Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Unleashed on the Eleven

A guest post by dear Chris.

I needed a work permit. Unless you have dealt with French administration, you cannot imagine the dread with which I woke up on Monday morning to begin an ultimately futile two-hour metro extravaganza. This began, appropriately, in a long line at the ticket window in the Belleville station near my apartment.

When I finally got to the front of the line, a frantic and squat middle-aged woman in a shawl debarked, fluttering her arms. Her peroxided hair was unforgivingly wrenched into a ratty. She leapt in front of me, applied her mouth to the hole in the bulletproof glass and began jabbering. Apparently her dog had escaped and run into the station without her. In Paris it is common for people to walk their dogs without leashes, and yet miraculously, this kind of thing seems to happen very rarely.

"Sir, sir, did you see a dog pass through here? I think he went through the turnstiles! What should I do? What should I do?" Since the cashier was ignoring her, I played along, slipped him my bill and asked for a book of tickets. I heard him finally respond to her as I was walking away. "Listen Madame, I don't know anything about a dog. Can't you see I have a line here?" he spat impatiently.

When I got down to the end of the platform for the République-bound 11 line, a very cute sheltie or maybe a miniature collie was introducing itself to my fellow travelers. It tranquilly worked the crowd, wagging its tail, looking knowingly into the passenger's eyes and, I kid you not, gently proffering its paw to "shake." A few
Chinese high school students ignored it, and the dog finally settled down in front of a fat and accomodating man with a bottle. (7:45 AM) By the time the train was pulling into the station the two seemed to be getting along swimmingly. As I was boarding, I saw the dog's owner rushing down the platform with a look of relief in her eyes. "Toby! Toby! Heel, my baby Toby!" she cried out to it. The dog obeyed, even from a great distance.

How comforting, I thought. A heart-warming reunion on this dreary Parisian Monday morning.

I watched through the window as the train pulled out the station. The woman, finally reunited with her darling Toby, began furiously whipping him with what looked to be a piece of knotted rope.


Rush hour, Line 12.

It had been a long day, I had a ways to ride, and it was rush hour.

These three facts combined meant my competitive pulse was raging by the time the metro pulled into the station. I wanted a seat, bad. But when the train pulled into the station, my two competitors turned out to be two elderly Chinese tourists. Disappointed, I realized I couldn’t fight them.

Okay, so that’s a lie. I was definitely going to fight them. Rules are rules, and I didn’t think these guys were over 75.

But when the doors opened, the two of them bumped me out of the way and were seated before I could even spot the empty seats. The whole thing played out like musical chairs – there was just one person left standing in the car, and that person was me. And that person was sad.

After a few stops, though, a noticed a vacant seat. The vulture standing next to it apparently didn’t want it, so I rushed over and sank down into the spot.

Just a few seconds later, I realized why the woman didn’t want the seat. No sooner than I sat, the eleven year old next to me moved uncomfortably and groaned.

A giant fart sound escaped the seat. I was upset, but I didn’t want to stand.

His classmate started laughing, and the boy complained, “Stop laughing! My stomach really hurts. Aie!”

As he let out that last cry, he jumped again. Again, a loud fart.

I waited for the smell, but it never came. I figured the wind from the tunnel was sucking the smell out the window. So I kept my seat.

“Stop laughing, Thomas, my stomach really hurts, it’s not funny.”


But wait.

The third sound, even as I tried not to notice, sounded strangely similar to the first two. The woman across from me and I exchanged a small smile.

“Are you studying music in school?” I asked them.

“Yes, those are such charming melodies,” she said.

The boys looked uncomfortable. And then they produced the Fart Machine.

“We have tricked you! It is again the great Fart Machine! We are the kings of the Fart Machine on the metro!”

The Fart Machine punctuated the proclamation with another mighty noise. The passengers in the car smiled very small Parisian smiles.

Until the announcement came:

“Hello, passengers, I have to things to tell you, so let’s hope I can remember them both. First and foremost, the next station, that is, the station Abbesses, is closed for renovation. So if you were hoping to descend there, well… you have no luck. Secondly, appearing on my list of things to tell you, on which there are two items, is that the elevators at Lamarck-Caulaincourt are broken.”

The elevators at Lamarck-Caulincourt are broken. The smiles vanished from the passengers’ faces as they remembered the sign at the bottom of the stairs: Warning! There are 112 steps.