Friday, February 04, 2005


As a long-term veteran of the ceaseless human struggle that is Japanese commuting, I have endured many years of broken-field trainchasing in the heat of competition, tasting both the sweet savor of seated victory and the bitter bile of standing defeat. But it wasn't until the Battle of Yesterday Morning that the Big Truth finally hit me, like the shoulder of a commuting sumo wrestler: commuters are either Turtles or Weasels.

Perhaps more importantly, I also realized that there is another, much smaller subdivision: me. Because like everyone else, I myself am neither a Turtle nor a Weasel; I am that most rare of straphanging creatures: an honorable commuter. Yes, I abhor the use of dirty tricks, sneaky wiles, illicit cunning, subterfuge, camouflage, misdirection and even darker arts: I walk at a normal pace, weaponless, hands open, nothing up either sleeve, seeking only what I deserve for my modest efforts; I take no heads, seek no glory.

I admit, though, that when what I deserve is stolen from me by a scurrilous Turtle or a sleazy Weasel there are exceptions to this behavioral ideal, when I sort of black out for a few seconds, but that’s not today’s subject, is it. You want that seat?

Turtles rely primarily on craft and hardware to get to the head of the boarding line. They work in packs. One of them gets in front of you and slows you down by walking along while swinging an umbrella, say, or a cane, or stopping to inspect a fingernail as if this were a stroll through the park, not a matter of life or death (ie train or wait, sit or stand). Another Turtle might be carrying a shopping bag full of bricks or suchlike commuter battlegear, and will not hesitate to use it to get what they want; they are implacable, hard-shelled, unembarrassable. Turtle eyes look always ahead, at the objective; all else is beside the point.

The Weasels, in contrast, rely on stealth, speed and cunning, but are not above a dirty trick or two or more to achieve their ruthless ends. Eyes shifting here and there ceaselessly in search of illicit opportunities, gaps and shorter lines, they will trot the last three meters to slip in front of you before you take your deserved place in line; they will run flat out to beat you to that seat toward which you, the honorable commuter, are merely loping at a fair speed as determined by the Geneva Convention.

As indicated above, it goes without saying that even the honorable commuter suffers ethical lapses now and then; one is human. And there is a great degree of yeehaa glee and highfiving joy in sticking it to a Turtle in no uncertain terms, or inyerfacing a Weasel right in front of the horde, as I did yesterday morning. For all honorable commuters (ie each of us alone in our own hearts) know who the Turtles and Weasels are, and understandably wish to trump them, which makes occasional Turtles, even Weasels, of us all.

Which is why righteous inyerfacing is permitted under the Geneva Convention.

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