Across the aisle and one row ahead of me the other day, on the Long Island Railroad from Manhasset to Penn Station: a forty-something woman and her teenage daughter. Heavy Long Island accents. Voices loud enough to carry from one end of the car to the other. Mom is complaining at length about Grandma, who’d bought a train ticket she didn’t have to buy, or something.
Mom: Am I right? Or do you think I’m being unfair?
Daughter: No, you’re right. Grandma’s always doing stuff like that.
They go on to list the various similar crimes Grandma has committed, corroborating each other’s evidence, egging each other on, their voices getting louder and louder, until they run out of anti-Grandma venom, and turn their attention to Grandpa. Daughter can’t believe he called her to ask which station she was getting off at.
Daughter: Why would he do that? He wasn’t even going to be the one picking us up.
Mom: I know. It would be different if he was picking you up. But he wasn’t. I don’t know why he always has to butt in like that.
Next up: Uncle Phil, who sits on the couch all day, watching TV. He doesn’t go to school or have a job, and plus, he smells.
Mom: Did you see where he hung his underwear to dry?
Daughter: I know, right?
Mom: Six people to one bathroom does not work.
Daughter: I don’t know why they can’t go to a motel, or something.
Last on the list, Daughter’s sister Juliana.
Daughter: She is such a brat. She always embarrasses me in front of my friends.
Mom: I know. What did she do this time?
Sitting opposite me in the Amtrak waiting area at Penn Station: Grandma and Granddaughter, who is maybe 6 years old. They’re giggling and whispering happily, until Grandma notices that the child, who has curled up in her seat, resting her cheek against her pink backpack, has made herself more comfortable by unbuttoning the top of her pants.
Grandma: What did you do that for? Put those right this minute. You don’t do that here. That is not a necessary activity. That is not a necessary activity. That is not necessary here.
Granddaughter, chagrined, struggles to do her pants.
Grandma: See? You made it all funny. Go on and put it right.
At last the girl succeeds, and she and Grandma resume their whispering and giggling.
Across the aisle and one row behind me on the Amtrak from Penn Station to Providence: woman I can’t see, but can hear all too well. She’s talking on her phone in a voice loud enough to fill the entire car, in which she’s the only person speaking. She has a heavy Boston accent and the husky voice of a smoker. Within the first half hour of the trip, she talks first to her husband, and then to her friend about her husband, and then to her husband again. Anyone who cares to listen learns:
— that she and her husband have been apart for four days, although they got married about a week ago. It was a spur-of-the-moment decision. But he gave her a diamond. “I got the diamond, and that’s what I wanted,” she tells her friend.
— that she has a daughter, whose name she has to repeat to her husband three times before he gets who she means.
— That there’s another man in the picture, but her husband shouldn’t worry, because she has a restraining order out on him.
— that when she gets to South Station, she’s going to get some fries and some wings.
— that she wants her husband to meet her at the station, and he doesn’t understand why.
Because I want to feel the love.
I need to feel the love, baby.
I’m not feeling it, baby.
I need to feel it.
I don’t feel it. I don’t think I’ll even go back home. Why should I?
I said, I don’t think I’ll go home. This isn’t working.
I said, this isn’t working.
Don’t be like that.
Stop it, Greg.
I said, stop it.
Stop it now.
Don’t do that.
Don’t do that, Greg.
Just calm down already.
Would you calm down?
Calm down, Greg.
I said, calm down.
Can’t you calm down already? It’s okay.
I said it’s okay.
I want you to say it.
I don’t want to read it.
I got your text, but I don’t want to read it.
Because I want to hear it.
Because I want to hear it, Greg.
I want to hear it.
Just say it.
Say it, Greg.
Can’t you say it?
You can’t say it.
Then say it.
Say it, Greg.
Directly in front of me, in the car I move to when I can’t stand listening to Greg’s bride any longer: two teenage girls, who are swiping through the 1000+ pictures on one of the girls’ phones.
Girl one: My hair looks bad there.
Girl one: Oh my God, my hair!
Girl two: You look so cute there.
Girl one: Look at my hair!
Rinse and repeat.