The New York Transit System is a dark underworld full of rodents, unnameable slimy substances, and — maybe worst of all — other people. As anyone who watched the first season of Hulu’s Difficult People knows, the rats have nothing on humans when it comes to striking terror and disgust into the heart of a New Yorker.
That’s why it’s important to know exactly what you’re up against. When faced with the worst of the transit system, a little preparation will help get you out of subway hell and into the light — with your life and dignity intact.
Before getting on or off the train, you must first solve the eternal riddle of the Door Troll. That riddle is: “Why am I standing directly in front of the door, blocking the flow of foot traffic on and off the car, oblivious to the major inconvenience that I am causing everyone?”
The answer: Because you’re a selfish asshole. (Yep, like most eternal riddles, it’s a trick question.)
SURVIVAL TIP: It would be both dumb and illegal to reprimand the Door Troll with an accidental-on-purpose elbow-jab to the ribs while pushing past him. That’ll get you booked for assault, pal. Instead, stand in his line of sight and shoot him dirty looks for the duration of your ride. He probably won’t even notice — he’s too busy standing by the door, very important — but you’ll feel better anyway. Oh, and to actually get through the door, fake him out with some quick movements before diving past him.
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but also the most distressing. Do I eat before work or give up and have a sad desk breakfast? Are donuts a carb? Still, most people are able to figure out how to fulfill their daily nutritional requirement without shoving a bunch of slimy cold cuts in their bag before leaving the house in the morning.
Not the legendary Bologna Lady of the 1 train. Most often spotted between Times Square and Columbus Circle during morning rush hour, this witchy commuter (an elusive cousin of the more common Hot Wings Nocturne) uses her morning train ride to dine on bologna and other questionable lunch meats (she doesn’t discriminate) that have been plucked from the linty recesses of her handbag.
Is she trying to make everyone vomit all over their slacks before they make it to the office? Does her love of bologna trump common subway decency? Who even cares? She smells like a school cafeteria.
SURVIVAL TIP: You could just hold your breath, cradle your head in your lap, and switch cars at the next stop. Of course, they say the best defense is a good offense. When face to face with the Bologna Lady, one-up her by pulling an entire, fully cooked Welsh rarebit out of your tote bag and eat it right in front of her, with your hands. Take that.
“What time is it?”
“We SAID, what time is it?”
OK already, it’s fucking showtime.
Look, I know, showtime sounds like fun, and they do mean well. (See how the tourists’ faces light up when these acrobatic scamps appear with their boomboxes?) But for the seasoned New Yorker, it’s as enjoyable as a kick in the teeth.
A crowded subway car is a place for quiet contemplation — not for a bunch of Béla Károlyi rejects to practice their floor routines. Those who ride the subway every day know there’s nothing worse than having a bunch of teenagers somersaulting over your head when you’re coming home from an emotional session with your therapist, or simply trying to read in peace. If you wanted a show, you’d go see the Blue Man Group. (That’s probably where those tourists are heading anyway.)
SURVIVAL TIP: Ignoring the Showtime Kids really isn’t an option — they’ll just yell at you. (“We SAID, ‘It’s Showtime!’)” Trying to escape will only put you in the line of fire. The best you can do is to hit the ground, curl into a protective ball under your seat, and pray you make it out without a black eye. Or you could just give them a dirty look, then stick your face into your phone or magazine and hope it’s over soon, like life.
“Oh my god, I’m going to miss my stop! Oh my god! Everyone clear a path! Help! Make way! Excuse me! Excuse me!”
This is the all-too familiar cry of the Excuse-Me Beast, a nasty pest who freaks out about missing their exit a full three stops before it’s even time to get off. This means elbowing, jostling, and shoving in their scramble to make it from their seat to the door, usually knocking over a gaggle of pregnant ladies and old people in the process. In mere seconds, the Excuse-Me Beast can throw a peaceful train car into a state of total chaos. Never mind that they’re always getting off at the same stop as everyone else — this asshole is going to be the first one off the train even if they have to start a riot to do it.
SURVIVAL TIP: It’s your civic duty to delay these people as much as you can. Square your shoulders, plant your feet, and block that path! Don’t give an inch. When they start wailing and spinning in circles, pretend you’re too distracted by your copy of AM New York to notice. But stay vigilant — the Excuse-Me Beast will try to slip past you any way they know how, and isn’t above diving between your legs at the first opportunity. Don’t let it happen!
He is felt before he is seen: His warm, clammy breath tickles your neck as he peers down at your business, trying to get a glimpse of what you’re typing into your phone. Catch him in the act, and he’ll quickly look away. Then, as soon as he thinks he’s in the clear, you’ll feel it again. He’s back at it.
What does he hope to discover? Your grocery list? Your boss’s phone number? Is your game of Candy Crush really that fascinating? Who knows! The Cell-Phone Snoop probably doesn’t even know himself.
SURVIVAL TIP: Start typing something guaranteed to lull the Cell-Phone Snoop into a state of total fascination. (“Grandma — you’ll never believe what happened at my urology appointment!”) Then, when you’ve got him right where you want him, turn quickly, scream “BOO!” and watch the Cell-Phone Snoop have a heart attack and die. For a more subtle approach, type out a slow and careful FUCK YOU I SEE YOU. (The Cell-Phone Snoop is annoying, but he’s a coward.)
Got it? Good. And remember, the main way to avoid all of these beasts is to throw on your best fuck-off face and glare as fiercely as possible. The less time you spend interacting with revolting subway denizens, the more time you can spend dealing with the rest of the weirdos that populate the city. For more on that, tune in to Difficult People. The second season hits Hulu on July 12.
Bennett Madison is the author of several books for young people, including September Girls (HarperCollins, 2013) and The Blonde of the Joke.