Home View from Underground Things done that should not be underground

Things done that should not be underground

by Benjamin Kabak

What this man is doing is never an acceptable thing to do on the subways. (Photo by flickr user Dan Dickinson)

By and large, most New Yorkers believe there are certain things that just shouldn’t be done on public transit. We can take or leave coffee in a train while most people wouldn’t choose to chow down while riding to work. We don’t engage in lewd behavior; we don’t relieve ourselves in the subway system; and we don’t tend to personal grooming in the subway. Or at least, we shouldn’t attend to personal grooming.

On Wednesday morning, however, I was greeted with one of those situations that just screams out as being grossly awkward. As I commute from Park Slope to Midtown East, I switch from the IRT local to the express at Nevins Street, and rarely am I lucky enough to get a seat right away. So I found myself standing above a lady who had her pocketbook half open on her lap. It was then I heard the familiar sound.

The noise a pair of nail clippers make is an unmistakable one. It’s a brief sound as the metal blades snip through the fingernail, but it’s also one with which we are familiar. Clipping nails is just a thing that we all have to do every few weeks, and we grow accustomed to huddling over a toilet, a garbage can, the sink in an effort to control those runaway nails that tend to go flying.

So there I stood on a 5 train early in the morning with that noise echoing in my ears. As I looked around for the source, I found the woman sitting on the seat near me, and it was a strange sight indeed. This straphanger was clearly someone who knew that what she was doing was not exactly hygienic. She was well-dressed and on her way to work, but she kept her hands in the bag as she furtively attempted to trim her nails. She saw me watching disapprovingly and glanced away. She did have the decency to bury her fingers fully in her handbag, but that must meant that her pocketbook would be filled with clippings. Better her bag than the floor of the subway car.

This culprit absconded from the scene of her moral crime at Union Square, and our fleeting six-stop encounter was over. I gave her the eye; she kept trimming her nails. As I rode onward to Grand Central, I couldn’t get the experience out of my mind. What inspires someone to do something as personal and as unappealing as clipping her nails in a crowded subway car at rush hour? Did she forget to do it at home? Does she have no easy access to the privacy of a bathroom at her office? Does she simply not care what other people think and what the rest of us would consider acceptable social behavior for a subway ride?

A few years ago, I wondered about those who insist on performing bathroom rituals on the train. I’ve seen people floss their teeth, pluck their eyebrows and clip their nails all in some misguided sense of efficiency. It’s not appropriate train behavior, and it shouldn’t be something anyone has to say. Read a book; listen to music; stare off into space. But for the sake of everyone else, just leave the nail clippers at home.

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Pat L November 11, 2011 - 1:38 am

Clipping nails seems almost genteel, in comparison to the folks I walked past at Myrtle-Broadway tonight puking on the stairs. One on each stairwell of course. Symmetry is important.

Anyway, as an infrequent commenter, I should mention this blog is one of my favorites, but you do occasionally stray into concern over things I probably couldn’t bat an eye at. I don’t mind the rats, either, as long as I can get to work. We’re probably still better off without to many people practicing hygiene on the subway, though.

Jamisen November 11, 2011 - 3:18 am

I always preferred to “stare off into space.”

Miles Bader November 11, 2011 - 5:13 am

A better title might be “Things Not Worth a Huge Blog Entry”

Benjamin Kabak November 11, 2011 - 8:17 am

Guys, it’s called a slow news day. Cut me some slack. 🙂

Jack November 11, 2011 - 5:57 am

I’ll take nail clippings over the poopers any day of the week

pea-jay November 11, 2011 - 1:41 pm

Never seen the subway pooper but peeing is pretty common. Rode the L a few weeks ago and saw this dude relieve himself between train cars as the train was traveling between stations.

fred November 11, 2011 - 6:10 am

people on busses are even worse. the biggest problem is people exiting through the front door. This causes nyx busses to be SLOW AS HELL

Jerrold November 11, 2011 - 12:48 pm

On BUSES, how about the shouted cell phone conversations?

