Wednesday, November 11, 2015

strumming my pain with her fingers

I was on the train for my commute home from work. The train was fairly crowded, but I managed to find a seat. I reached into my bag and located the book which I am currently struggling to finish. (In case you were wondering, it's Dancing Aztecs, a 1976 sprawling and disjointed comic-crime novel by the prolific author Donald Westlake. I have read — and enjoyed — several of Westlake's efforts in the past. This one, however, is trite and contrived and feels like a homework assignment.) The train made its first stop at Jefferson Station and more passengers filed on and filled in all of the remaining seats. The surplus were relegated to standing in the aisles. A woman, who just boarded, stood just inches from me chatting on her cellphone. Maybe it was the close proximity or maybe it was the fact that she was not using her "inside voice," but I could hear every word she was saying. And, boy!, what she was saying!

Obviously, she was in the same line of work as I — graphic design. She was viciously complaining about a particularly irritating series of events that she had experienced at her job. Events that eerily echoed incidents that I have experienced over the past thirty-plus years as a graphic designer.

"...and then she asked me to make the document a PDF, and it was already a PDF!"

"It was the worst designed logo I ever did. Took me five minutes and that's the one they picked!"

"Nope! She didn't know what I meant when I said 'URL'!"

"They keep interrupting me with little jobs that they can do themselves and it keeps me from doing my actual work!"

"They know I'm the designer! What do they know about design?"

I tried not to eavesdrop, but I had no choice. If someone is standing next to you and carrying on a conversation in a loud voice, is it technically eavesdropping? I also tried not to force myself into her conversation. I had to restrain myself from nodding in agreement and interjecting, "Oh, I feel your pain, sister. I feel your pain." Then, punctuate my sentiment with a fist-pump of solidarity. But, that's not me. I don't do stuff like that. I don't talk to people I don't know. So, I went back to my book and she continued her rant.

As the train approached my stop, I returned my book to my bag and fumbled in my jacket pocket for my house keys. The train began to slow as it came into the station. I stood. She turned towards the exit as well. She was getting off at my stop, Should I say something? Should I let her know that she is not alone? Should I offer a bit of artist camaraderie? I inched my way up the aisle just behind her. She descended the train steps to the platform just ahead of me. And...

I didn't say a word.

When I got home, I told my wife the whole tale of what transpired on the train. My wife has heard me complain for thirty-two years over the course of a dozen jobs. She also knows me and my personality quirks and traits better than anyone else. "You didn't say anything to her, did you?," Mrs P. asked. Then: "Of course you didn't.," she answered her own question.


  1. Of course they picked the design she did in 5 minutes. That's why you should never, ever show those designs unless you don't care at all any more. The bit about the PDF? Yeah! I don't know if I would've talked to her either, but I would've enjoyed the show.

    Sorry to hear about your intimacy with the bathroom floor and hospital trip. I hope you're feeling better!

    1. I am doing better, but, honestly, there isn't a lot on my head to rattle around.