Monday, October 25, 2004

It's a Good Life

Much as I wish I could attribute my moments of serenity in the face of unbelievable chaos to meditation or love of my fellow man, it really springs from a prudent fear that was brought to the public approximately seven years before I was born.

Through no fault of my own, I have lived my entire life in the metropolitan Los Angeles area, a socio-economically diverse region. Most Angelinos don’t experience each other because they cocoon themselves in their vehicles as they get around town. That's not to say they don't piss off each other, just that their interactions are separated by tons of metal, glass, rubber, and (with any luck) several meters of asphalt. I was that way until five years ago when I started taking public transportation (light-rail trains) to and from work.

There is a certain level of calm I’ve achieved—well, at least, there’s a level of frustration I’ve avoided by not having to sit in traffic. Generally, by the time I get home each night I have decompressed from the work day by being able to just sit on the train and not need to worry about those around me. Or rather, by developing the ability to ignore them pretty well.

I’ve seen businesspeople in suits talking on cell phones. I’ve seen homeless people curled up sleeping across the seats. I’ve seen teenage boys hitting on teenage girls before they reach their stop. I’ve seen the overly righteous stand up and evangelize. And I’ve tuned out that and much more by putting on my headphones and playing my Walkman a bit louder, gazing out the window at the passing scenery of Compton, Watts, and south central L.A.. I have avoided trouble by adapting the methods of those in the autos: Don’t make eye contact. I keep to myself, and any thoughts I may have about my fellow passengers I direct to the pad of paper that is usually across my lap.

It’s not always easy, of course.

One evening not long ago, I arrived at the downtown station (the beginning of the line) and boarded the train as I had many times before. Surveying the open seats, I took one by the window in the last row. In front of me was a curly haired child of perhaps 3 or 4, with what I presume was his mother in the aisle seat beside him. As I waited for the train to get under way, I donned my headphones, pulled out the pad, and began to compose some inchoate thoughts about email-maintained friendships (which may or may not become an entry here someday). The young lad stood, turned and faced me, leaning his head over the back of the seat, seemingly enthralled by the sight of my pen scratching along the paper. I suppose at that age, uncorrupted by video games, journal writing could be rather entertaining (even without comprehension of what’s being written). I smiled at his advances, as he was smiling at me. Or in my direction. The mother must have been very tired, as she could barely keep her eyes open, much less pay attention to him. (The young woman who had taken the seat next to me read her book with intensity; she was better able to play the game of ignoring surroundings, with the child focused on me.)

I kept writing, undaunted. As I noted, I have years of experience with dealing with distractions, and even a toddler’s head moving back and forth from the seat in front to inches from my face was not enough to disrupt my modest creative momentum. I had, however, underestimated my companion.

Again his head drooped over the seat and, having grown bored with the flicks of the pen, dribbled spittle on the edge of the page.

He laughed delightedly. This brought his mother from her pseudo-slumber, and she made futile attempts to pull him back in to his seat, with little swats of his bottom making no difference in taming him.

I smiled in feigned amusement, and turned the page.

He turned around, facing forward again (but still not sitting down), leaving me alone not because of any action his mother had taken but rather because he’d lost interest in me. She resumed her inability to stay fully awake, not saying anything to me at any point during or after the… interlude.

I know some people would have interceded before the child could do such a thing. I know some people would have demonstrated their indignant rage at such action. These people clearly have not seen the episode of the Twilight Zone from 1961 titled “It’s a Good Life” (starring a young Billy Mumy in a truly distrurbing portrayal of an omnipotent adolescent). I have seen it. Many times. And I paid attention.

The child shrugged off spankings with glee. The mother was beleaguered to the point where her futile discipline was nothing more than an attempt to make them seem normal, but I saw through it then. Clearly he was the spawn of something demonic, and who knows what powers his wicked heritage had given him. I smiled to convey the sense that it was a good thing that he’d drooled on the paper. A very good thing.

Admonishing the mother would be pointless; this was beyond her mortal skills. Undoubtedly she suffered every day since some smooth-talking denizen of the netherworld wormed his way betwixt her legs; me calling her an abjectly poor parent would barely register. I suspect she wasn’t actually napping, but rather making some plea in her mind to whatever power in the universe that might keep her child from destroying us all. Anything I said would have only distracted her from that.

Some may conclude that I’m actually just too pusillanimous to confront these inconsiderate individuals, but I prefer to think of it as taking the high road and not exacerbating the situation. I like to believe they will pass through my life quicker if I just leave them alone. When it gets down to it, they’re just not worth getting upset over. Really. Not one f#%*&^g bit upset over.

And most important, I don’t want to be wished out to the cornfield. I may not be making the world a better place, but I certainly couldn’t do anything from out there.