UESider November 11, 2011 - 7:01 am

I’ll second Miles bader. Agree that nail clipping in public is in bad taste but low on the hierarchy of inappropriate behavior. Add to that list drinking: hot coffee, eating, digging for nuggets, putting on makeup, pda, involuntary bodily functions, loud music and using your cell phone.

More noteable, perhaps, is that its about high time the sticker showing the trifecta of prohibited actions be updated. The ’80’s inspired ‘No Boomboxes’ should now be either no loud iPods/headphones or No Speakerphone.

I’ve had many commutes lately where someone (sometimes a kid, sometimes an adult) is listening to music via their mobile’s speaker or watching video with sound on a phone, video console or tablet. This is the MTA, not your living room or private car ride!

Frank B. November 11, 2011 - 8:36 am

I think you’re putting too much blame on this woman in particular.

While I would entirely disapprove of someone clipping their nails and sending them all over the subway car, (and possibly onto other patrons) this particular woman made a concentrated effort to keep her actions from affecting other people and the cleanliness of the train.

Spiderboy November 11, 2011 - 8:52 am

Hey, this is 2011! There used to be a bright line between things done in private (at home), things done at work, things done at various public or private events, and things done while traveling between any two of these. No more. People live their entire lives “in the open” now. While I don’t necessarily like this idea, old fogey that I am, I’m not at all surprised by it anymore.

TN MOVING STORIES: Keystone Pipeline Decision Tabled Until After 2012 Elections, Dulles Rail Funding Deal Reached | Transportation Nation November 11, 2011 - 8:54 am

[…] People! Don’t clip your fingernails on the subway! (Second Avenue Sagas) […]

Peter November 11, 2011 - 10:52 am

Yesterday morning on the A train the guy across from me ate an entire bag of peanuts, dropping most of the shells on the floor in front of him. I thought to myself, well at least he made a half-hearted attempt to catch some of them in the bag. But then he carefully cinched the plastic bag shut and tossed it on the floor as well!

I can’t quite comprehend the mentality of a person who can behave like that on a train full of other people and feel no apparent guilt or shame.

Eric November 11, 2011 - 11:49 am

It’s because nobody spoke up and told him that he was being a disgusting slob. Hmmmmmm.

BBnet3000 November 11, 2011 - 11:05 am

Im with you 100% on nail clipping.

There were people making out loudly on a train I was on recently (a quiet and nearly empty train) which i found nearly as annoying.

I sometimes find myself looking at my nails on the train and thinking they could use a good clipping (AND i have a clipper in my backpack), but doing it on the train is exceptionally rude.

Ed November 11, 2011 - 11:06 am

I agree with some of the earlier comments. There really should be three “don’ts” on the subway: don’t create litter (ie don’t eat), don’t bother other passengers with lots of noise, and don’t crowd other passengers and in particular block the exits and entrances to trains. And its rare that I take a subway trip and don’t encounter people doing at least one of these three things.

But nail clipping I can’t get worked up about, since the only problem is what happens to the clippings. If they go in a bag which is taken off the train, no big deal.

Jerrold November 11, 2011 - 12:44 pm

I AGREE completely with the point of this article. BUT didn’t you intend the headline to actually be “Things that should not be done underground”?

Woody November 12, 2011 - 11:05 pm

“Backwards headlines ran until reeled the mind.”

(Maybe Spiderboy will get the reference. Any other fogeys out there?)

BrooklynBus November 11, 2011 - 1:15 pm

I was once riding on the train and this lady next to me took out an offensive smelling bottle of nail polish and began polishing all her nails. I told her to stop and that I found the smell extremely obnoxious. She just ignored me. So I began rustling my newspaper in her ear. She still continued. Then I began faking a cough and not covering my mouth. Nothing stopped her. She continued for about five subway stops doing a precision job. And of course after she put the bottle away, the nails had to dry.

Matthias November 30, 2011 - 10:41 am

Yes, that’s much worse than clipping. I’ve lost a few brain cells this way!

jj December 4, 2011 - 12:08 pm

Many disgusting slobs in NYC

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