at least leave you your privacy.
One time the lock on the bathroom was so loose that the vibrations from the rails opened the door while I was standing with my pants around my ankles, facing the outside world. The door swung wide at a leisurely pace, revealing an elderly woman with an oxygen tank and a deflated look on her face, as though I had let her down somehow. I know the look from seeing it on my parents’ faces from time to time when I was growing up.
I’ve seen a lot of train stations. Some, like the one in San Luis Obispo, look like broom closets. The one in Seattle looks like the crew got about halfway through building it when the city realized that the place was primarily going to be used as a dormitory by the local homeless population and promptly stopped funding it.
Union Station in Los Angeles reminds me of a Catholic church. For one thing, the outside looks like a mission. For another thing, the inside is filled with latinos, and they’re pretty much the only serious Catholics left in the world. The waiting area is filled with sunlight streaming in from enormous windows and has these Frank-Lloyd-Wright-esque wooden chairs that always remind me of pews. It’s one of the most beautiful interiors that I’ve ever been in and the seats almost make up for what you’ll be sitting on for the rest of your trip.
Churches are sites where mythology lives. Train stations are like churches in that they strive to bring to life an American mythology. Amtrak marketing, and even some of the architecture in Amtrak stations, calls to mind a romanticized American past. Where churches bring the devout closer to mythology, Amtrak wants to bring you closer to the idealized past that never existed, and I know it didn’t because I’ve taken the train and there’s not much romance in it.
Certainly, the scenery can be gorgeous, but you have to consider that land near the train tracks is often cheap. Occasionally, you will gently roll through Elk Horn Slough and delight in the different birds that live there. Mostly you will tour the outskirts of waste processing centers and the backyards of the poor. So, in a sense, it does live up to its promise of taking you back in time. A time before there was a building code.
Think of socializing on the train like you would in a bar. A bar located in the middle of the poor neighborhood, with windows so that you can stare at them as you drink overpriced booze. I say this because the first thing almost everybody does when they get on a train is go down to the café car to start getting hammered. Like a marriage, this is what you do when the romance dies. Now, imagine that once you go inside that bar, you can’t leave the bar for 40 hours. This environment has a way of making people sociable.
Now maybe you understand why people like to talk to strangers on the train. But imagine the kind of people who would willingly stay in a bar for 40 straight hours. Now you have a sense of who you can expect to talk to and the kind of ambiguously truthful stories you will hear on your journey. And the best part is you get to sleep next to one of them.
Someone has described how to sleep in coach seat on a train. This is entirely wrong. The seats are purposefully designed to recline just far enough for you to be aware of the six degrees separating you from actual comfort. The only way to sleep in a coach seat on a train is to mix quaaludes and vodka. That’s the only thing that will let you sleep through your seatmates’ night terrors and the reason why Amtrak doesn’t let you drink your own liquor.
Some of the people you will meet are frightening. I was befriended, against my will, by a combat vet with his own stash of whiskey who entertained me with stories of how he pulled guns on people when they least expected it for minor infractions like waking him up in the morning. He had a way of not staying on topic during a conversation that I would have found hilarious if not for the fact that he was a trained killer with PTSD. And when he would speak to you, he wouldn’t face you directly or make eye contact. I was happy when he detrained in Northern California. He had the aisle seat next to me on one of my trips south. Needless to say, he went to the bathroom first that morning.
As luck would have it, two weeks later, he was on my train going back to Seattle. That was the trip I spent overdosing on Tylenol PM because no one would sell me any of their quaaludes.
One time, I set as my goal having an entire relationship, from start to finish, while on the 40 hour ride down to Southern California.
