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Mad Scientess Jane Expat

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Bounty Information | Wanted Dead or Alive: Mad Scientess Nanila
Deeds of Derring-Do | Full of Wild Inaccuracies and Exaggerations

It is always happy hour somewhere. [20050425|00:33]
Mad Scientess Jane Expat
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The man who gets on the train is the kind you eye peripherally and hope he won't sit next to you. He sits next to me. He smells like a beer factory. He's mumbling to himself and ruffling his wild shock of grey hair with filthy fingernails. I sit tensely in my seat and lean toward Marco with an extra semblance of absorption in my book (Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita). But I'm not paying attention to Humbert's hubris and the old drunk knows it. He tilts towards me and speaks, repeating himself several times as if searching for the proper inflections, the ones that have been so drowned in drink that they no longer come naturally to him.

"ExCUSE me, EXcuse me, excuse ME, Miss," he says, waving his hands about desperately, willing them to convey what his voice will not.

I look at Marco with wide eyes and lower my book slightly.

"I'm trying, I'm TRYing, I'M trying to get to Notting Hill, Notting Hill Gate. Do you, do YOU know, how I get to Nottinghillgate." The last three words tumble out together in a rush.

I peer at the tube map across from us. "You want the Central Line," I say, as neutrally and clearly as possible. I am trying not to encourage conversation, but neither can I convincingly pretend I haven't heard him.

"The Central Line, I want the Central Line."

He falls silent momentarily. I can sense him moving with the motion of the train, repeating his gestures: hand through hair, hands rubbing together, hands on knees, back to hair.

"Miss, miss, MISS? How do I, How do I get to Notting Hill Gate?"

I peer at the map again. We are about to stop at Leicester Square. "You want to get off at the stop after this and change to the Central Line."

"Are you sure?"

I freeze. This has come out with unexpected clarity. For the first time I turn my head to look squarely at his profile. Gaunt face, symmetrical jaw, strong straight nose. Bright blue eyes that show the traces of what must once have been an intelligent man, the one who has briefly surfaced from underneath the layers of dirt and befuddlement and sadness to ascertain whether or not I'm just trying to get rid of him.

"You're not sure, are you?"

"No, I am. That's what the map says." I point at it.

He cannot or will not – it doesn't really matter which – focus on the map. The train lurches to a stop. He falls over the arm of the seat, nearly hitting me with his arm, although I have braced myself against the other side, since my reflexes have allowed me to predict this eventuality.

A pause, and a horrified, "I'm sosorry miss, please 'scuse me." His tone is sincere. Even years of drink can't override his ingrained educated English male social responses. I shrink away as his reeking breath hits me, giving only the impression of repulsion, which is only half the truth as I forgave him even before it happened.

We sit in silence until the next stop, Tottenham Court Road. The carriage doors slide open.

"Miss? Miss, what do I do now?"

I try to sound both urgent and kind. "You need to get off here."

"I need to get off here, here, HERE."

He launches himself off the train and disappears down the platform. A sweaty, unshaven tourist with a giant backpack takes his place. I try to read my book and fail.

~*~


At a bar in Shoreditch, we are talking to our American friend, our favorite barista, who will be returning to the US tomorrow. We have come to say goodbye and listen to his friend play drums in his jazz band. The drummer is by far the best musician in the band. As we stand around with our drinks, a tall blonde woman stumbles into the bar. She fumbles clumsily between the tables and down the narrow stairwell, clutching at whatever or whoever can steady her passage. She bumps into the bar. The bartender firmly shakes her head. The woman turns around and stumbles back out, falling over our friend in the process. He watches her leave and bursts out laughing as she pushes on the wrong side of the door, trying to get out to the pavement.

When we leave an hour later, we see her leaning over a skip with her head inside it. A couple of men are pointing at her from the opposite side of the street and sniggering. She hears them and straightens. She pulls her flimsy shawl over her shoulders and walks away.

~*~


We step onto the bus and pass our Oyster cards over the readers. We stand near the exit since we are only three stops from our destination. Marco turns his back to it and I press into him for a kiss. We notice that the exit door keeps beeping and turn to look at it. A man who looks fifty but is probably thirty is trying to get on the bus through the exit. His fist is firmly clenched around a plastic bag full of food, but the door, though it won't close on his hand, also won't stay open long enough for him to pull it back towards him. Finally the bus driver overrides it. The man feels his way along the side to the front of the bus. The bus driver grudgingly opens the door to let him on. He staggers to the back, sits, puts his feet up and starts eating noisily and shamelessly, like an overgrown baby.

~*~


You have to be careful how much you allow yourself to notice in this city. If you don't, it will break your heart.
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Comments:
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2005-04-26 14:54 (UTC)
*nods* I always have to control the amount and type of information with which I come into contact on a daily basis. I consider "information" to include that which comes from people as well as through indirect media like the net or TV or radio. Otherwise I get overwhelmed.
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[User Picture]From: cowboy_r
2005-04-25 00:50 (UTC)
I think any city will break your heart, if you let it. I've lived in San Francisco and New York, and visited more big cities than you can shake a stick at, and they're all beautiful and horrible all at once.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2005-04-26 15:08 (UTC)
Yes. I'm starting to think that Ian (a friend of ours) was right when he told us the single most important piece of advice he could give us about moving here was that we needed to get out of the city at least once a month.
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[User Picture]From: elleclectic
2005-04-25 02:25 (UTC)
I think my heart broke reading this entry

