Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Arm's Length

There's an annoying woman at the gym (not the bully) who has zero understanding of other people's personal space.  There can be a totally empty room full of machines, and she takes the machine right next to someone else.  (Not me, anymore, because I see her coming and go somewhere else.)  I try not to glower openly, because as Ben told me, "she might not realize that she's the problem, and she might just think you're unfriendly."

I saw a TV clip in the 1980s - one of those vaguely ethnocentric pieces about what life is like in the exotic otherworld - about "subway pushers" who allegedly help cram hapless Japanese travellers into too-small trains.  My hockey buddy told me that it was culturally acceptable in Vietnam, where he lived for two years, for a hired driver on a motorcycle to snuggle right up to the passenger.  And I've seen in Israel that people sometimes choose a bus seat right next to another person, even if whole open seats are available.

I understand that this is culturally variable, blah blah - but that crowding lady and I are both USAmericans, in a gym in the middle of Massachusetts.  She should know to keep her distance; no one else wants to smell her.  I grew up on a free open range, or at least in an Illinois university town, which is close enough.  No one sat right next to anyone else on a bus or at the playground or in the gym.  People didn't even park their cars right next to each other - one day in 1989, my father was trying to teach me how to perpendicular-park, and he had me practice by parking between two parked cars in an uncrowded lot.  He and I got some strange looks, and even some questions!

The soul-sister of my latest gym enemy was behind me in line at the Amtrak counter in NYC the other day.  She kept getting so close that she almost slid into my totebag.  I left a reasonable breathing space between myself and the person in front of me, and this evidently drove her crazy.  She kept pushing at me and finally said, "could you move up a little?"  In my fantasy, I turned around, stood strong, looked her in her too-close eyes and said, "Back off, Sweetheart; it's one-dimensional motion and you're not going to get there any faster by forcing us all to b*gger each other."  In actuality, I said, "Why don't you step ahead of me," and she did, greedily pushing the next person while I relaxed in relative peace and normal personal distance.

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