I figured this would be easy. Hours one through four are the honeymoon stage, the euphoric “wow, you hate sushi too, we are so compatible!” phase. Then there’s the “what do you mean, you don’t like peanut butter? Maybe this was a mistake!” phase of hour 5, followed by “you’re right, at least we both like ice cream” calm, that lasts all the way until you get to “you could have just told me you wanted to move out of our seats, you didn’t have to just move into seat 44 with Captain Morgan over here.” This is typically how my romantic relationships work: they often end long before I ever actually talk to a woman. I find that this way only one person’s time is wasted.
I actually succeeded in this endeavor, but as you might imagine, any woman who could help me make this possible would also have to be emotionally unbalanced. I’ve learned that no matter how strong I think a woman is, once I know her better I find out that her self-confidence belies insecurities that are easier to see when doused liberally with alcohol. In culinary terms, these emotions are “alcohol-soluble” and cannot be detected by the palette otherwise.
Normally this takes me months to discover. But because of the time dilation of the train ride, we hit this stage of our relationship within hours of meeting each other. It may also have been the two bottles of homemade wine (read: grape juice and sterno) she drank in quick succession. Some would say that I should have recognized that she had had too much to drink, but it’s not unusual for women in my company to drink excessively if they can’t leave, so things seemed copacetic to me. When she broke down it happened with its own momentum and grace, like a natural disaster, like she was built to fall apart. On my numerous trips riding on trains I’ve met many people like this, looking to share their story with somebody. I used to think it was me, then I thought it was just the people that ride the train. I’m wondering if perhaps this is everybody.
Heidegger never mentioned this in Being and Time. [Photo credit: cpj79]
Well, friends of me, I write this to say that August is the cruelest month. Though it did bring my fair city some welcome relief from our weather, which had resembled that of the planet Venus for the past year, it also brought a lot of sadness and worry at a time when I felt as though I was at my limit for handling both. About the only thing that I think can go wrong at this point would be for a complete stranger to find me on the street and kick me square in the testicles, for no other reason than that the winds of fate had blown me across the path of his testicle-kicking at precisely the right moment to receive the unwelcome gift.
Like my inevitable death, this suffering belongs to me and I understand that it is a part of my destiny as a being in the world. In fact, from its location in my own future it pulses, like a beacon, so that even in the present moment I understand how it will happen. Someday—when exactly is the only detail I cannot determine—I will be walking briskly up a busy sidewalk, dodging pedestrians and panhandlers in a desperate effort to deliver an important parcel to the post office before it closes. My focus will be shattered by a breathless feeling of dread. Even in my coat, a chill is inescapable. I will feel claustrophobic within my own skin. The edges of my vision will darken and converge. I will turn around a split second before the fatal foot plunges deep into my perineum in a parody of childbirth, cleaving and crushing my scrotum. Waves of nausea ripple throughout my midsection. My kidneys explode with the pain of a thousand kidney stones. I don’t know if I am screaming because the blow has momentarily deafened me.
Falling to my knees, I glance upwards and our eyes lock. His glare is steely; determined. He has found his man and together we have each helped the other fulfill his purpose, understanding each other in a way that only antagonists can. In his eyes I see my own agony reflected and it’s there that I watch myself involuntarily expurgate a dinner I ate twelve years prior at a going-away party for a dear friend, pieces of congratulatory words from the cake still clinging to bits of frosting. I am aware of a hollowness, an ambiguous sense of loss seemingly without object yet suffused with an understanding of the universe and my place within it that I could not have attained without taking his boot into my taint. Wordlessly, he will break away from my gaze and walk his path unimpeded. We will never see each other again.
My friends, do not ask for whom the boot kicks. The boot kicks for thee.
I was never a fanatic about Star Trek: The Next Generation. I've been watching it recently because I only get five channels and it's better than Family Guy and usually it's funnier than Family Guy too. In the intro Picard announces his intention "to go where no one has gone before" (boldly!). That's when the intro shifts from the contemplation of the majesty of space to bold action. Watch as the Enterprise zips by from the left! Now from the right! The names of the cast members appear suddenly as though formed from the engine's wake. This is a great way to advertise the show's font. It's a very action-packed font. The words slant forwards. They are in motion. Do they want to be in the future so badly that they lean towards it from the present moment? No. They just want to get the hell away from this lame intro. They're not even allowed to be in the same frame as something cool like a planet or a nebula. Or even the Enterprise itself. It wants to get out of this intro so bad, it's actually making whooshing sounds in the vacuum of space! Its urge to flee is so great not even the laws of physics shall remain standing!
