People do funny things. We are just like monkeys, and not just in the countless ways that scientists have told us about through their research. We look like slightly less hairy, clothed apes. Our bigger brains lead us to believe that we are smarter than the average simian. Not true. We simply have stuff like iPhones, cheeseburgers and unwatched “Get Six Pack Abs in 12 Minutes” videos in our YouTube “Favorites.”
On a typical day, I encounter hundreds of people on public transportation and I get to see the details that get washed away and forgotten by the minutiae of everyday routine. I watch attentively to what people say and do, like a father transfixed on his firstborn infant.
I notice the eccentric lot, the “weirdos” nobody wants to sit next to. The ones that can part a crown of people as Moses did the Red Sea. But noticing them is too easy, like making fun of the kid with glasses and pointing out their apparent “weirdness”, like punching him in the face. I prefer to focus on the “normal” people, the folks that follow the “norms” of the civilized, the “average American.” Unlike the “abnormal” people, the normals suppress their weird quirks. Aside from the corybantic obscenities they whisper to themselves and the faint smell dried up urine and feces, the weirdos usually keep to themselves.
Normals, on the other hand, are like bullies, judging others with their eyes and body language. They don’t only judge those they deem as different, but other normals, as well. Pointing out their weirdness is like purveying the bully with a well-deserved beating à la George McFly during the third act of “Back to the Future.”
I often notice how normals avoid making eye contact with each other. When contact is made, they immediately disengage. In an effort to avoid awkward eye engagement, normals slip in their earbuds, stare at their smart phones, read a book, go to sleep or look out the window—even when “out” is a dark subway shaft a few feet away from the trembling glass.
Normals sometimes get lonely and resort to social media. Others who are also smitten by loneliness recede into an endogenous hermitage in which they don’t exchange a single word or glance with another human being. It’s like they’re in their personal Tibet. Within this group of solitary confiners, you have those that really don’t want the attention of others and those that really do.
Some of them get frisky and flirty, others inappropriate and downright illegal. It seems like these Lotharios and Jezebels slip out of any conjugal obligations as soon as they cross the threshold of the “transit bordello”, where everyone could be a potential sexual encounter of the best kind. I fall into the milder side of this last category, occasionally preoccupying myself with ocular flirtation and coquetry. English singer-songwriter Ed Harcourt said it best: “I want to smile with everybody, would you say that is possessive of me?”
Having thought about this topic repeatedly, I have concluded that people are not that funny and instead are hopelessly boring. In that sense, we are not like monkeys after all. Imagine how much fun it would be to ride in a bus or train full of monkeys? Monkey Train or Mono-Rail—“mono” literally meaning monkey in Spanish—sound like they would be pretty lucrative ideas, like a reverse safari where you got to play with the animals. Sure, you would get the occasional outbursts of rage, the ear screeching whoops and gibbers and the flinging of feces, but aside from that, it would be a lot less dreadful than the drudgery that many of us experience on our daily commute.