We’re Sorry, Ms. Jackson

Headphones are a major tenant of most isolationist train strategies. Many of the passengers on the train are never seen them.

Headphones. Do we still use that word? Is it Earbuds now? Are earbuds an Apple trademark? Earphones? Inner ear listening devices? Beats by Dre? (I almost spelled that as Beets by Dre, which makes sense. Dr. Dre’s PhD is in gardening, after all.)

Anyway…I’ll stick with headphones.

Even if you aren’t listening to anything, they create a barrier between you and others. While reading a book, people assume that you don’t mind being bothered. But if I have headphones in? The train could be on fire and no one would bother me. The headphones don’t even have to be plugged into anything. It is especially convincing if you bite your lower lip and bob your head. A look of rhythmic agony. The expression is akin to what it would look like if you had to have an arrow removed from your leg in some backwoods cabin and you didn’t have any anesthetic, just a splash of cheap vodka to clean the wound. No headphones? Enduring the torture of rusty instrument surgery. Put headphones in? People think you’re “feelin’ it.” And that is exactly what you need to be left in peace.

Ultimately, you just have to wear headphones. Music is optional. The headphones are mandatory.

The problem exists when someone on the train doesn’t have headphones and still wants to listen to music. For example, if I want to listen to Taylor Swift on my own time with headphones in…perfectly acceptable. If I want to listen to Taylor Swift at regular volume without headphones in…completely unacceptable. Forcing anyone else to listen to your favorite, terrible music is a breach of the social contract.

Most perpetual riders inherently understand the social contract and do not subject others to their personal musical proclivities.

That percentage would be higher, if it weren’t for Ms. Jackson. Ms. Jackson gets her name from that amazing Outkast song that took the nation by storm. Ms. Jackson wears slacks that are too short and owns exclusively silk shirts. Ms. Jackson is exactly what you would imagine Kanye West’s deranged step-mother to be like.

  1. She loves hip hop
  2. She is completely out of her mind
  3. She doesn’t care about you. Or what you think.

If Left Eye from TLC hadn’t died, and had taken a job as a secretary at a downtown law firm once she was in her 50’s…that’s Ms. Jackson. (RIP Left Eye. Miss you, girl.)

How do I know Ms. Jackson loves hip hop? She stands in the middle of the aisle on the train and plays hip hop on her phone at an unreasonable volume. Repeating the songs that really make her move 3-5 times per morning.

How do I know Ms. Jackson doesn’t care about you or what you think? She raps aloud for all to hear, vulgarities and racial slurs reverberating the aging tin walls of the train as much as the high speeds and uneven tracks. And Ms. Jackson enunciates every rhyme from memory with perfect diction. She’s a pro.

How do I know Ms. Jackson is completely out of her mind?

It was the morning she sang Gold Digger. Uncensored. Every word. And the natives were getting restless after she started the song for the 3rd time. Something I’ve noticed about middle aged white people, they can only reasonably hear the ‘N Word’ 100 times before 7:00 am before they become confrontational.

Furtive glances were cast about the train, nominations were issued, a winner was selected. And the poor soul with the red velvet jacket spoke out against Ms. Jackson’s behavior. She just blurted it out, ripping off the communal bandaid.

“Can you please turn that music off?” She stamped her feet to emphasize the highlighted words and her slight frame vibrated, an emaciated, embittered relative of Kool-Aid Man.

With eyes opened wider than they should reasonably be able to go, Ms. Jackson turned to face her accuser and took a step toward the now trembling scarlet coat. Ms. Jackson moved the enormous whites of her eyes within one inch of the Commuter Tribe’s sacrifice. And giving a slight pause to allow terror to set in, Ms. Jackson echoed:

“Get down girl, go ‘head get down. Get down girl, go ‘head get down.”

“Get down girl, go ‘head get down. Get down girl, go ‘head.”

And no one has confronted Ms. Jackson since.


Una Cruz Al Cuello

I never intended to insinuate that riding the train is the only part of the commute worth mentioning.

I know at least one of you was wondering about this. And judging me.

In addition to the 90 minute train ride, I also enjoy a 20 minute walk from the train station to my office. And the weirdness is not limited to the train.

When you are a creature of habit, you can develop a major sense of deja vu. The same weirdos on the train. The same fast-talkers trying to foist a RedEye into your tightly clenched, pre-dawn fist. The same bearded buskers playing Wagon Wheel. The same homeless with varying degrees of believability.

And in my case, the same flamenco guitar player. The World’s Worst Flamenco Guitarist.

Ever seen a musician that becomes one with the instrument? And with tightly closed eyes and a look of bewildered near-pain, uses that instrument as an extension of his/her own voice, completely lost in the sound. The music becomes a portal to another dimension, one in which music is king. The kind of artful expression that brings tears to your eyes. The kind of thing that moves you, quite literally. Sometimes it will make you have to use the restroom. And what you do there is no one’s business but your own.

The World’s Worst Flamenco Guitarist thinks that he is that kind of virtuoso. And upon closing his eyes, his minimal guitar skill turns to outright bumbling. Fumbling his way across the frets, his salt and pepper mustache twitching in time. The sheen of sweat emerges on his middle-aged, bald skull. And he, too, is transported. But not to that vibrant land of sound waves and tasty guitar. He exists in some kind of drug-addled, slow motion Misirlou by Dick Dale and his Del-Tones universe (listen to it, you know it).

And his guitar playing is a reflection of that universe. The WWFG plays the same note for up to 30 seconds before switching to another note or strumming a dissonant chord, not dexterous enough to pluck the string at the rate required of a notable surf guitarist. The result is the most alarming and comical version of Yesterday ever heard, which he plays each day at 3:40 pm.

Rather than a lovingly worn, hollow-body dream-machine, he uses a fake Fender Stratocaster. One of those guitars that is conceived in a triangle box that you see stacked near the checkout in a K-Mart. A guitar in bad need of tuning. One that should be in the grubby hands of a 14 year old that just learned Enter Sandman and is content to play it at a sedate pace and disturbing volume without end until his face clears.

But it doesn’t stop there. The WWFG uses a drum machine. I have heard innumerable quality guitarists sap their street cred and alienate listeners with a drum machine. Even an expensive drum machine that is fully programmable will ruin the most sultry version of Entre Dos Aguas.

The WWFG? He has a 44 key Casio. The one with the built in Bossa Nova groove. The one you and your cousin found with missing keys and laughed at how bad it sounded when you were 8 years old at your Uncle’s 4th of July party. The one that you bought as a joke in ’02 at a garage sale for a dollar and then threw away because you realized it wasn’t even good to be used as a joke gift for an old friend that you don’t keep in touch with anymore and you didn’t know where to get D batteries.

The WWFG balances a mason jar on his knee and, eyes closed, plays the following song:

Be dee dee dee dee dee dee dee dee dee dee dee dee dee dee dee dee dee dee dee


Be dee dee dee dee dee dee dee dee dee dee dee dee dee dee dee dee dee dee dee


And I sing along: “Yesterday…all my troubles seemed so far away. To avoid the WWFG I started using the pedway.”

I had to smash the syllables a bit.

Then the WWFG appeared in the pedway. And ruined it with his frantic and arrhythmic plucking. He recognizes me. And track my movements. Even though he plays with his eyes closed.

He wants me to put money in his mason jar. But I won’t. Because he doesn’t know Cuestiones De Querer and, regardless of quality, I do not support the use of drum machines.