Sunday, August 5, 2007

The Morning Commuter

In prehistoric times, when I was doing my best to be an angry young man, I liked the Jam a lot. British power punk, very muscular chords, catchy tunes, fancied themselves the voice of the working class, etc. They wrote more than a few songs about conformity and bourgeois drones, with titles like "Smithers Jones" and "The Butterfly Collector." In fact, I still like those songs a lot, but I'm more of a Smithers than I'd like to admit.

A few days ago, I was in the U-bahn again, on my way to work. You have to know that Viennese subway manners are toilet. When your train arrives, motherfuckers do not only NOT step aside to let you off, they barrel into you as they shove their way on. Especially little old ladies with those green felt Tyrolean hats with the feathers in them--they're the worst. I don't know what it was, but I started to get a little aggravated. Guys in suits, certain they will lose their pensions if they don't get to that escalator FIRST! Teenage moms that step in your way and then just stand there, gawping, getting their bearings, completely unaware, and unconcerned, that others may be trying to get around them. I could feel myself becoming Hyde.

So I step off the escalator, walk a few steps, and a suit cuts in front of me--not sharply enough to make me trip, but that's only because I, unlike Everyone in Vienna, watch where I'm going. I think, 'He could have tripped me, with his "in-a-hurry-I'm so important" deal.' So I stretch my foot out too far on my next step and kick the back of his leg. And trip and stumble. Convincingly. I look up at the guy and mumble, "Entshuldigung." (That's 'Excuse me,' but many Viennese are unfamiliar with this particular usage of the phrase.) He's a good looking young man, and he just stares at me as he's walking away. I look down again and keep walking myself, although now in a slightly different direction. But I can feel his eyes still on me. And on me. And I'm still mad at the world, so I look up at him again, and say, "Entshuldigung. Du auch. Jedenfalls." Which was my surely unintelligible attempt at saying, 'Yeah, so, you wanna apologize as well?' He just kept staring at me, calmly, with an almost smile, as though commiting my face to memory, as he walked away. Then he was gone.

Completely pathetic.

I was still shaking and embarrassed when I got to work, but of course I couldn't tell anyone about it. It wasn't until a little later that I started to wonder what I must have looked like to him. A pissed-off, slightly stooped, gray-haired, probably American dude. An angry middle-aged man.


Ed Ward said...

You'd never last a minute in Berlin. For one thing, Germans are absolutely incapable of revising their forward march through life, and if it means knocking you over, well, schade.

For another thing, not only do people stop, but they stare into their cell phones, so they don't even have a clue where they are.

And your "Entschuldigung" would likely be met with a "Na? Verpisst euch!"

EuroTrippen said...

I hear you. Completely hate those little bursts of reality that remind us we've now become the institution instead of part of the revolution...

EuroTrippen said...

Just checking your online pulse... hopefully all that work-related restructuring/retooling you've been doing hasn't made you a slave to the grind.