People who sneeze or cough profusely on crowded subway cars earn a germaphobic glare from me–unless they are me. Due to the Microscopic Enemy, now in fast retreat, I have been hacking and sneezing my way through the week’s commutes. Yesterday, some kind of delay on the L train had piled up commuters four deep at the Union Square Station. Manhattan-bound trains were passing by constantly on the other side. Where were they all going? There’s only two waiting spots down at the Eighth Avenue Station. (I’m always amazed by people who get out at the Eighth Avenue station and ask if it’s the last stop. The trains pull into that station and brake three feet from a ceramic-tiled wall. If the conductor yelling, “Last stop! Eighth Avenue! Last stop!” didn’t do it for you, perhaps the fact that the tunnel terminates is a clue?)

When the Canarsie-bound train finally crawled into the station at that pathetic, wheezing half-speed the L line affects in inclement weather, the crowd gathered to pour itself in. I allowed the force of the crowd to suck me toward the door, and then found myself having to exert a subtle pressure and wiggling of the shoulders to force myself into the train. Getting on a delayed subway train during rush hour is like being born underground, in reverse. The people near the door held our collective breath, like dieters trying to fit into a wedding dress. The doors chimed and closed, the train lurched. The entire mass of people fell onto each other, but having no room to fall down, righted itself. I had nothing to hold onto and looked expressionlessly into the eyes of an older Asian man and a tired-looking blonde woman whose makeup was full of infinitesimal bits of glitter. I wondered if this was some kind of new makeup technology. Makeup companies are always advertising technology that rivals that of the space program to make your skin look more like skin.

Suddenly, I felt a familiar tickle shoot from my nostril up the nerve that they say you can paralyze with an eyebrow piercing. My left eye began to tear and an involuntary inhale spiraled into my throat. There was no turning back from this one. I was about to blow this subway car wide open. I squinted into the flourescent lights and detonated the nasal explosion.

I’ve meet some people who sneeze with a dainty little “choo” noise, or even those so unobtrusive that they leave off the vowel sound and sneeze like this: “ch.” (My mostly-blind high school physics teacher, whenever he heard these sneezes, would stop class and ask, “Who did that? Who sneezed that way? It’s very bad for your ears to sneeze that way.” He was, understandably, concerned about maintaining one’s hearing.) I don’t understand how anyone sneezes that way. I don’t sneeze so much as roar. My sneezes, if they were a word, would be, “HABACHOOOM!” The sneeze itself is followed by an expulsive sighing and gasping noise, as my face recovers from the speed and force.

“HABACHOOM!” I sneezed, ducking into my parka and trying to contain the event with my hands. My fellow riders, having nowhere to go, flinched and listed gently away from me. They politely ignored me as I sighed, gasped and sniffed. Only when I reached for the last spot on the nearest pole did I catch the woman direclty in front of me swiping at the back of her neck with her mitten.

Sorry, lady.

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