In space, no one can hear you yawn. But apparently everyone can hear you redline your impulse engines to escape the humiliation of being a shakespearean actor getting a late-career renaissance in the vacuum of syndication.
I wanted to get sick because I want my immune system to get stronger and better, but now that I am sick I am not really enjoying myself as much as I thought I would. I really imagined it as some kind of vacation. I am not the kind of person who takes vacations or who enjoys them, but I expected this to be a biologically-necessitated period of cookie-ingestion and daytime-television-consumption. It turns out having the flu actually sucks, and that ice cream doesn’t cure it, no matter how many pints of “H1-PeCan” you eat.
My fever—101.5˚ at the moment—burns from the inside out like it does when Lindsay Lohan pees. I pee about 3 times an hour because of all the water I am drinking. I call it my take-a-sip-leave-a-sip policy. I’m peeing so often there isn’t even water in it anymore, I only pee the sound of peeing. It echoes up out of the bowl to mock me. But with my fever I am more popular with the cat. She seems to like sleeping on me a whole lot more. And every time I line up some Tylenol to try to bring my temp down, the cat knocks them off the table with what looks like glee.
I was worried about getting sick during the school year though because now I’m a teacher and I have students and I have this sense that they need me. This is a delusion brought on by my fever or perhaps by my profession. University professors and their graduate mentees are often delusional. It’s a proud tradition. It’s what gives us the idea that we should be telling people who are nothing like us that they should live their lives exactly like we do. Although my girlfriend told me she needs me. She’s having cramps and she wants me to lay across her belly. She said it’s greener than using the electric heating pad.
I read that if I get a flu this season, it’s probably the swine flu. I have my doubts, though. Sure, I didn’t get vaccinated—who has?—but I do ride public transit. That’s vaccine enough. It’s like giving your lymph system a copy of “Oh, the Places You’ll Go.” I for one credit the bus system with vaccinating me against ever quitting flossing.
I still remember how in April, the news started to report on the “deadly” swine flu. Then the study came out that told us that up to 117% of the population was going to get the virus. Now I get emails from the university telling me not to go to the doctor if I have flu-like symptoms and not to get the vaccine because I have no serious health complications. It’s probably better that I not try to get the vaccine, because there’s almost none of it to be had. It’s a chicken-egg problem. Because American companies make the virus for the vaccine by growing it in chicken eggs. According to pharmaceutical companies, newer technologies to make the vaccine faster are not profitable for companies, and it would take government leadership from the highest levels to transform flu-virus production. Which came first? Lack of action on innovations in vaccine-production technology, or lack of governmental leadership?
While companies struggle to produce the seasonal flu vaccine alongside its porcine counterpart, we’ve known about the actually-deadly avian flu for at least 6 years and, as of February of this year, we only had about 26 million doses stockpiled. I can’t wait to see the lines that form when even the people who are afraid of Guillain-Barré and Autism are desperate enough to get the shot.
Not wanting to wait for the CDC to determine if I have swine flu, and being told that a good citizen does not burden the healthcare system by an unnecessary doctor’s visit, I went on WebMD to do some research on swine flu. I learned that one of the most common sex mistakes women make is not initiating sex with their partner. Sorry, I got distracted by an article called, “6 sex mistakes women make.” Sex mistake number 7: initiating sex with me. Especially in my current condition. Though if you see someone walking the vaccine lines outside of health clinics offering the women “swine jobs,” don’t let on that you know me. I really need the money.
the number of people who mistook this site for porn
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