.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2005-04-26 15:06 (UTC)
The amount of misery and sadness I see every day here can be overwhelming. It's in your face in a way that it never is when people don't have to use their legs and public transportation to get everywhere. When things go awry for people, privacy often isn't an option. They have to have their heart-wrenching breakup conversations outside on the pavement, on their mobile phones. Things like that. I'm not inured to it yet - I don't know if I'll ever be. I have some coping mechanisms for when I'm not at a hundred percent, like wearing headphones or burying my nose in a book. And when those fail, there's writing it out.
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[User Picture]From: vndictivesprite
2005-04-25 05:17 (UTC)
I was sitting here thinking of something to comment and then I just started crying. I really liked your post, in a sad way, if that makes any sense.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2005-04-26 14:43 (UTC)
Yes, it makes sense. I hope you don't mind that I take that as a high compliment. Thank you.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2005-04-26 14:01 (UTC)
I'm glad. It seemed a bit odd, posting an entry like this after a weekend which was overall a lot of fun, but for some reason it demanded to be written when I got home Sunday night.
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[User Picture]From: slutbunwalla
2005-04-25 07:34 (UTC)
I know exactly that feeling of revulsion and compassion. I've experienced it many times.



Do you mind if I add you? I'm a friend of thatdamnninja's and I'm stealing some of his friends, at his behest.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2005-04-26 11:35 (UTC)
It's a confusing mixture. On the one hand, the desire to help, on the other, the desire to get away as quickly as possible.

I don't mind being added. :-)
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[User Picture]From: communistgnome
2005-04-25 07:40 (UTC)
*sigh*

You just reminded me of so many things.

Beautiful storytelling.

And once again, I'm glad to be able to read your journal.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2005-04-26 14:34 (UTC)
Thank you for the compliment. I appreciate it.

BTW, speaking of storytelling, what kind of feedback (if any) were you looking for with Vanguard City?
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[User Picture]From: nationofsheep
2005-04-25 09:08 (UTC)
Pedestrian cities do that to you. You still see it here, but nothing like the interaction you get on the subway in Hong Kong, Boston or New York. Every big city has it, but the interaction is missing. I both miss it and hope I never have to see it again.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2005-04-26 15:00 (UTC)
Yup. It's completely different from anything I've experienced before, and I've always been a city girl. However, all of the cities I've lived in have had cars as their major form of transport. When people have to walk or ride public transport everywhere, their lives are much more exposed. They can't travel in their bubbles of privacy to their santuaries - home, car, office, bar - whenever something goes awry.
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[User Picture]From: repoman
2005-04-25 14:45 (UTC)
Public displays of intoxication can be heartbreaking. Friday night I was at one of my bars and an older guy, Ray, got completely pissed. At bar time, he was so drunk he fell off the stool and needed to be walked home. That wouldn't be so bad if he wasn't such a crackpot. He is a bitter old man who likes to offend. One night he talked about how the bar we were in used to be a "jigaboo bar for fruits and degenerates". It's hard to feel bad for people like that...

Thats the thing about alcohol...it reveals who you are and what your feeling. If your feeling a little pathetic about yourself, it will show. If you have some self-loathing, it will show. This is why most drunks are pretty nice people overall, for most people are pretty nice. Even the ones who got drunk because they were depressed rarely are rude to others on purpose...
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[User Picture]From: seismic
2005-04-25 16:54 (UTC)
You have to be careful how much you allow yourself to notice in this city. If you don't, it will break your heart.

I can. But you've documented it beautifully. Thank you.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2005-04-26 11:34 (UTC)
Thank you. It just sort of popped out when I got home Sunday night.

(P.S. I received your postcard. Hooray!)
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[User Picture]From: thirdbird
2005-04-25 18:55 (UTC)
Nice vignettes. Okay, not "nice," but well-written. Well seen. Thanks for posting.

This kind of stuff has been part of my landscape ever since I moved to NYC, and I've become so good at hardly noticing anymore...it terrifies me that I've got this little person now who's going to notice everything and not only notice but ask "Why, Mama?" and I'm not going to have the slightest fucking idea what to say.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2005-04-26 13:55 (UTC)
Thanks for taking time to read, Ms. Busy Bird.

I think not having all the answers is one of the scariest things about becoming a parent. I have enough trouble with my own ignorance without having its limits constantly being explored by someone else, let alone someone else who expects me to be right!
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[User Picture]From: mysti77
2005-04-25 19:59 (UTC)
Last Saturday night I was at King's Cross St. Pancras on the platform with some friends when we see a medium build guy dragging a girl much bigger than himself towards the platform. The train arrives and we get on and he hopelessly looks around for someone to help him. One of the guys we were with, being the good samaritan runs out of the train and helps him get her on. She is passed out drunk, wearing very little clothes. Her skirt is all the way up and she has on a thong. I have never seen anyone so drunk that they pass out completely and be totally unaware of what is going on around them. The guy covers her with her coat, but keeps an experession of hopelessness. I guess he was wondering what he would do when he gets to his stop.

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[User Picture]From: nanila
2005-04-26 13:59 (UTC)
It's kind of shocking, isn't it. I don't know much about where you've lived in the past, but I've mostly been in cities and towns where the main form of transport is cars. Of course people in cities that aren't pedestrian-friendly also get really drunk and behave badly, but you tend to see them only in certain places, where you learn to expect it. Bars, clubs, concerts, parties and the like. Then they get in their cars and go home. It's very different to see out of that context: in the streets or on public transport.
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