Thursday, October 18, 2007


I have previously chronicled the two main genuses of the Japanese train-commuting species, Weasels and Turtles, and have touched upon some of the families thereof that I've encountered in my years on trains here in this nation of delicate politeness and consideration everywhere other than on trains.

I've mentioned the Snuffler, the Bricklayer, the Cosmetic, the Scarfer and the Thumper, among others, but today I will address a new family of commuter I've encountered before but until my commute this morning had somehow overlooked as a true taxonomic family that can sit or stand on its own: the Rattler.

This morning I first had a Thumper sitting next to me (Thumpers are almost always men), the kind who treats the newspaper like an enemy, folds it in half lengthwise, then crosswise, then down to the size of the article he wishes to read, at each fold thumping the paper like a catcher's mitt, then having read the article he unfolds and rethumps his way to the next article, all the loooong way through the paper. The worst part is when he hits the sports section and all the pent-up wannabe kicks in.

I can't read or doze off when one of this family is sitting next to or looming over me, for obvious reasons. To any smart aleck who would say well why don't you just tune it out, I would respond by saying why should I have to? If such people attended zen meditation at a temple they'd be tossed out on their ears. Peace and quiet are public property, after all.

When the Thumper had mangled the silence for several stops he got off and was replaced by the Rattler. The conventional rattler is an upper middle-aged or older woman, who boards the train carrying at least three plastic shopping bags (less than three is a lower order: the Rustler), plops them all on her lap (after sitting next to me; seats next to foreigners are usually the last to fill) and at once begins to rearrange all the contents of all the bags into some cryptic order. The sound is that of a large polyvinyl waterfall of random flow volume. It is difficult to remain inattentive to a plastic Niagara beside you.

This morning though, it was not a woman, it was a man, the first male Rattler in my experience. Not quite elderly yet, but already manifesting the all-alone-in-the-universe quality that is the special province of those who have aged long enough. Anyway, he had at least four bags (beyond three, they tend to blend together), one of which was filled with bottled drinks and one with convenience-store onigiri. The other bags held other stuff, Rattler accessories perhaps.

As soon as he sat next to me he began rearranging the contents of the bags, as per the taxonomic rules, taking out each cellophane-wrapped onigiri, squeezing, turning and rattling it to see what kind it was - as soon as he dug out his glasses from one of the other stuff bags - then finally chose which onigiri he wanted to eat first, put all the others back with an extended rattling flourish, then tried to figure out how to open the onigiri (each one opened the same complex way, but to him they were all different).

He opened each one in turn, after peering again at the others, as before, then wrestled for 5 minutes or so with the one he had selected, emanating a sound that put me in mind of a cat scrambling around in a dumpster full of potato chip bags. He then ate each onigiri with publicly shared oral satisfaction, now and then stopping to clear his teeth by sucking or blowing air through them, bursts of sibilance that went interestingly with the rattling overtone.

Though he was a small man, about my age but probably half my size, he ate onigiri all the way from Kyoto to Osaka, four of them (I can never eat more than two), all in the same manner, then crunched down all the wrappers in a trash bag he whipped out from a bagful of bags among the other bags. A Rattler of the first order.

I look forward morosely to discovering new orders on our commuting family tree.


Mary Lou said...

Oh MAN...A Male of the species...that must mean they will propagate!! Lucky you!

Bob Brady said...

Extreme rarity would be preferred...