Friday, July 22, 2005

Don't worry, they're mine

Jenny's mention of being scared shitless for 25 seconds made me think of this story:

When I first moved to England, my Midwestern mind full of mush had been filled with irrational fears over the IRA.

"Bombs go off there all the time," wide-eyed big-haired farm girls had told me in hushed tones.

And while I didn't believe them... I did. On some irrational, emotional level I envisioned this strange perpetually gray and sooty land where buildings and trains randomly exploded. Angry Irish guys, I imagined, would stomp up to me, ask my religion, and punch me in the face if I answered incorrectly*.

In Portsmouth.

I had every article of clothing that I owned bundled with me into two backpacks and an Army duffle bag when I got on the train from Gatwick to Portsmouth. Because I had to that point in my life only ridden on novelty trains, I had boarded a train that stopped at pretty much every station along the route. Normally, the trip would take about an hour; this train took, oh, I don't know, three months. I stuffed all my things into the overhead racks, unwilling to put them in the luggage area at the front or rear of the car because I had also filled my head with crazy "Let's Go!"-inspired fears of theft, and sat down to dwell in trepidation of my new environment.

I hadn't bothered to look at a map, nor the estimated time for the journey, so I had no idea when to expect the train would arrive at my station. As a result, every time the train slowed I sat up and readied myself to dart out onto the platform, fearing that the train would take off before I could get out and then I would be arrested for being on past my stop and thrown into some Eastern European gulag and strapped to a chair and forced to confess to crimes against the state while they released earwigs down my shorts.

After a bit of this, I found myself looking at some of the other bags on the overhead racks; much smaller than my three bags, but, you know, big enough to hold a bomb. Anything is big enough to hold a bomb, right? And of course, all bombs -- regardless of size or type -- produce massive Hollywood-style explosions. When I couldn't immediately determine the owner of said bag, I would get nervous and sit so that I was sort of ducking behind the seats in front of me.

At one point, a woman got on the train and stood for a second, holding her purse, looking at me and then at my bags. She furrowed her brow slightly. I was occupying four seats (two each facing each other), with my feet up on the opposite seats. My bags, which should have been in the luggage area, were taking up way too much overhead rack space. I had a mouth full of chocolate bar and a can of soda in my hand.

"Oh, don't worry," I said in my broad American accent, pointing to my bags. "They're mine."

"Yes," she said tersely. "What lovely white socks you have."

"Oh, thanks," I said.

I thought I was making a friend. Obviously, in addition to understanding nothing about Ireland and having no comprehension of acceptable social behavior on trains, I had yet to learn the subtlety of English sarcasm.

*I got this idea from Brad Pitt, who claimed in an interview to have been punched in the face for stopping to look in the window of a Protestant book store whilst researching his IRA character for "The Devil's Own."


Linus said...

I'd never punch you in the mouth, Chris.

Unless it was funny, or someone gave me money. <3

Jenny said...

That is a very funny story.

I spent three months last year commuting to work with a recently-arrived American colleague. He was a lovely guy, but we drew some very angry glares from disgruntled passengers who had NO WISH to hear his life story delivered at a volume that would cause cows to stampede.

Really, they should publish unspoken train rules on the carriage somewhere. It's just not fair otherwise.

OldHorsetailSnake said...

I thought earwigs only ate corns. Just shows what I know.

Do you still have the socks, in case you need to be insulted again?

Astrid said...

Mmm .. I think my brains are currently on a holiday to Spain, so yours are going to have to help me out. So what were the Irish people saying about your white socks then? And is tomorrow the Tuesday of your column again? I am already excited!!!

Chris Cope said...

At the time, wearing white socks with everyday attire (as opposed to workout clothing) was considered considerably unstylish.

And yes, Astrid, my column comes out tomorrow.

David T. Macknet said...

New comment for an old post, bit it fits:

A former boss of mine took a contract job in Japan. After being there about 8 months, she started to have back problems. The chiropractor she consulted said that it was because she was on the tall side yet was trying to fit in, so she was slumping enough to cause her whole body to be out of whack.

Soon, Chris. Soon you will be assimilated.