Anyone who was remotely surprised that IBM’s supercomputer Watson swept the floor with the two best-of-Jeopardy! human competitors must ride New York City transit, particularly the subway. Why the subway? The subway is liberally populated with boneheads as well as the mentally deranged; the exact types that would give brainy nerds the edge over the son of 2001: A Space Odyssey’s Hal. Also, what is it with Watson’s cheery-eerie calm voice? These brilliant engineers can create a stupendous storehouse of knowledge, but they can only create a creepy voice straight out of science fiction for it? If IBM had the foresight to consult me about Watson’s voice, I would have urged them to make Watson sound like Dusty Springfield. She managed to make the first “the” in The Look of Love sound like tantric sex. Meow! Yet, everything about Watson had to resemble the dullest geek with a crusty tube sock stashed in the nightstand.
This has been a memorably annoying week commute-wise for I have managed to miss my train into or out of work every single day thanks to the inconsideration of fellow riders. Going into work on Monday, the bad karma I earned for shoving Edith Blicker off first base in the schoolyard playground (note: Edith was my friend and the only kid smaller than me) in second grade finally caught up with me forty-odd years later. That morning in the heart of rush hour, I stood amongst the freshly washed masses in the densely crowded 72nd Street subway station, waiting for my turn to enter the turnstile. Unfortunately, thanks to that moment of playground aggression, just as I heard my downtown express train entering, I found myself stranded behind a woman feeding a fistful of expired Metrocards through the turnstile. When she exhausted her supply, I heard my train going. As much as I loathed her, I did not shove her.
Wednesday morning I drew the short straw when I hotfooted across the platform at 14th Street station to a waiting 1 local only to find myself pursued by the 14th Street Lunatic. This was my reward for rocketing into that train and forgetting to look where he might be lurking. Naturally, he perched himself next to where I was sitting and proceeded to jump around, wave his arms wildly, smack a woman’s newspaper out of her hands before stripping off his coat, sweater and shirt, dropping them to the floor and then ranting in fluent gibberish. I was trying to read an article in The New Yorker about Scientology, but my comprehension was interrupted by a single phrase playing inside my head like a mantra, “Don’t make eye contact with him, don’t make eye contact with him, don’t make eye contact with him.” He kicked all of his clothes out the door at Houston Street and followed his outerwear just as the doors were shutting. I muttered:
Me: Have a nice day.
Fast-forward to Thursday evening’s ride home, I entered behind a bottleneck of commuters in the Chambers Street station. Between a sprawling homeless woman encamped on the floor on a stairwell landing and a mountainous woman standing frozen in the middle of that stairwell’s opposite side yammering on her cell phone, I and several others missed our train trying to maneuver around these obstacles. For the life of me I will never understand the appeal of planting oneself like a tree stump in the middle of a subway station stairwell during rush hour to talk on the phone. The popularity of doing this in the Chambers Street station seems to be on the rise. Word must be out that this is the go-to station to visit if you have an itch to conduct an epic cell phone conversation about nonsense in a public space.
Unrelated to any stupidity inflicted upon me by fellow riders, on Tuesday morning I managed to inflict myself with a hefty dose of my own making. Upon exiting the 1 local at my destination, Franklin Street station, instead of hearing the conductor announce the usual:
Conductor: Next stop, Chambers Street station.
My faulty ears heard:
Conductor: Next stop, President Dick Cheney station.
That was infinitely more disturbing than the sound of Watson’s voice.