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I wish I could say that I was enjoying some rare delicacy that enthralled me enough to make such a sound.
But this is my textual imitation of the sound that grates me for 40 minutes three times a week. A distant, sputtering chainsaw. A bubbling, mucusy gurgle lightly emanating from the throat of the man next to me.
He is The Compulsive Throat Clearer. And this is the sound he makes. One long syllable followed by no more than half a dozen very short syllables and one medium length syllable at the end.
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You know that sound? When a person won’t just cough and get it over with, so he constricts his airway and squeezes air over the vocal chords to scrape the mucus off like a spatula on a hand-mixer (it doesn’t matter how many times you scrape, it isn’t all gonna make it in the cake). That’s the sound.
I’m glad I typed it out, because it is painful to replicate. Try it. As gritty as possible. I bet it hurts. Unless “you” happens to be The Compulsive Throat Clearer, in which case…thanks for reading. And seriously stop doing this.
Let me back up. The Compulsive Throat Clearer is unfazed by other people. Or maybe unaware. Entirely. He gets on at the final stop before the train approaches the city. He is always last on the train and he takes whatever seat is available. And he never speaks. Never. I sit my backpack on the seat next to me as a matter of custom. But, when someone approaches to sit down, I voluntarily move it. I do so quickly. The first time he sat with me, I didn’t see him approach, and he sat on my backpack. Then he stared at me and lifted up just enough for me to move it. Then he stared some more.
The Compulsive Throat Clearer has a face like large-mouth bass, if it were deep in thought. He wears an Oakland Raiders cap, but I am confident that he has no interest in football as he appears to have no interests at all. Other than the obvious.
On this particular day, he turned to face the front, and closed his eyes. Then he ate a cough drop. His first of three.
And I soon found out that he is a man of habit. Who isn’t? Fish-face to the front, sucking on cherry menthol, revving like a minute Harley Davidson at a stop light. The guys with something to prove that rev as loudly as possible through each stop light until the light turns green. Exactly like that, only muffled. And phlegmier.
And it never stops. 40 minutes, this guy. Every day. He pauses for 3-5 seconds to suck on his cough drop and to continue looking like a sleepy trophy fish, but after that, he clears his throat again.
I’m not typically a violent man, but I have almost throttled him on more than one occasion. I tolerated him at first, maybe he has a cold. Maybe it is a lingering cough? Maybe it is something to do with the shape of his piscine face. Maybe it is the only way for an aging merman with faded black jeans and a baseball cap to survive on land.
My ability to tolerate this gravelly habit is almost at an end. I have tried to ignore him. But I can see his gills rhythmically pulsing even when I am listening to music. And when I close my eyes, I can hear the crinkly wrapper and smell his lozenge (Smell his lozenge? That sounds dirty…) And sometimes he thrashes from being outside of the water for too long.
I’ve tried to out-throat-clear him, but that is impossible. He is a grizzled veteran. And he is too oblivious to the world around him to dissuade him in any other ways. Loud hip-hop music with my ear phones suspiciously close to his scaly bald head goes completely unnoticed. I’ve even acted crazy, but he never cracks open an eye. Or opens that impressive bass mouth.
Meanwhile, he keeps on clearing his throat. And my bag smells like cherry-flavored snot. I seriously don’t know what to do. He may be a fish, but it isn’t legal to filet him. Not regulation size, maybe. Or immoral. I’m not sure.
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