Remember yesterday when I said that hell was being in a car for fifteen hours? Well, I changed my mind. After sitting on an Amtrak train for nineteen and a half hours, I don't even think, like Jean-Paul Sartre says, that "hell is other people." Oh no, I've discovered what hell really is. Hell isn't other people, hell is watching other people play Tetris and not knowing them well enough to be able to show them where they're going wrong.
When Sean and I got on the train at one this morning, we spent the first 45 minutes staring through the crack in the seats at the computer screen of the girl in front of us, who had downloaded Tetris onto her iBook. “Hmm, she takes risks, this one,” whispered Sean as we breathed a simultaneous sigh of relief upon the ultimately successful---but nevertheless nail-biting!---maneuver that scored her double points. We were transfixed. We couldn’t look away. We tried to have a conversation between ourselves that didn’t revolve around whether she should have placed that oblong where she placed it, but it was useless. That poor girl. Hell isn't other people for her, it's other people breathing down your neck in the seat behind you, feverishly whispering “no! no! no! What are you doing putting it there? It’ll never fit!” while you’re trying to play a nice quiet game of Tetris on the train at one in the morning to pass the time. Luckily for her—and actually, for us, since we’d probably still be watching her, we'd probably have INVITED HER INTO OUR HOUSE so we could continue watching her---she got off the train in New York. Or maybe she just got out and moved to another carriage, which would certainly be understandable. I guess we’ll never know.
But if it isn't one thing, it's another, and we soon had something to take our mind off the Tetris Girl, because we had Pyscho Crazy Lady in the seat behind us. (I wish I had the energy to give her a better name than Pyscho Crazy Lady, but really, it's 10 o' clock at night, I only got home an hour ago after traveling all night and all day, my cats are a million miles away at a Summer Camp which we all know isn't really Summer Camp, I'm supposed to be packing up my house tomorrow but have managed to successfully avoid it for another day by scheduling a hair cut, WHICH WILL ACTUALLY PROBABLY BE MORE STRESSFUL, and I'm having a vodka tonic and one of those take-and-bake baguettes and half a tub of cookie dough ice cream for dinner, because there's nothing else in the house. So Pyscho Crazy Lady it is. Alright?)
So Sean gets his camera out around two in the morning, because Sean always has his camera and he gets paid money to take pictures of things, and so if he decides that the long, empty, eerie rows of seats in front of us might make a good photograph, then good, this is fine, because then maybe we will be able to afford to go to Starbucks this month instead of saying "it's okay, we have perfectly good coffee at home". But Pyscho Crazy Lady takes offense to the fact that Sean has taken a few photographs of the empty seats in front of us---and Pyscho Crazy Lady is sitting BEHIND US---and she starts mumbling to herself about people taking photographs, and how no-one is going to take a photograph of her, and how the next person who dares to take a photograph of her? Well, she is going to blow them away, motherfucker.
She says this, yes. And I am making wild and crazy Gesture Eyes at Sean---you know Gesture Eyes: they are when you can't actually gesture gesture and so you try and overcompensate by opening your eyes really wide in fear and panic---and PCL is still muttering and then she gets on her cell phone and dials someone (who is probably like, "oh, Jesus, it's two in the morning and PCL is calling me AGAIN.") and she says this: "Hi. There's a problem with the New York train. There's this couple and they're taking photographs of me. Nobody takes photographs of me on the New York train. This is a problem. I just thought you'd want to know."
And then there is peace and quiet for, ooh, four minutes, until Sean happens to glance behind him to see if that is the way the restrooms lie, and PCL says, "are you looking at me? Why are you looking at me?" And Sean says "sorry?" And PCL says "what?" and Sean says, "Oh, nothing, sorry, I thought you...." and PCL says "DON'T TALK TO ME. WHY ARE YOU TALKING TO ME? NOBODY TALKS TO ME ON THE NEW YORK TRAIN!" And Sean says, "Oh...no... I....I just thought you said something to me, I just..." and PLC says "IS THERE A PROBLEM WITH THE TRAIN? DO YOU HAVE A PROBLEM WITH THE TRAIN? BECAUSE I AM GOING TO CALL THE CONDUCTOR! I AM GOING TO CALL THE POLICE! NOBDOY TALKS TO ME ON THE NEW YORK TRAIN!"
And Sean is just looking at her, like, lady, you have more problems than people talking to you on the New York train.
And then---this is the best part, at least I think so, but I was watching the whole thing from the safety of my seat, alternately giggling incredulously and making panicked Gesture Eyes---PCL roots around in her bag, pulls out her umbrella and brandishes it at Sean, and says "I AM GOING TO BLOW YOU AWAY." And Sean is like, "what, with the BAD LUCK FROM OPENING YOUR UMBRELLA INDOORS?" (Except, sadly, he doesn't actually say this part out loud, he just thinks it and tells me later. I know---maybe I should break up with him right now.)
So we decide to just get up and move carriages---the Tetris girl is probably scurrying ahead again, upon seeing us approaching---and we settle in to our new seats, half-laughing at the insanity of PCL and half casting nervous glances backward in case she should come into our new carriage and attempt to chop us up into little pieces with her raincoat or something. And the rest of the train journey is really kind of uneventful apart from that, except a little bit later, when everyone is asleep, a new conductor gets on and comes into the darkened carriage, where everyone is asleep with blankets over them BECAUSE IT IS THREE THIRTY IN THE MORNING, and starts whistling and shouting at people like some deranged drill seargant, and saying "you guys excited to be on the train? Wooh-hoo! Whose suitcase is this? This is a great suitcase! Hey, this your suitcase? Guess what, guys? Now I am going to whistle and shout and make you want to STAB YOURSELVES IN THE EYES WITH THE SHARP CORNERS OF YOUR TICKET STUBS BECAUSE YOU ARE TRYING TO SLEEP AND IT IS DARK AND YOU ARE COVERED WITH BLANKETS, AND SLEEPING ON A TRAIN IS HARD ENOUGH WITHOUT ME IRRITATING THE EVERLOVING CRAP OUT OF YOU, ISN'T IT?"
And do you know what I did to this annoying conductor? I shushed him! I hissed "sshhhhh." I don't think I have ever shushed anyone in my life! It was thrilling! But only for a second, because he stopped his inane babbling and his whistling and what was probably about to turn into him grabbing passengers by the shoulders and shaking them awake, and he said "who shushed me?"
And of course I lay there, pretending to be asleep, pretending not to have shushed this beast of a man, and he said "Come on! Who shushed me? The nerve of you! I'm a conductor! Don't you see my hat? I can do what I want. Who shushed me? Who was it?"
And I guess I'm telling you about Pyscho Crazy Lady and having to shush the whistling conductor and arriving in Charleston two hours later than planned and the toilets backing up and the absolute abject misery I felt over the last nineteen and a half hours, so that you never, ever, ever in a million years think it might be a good idea to take an overnight Amtrak train. Or any train in general. Or any journey, really, where you have to sleep with your laptop bag tied to your wrist.