Keep Out

The misanthrope’s need for personal space

I’m having trouble with space. Not the intergalactic type, but the human kind, as in my personal space. People and things are cluttering it up, and my daily encounters with the lack thereof are wearing me down and cranking me up.

Via printable signs.net

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Hey Kitchen Slattern, you chose to live in one of the most densely populated areas on Earth — of course space is tight. Stop your bitching, why don’t you?” Thank you for your understanding. Let me clarify, it’s not just New York that’s getting tighter, it’s everything and everywhere: my shoes, my car, the distance between restaurant tables, the aisles at Bloomingdales, even the formerly inviolate area around my person. In short, there’s just too much stuff and noise everywhere, and any place that’s not filled with crap is chockablock with nattering, rambling, scrambling humanity.

It is really starting to bug me.

Not on my lap, sister.
Courtesy wikia.com and Charles M. Schultz.

For example, yesterday my white skirt was soiled by the dirty crocs of a child who was obviously having some kind of sugar-fueled seizure on the uptown A train. Though there was an empty seat between us and his mother was on his other side, the child, who could not have been more than four, managed to smear my skirt not once but twice in the time it took to get from Times Square to 50th Street. That’s eight blocks, folks. The boy was spinning and writhing and wriggling and flailing while his oblivious mother (who had successfully staked out her own personal space) played video games on her iPhone WITH EAR BUDS STUCK IN HER EARS.

Interestingly, the second I put my hand out to fend off the third encounter between linen and blackened rubber, while very kindly saying, “Excuse me sweetie, but I think you need to be still,” out came the buds, and I was instantly on the receiving end of a look so searing it very nearly set me on fire. Rather than make a scene, I simply pointed to the skid marks on my daywear, raised an eyebrow at the suddenly vigilant mother and silently dared her to speak. Instead, she gathered up little Pigpen and made for the exit. I guess I’ll send the cleaning bill to general delivery.

Now you may call me hidebound, but I recall a time — my own youth as it happens — when children were expected to behave in ways appropriate to their situation. (For more on this by someone much younger and hipper than me see PFPT’s persuasive argument for child-free zones.) Running and flailing were OK in the schoolyard or at intensive play therapy, but not in close quarters like the subway or restaurants.

Think about it. How often has your expensive meal been disrupted by toddlers free ranging in the dining room? Once, I actually saw a child run straight into a waiter with a fully loaded tray only to have the irate parent remonstrate with management because young Fauntleroy took a soup spoon to the noggin. I mean, it’s bad enough that we now have roughly six inches between tables, but having hordes of low-to-the-ground humanity scrabbling around underneath and between them, snuffling their snotty noses and running their bacteria-riddled fingers over your belongings, meal and person, all the while disrupting the wait staff, has effectively turned the restaurant dining room into a hazmat area. This goes on at all hours of the day and night, so you’re not even safe from it with a 9:30 dinner reservation. It’s no wonder these kids are out of control; they’re OVER TIRED, people.

“Howdy neighbor!” And welcome to hell.
Courtesy the Baltimore Sun.

And since we’re on the subject of restaurants, I’ve got a question. Can anyone tell me the name of the genius who started the trend of furnishing restaurants with long communal tables? Because unless the hostess is planning to seat me next to George Clooney (and he’s buying rounds for the house), I’m not interested in sharing a table with strangers. And no, I don’t strike up friendships that way. I bring my own friends with me — I’ve already got some, and I’d like to relax and talk to them rather than having to listen as some camera-clicking tourist from East Bumfuck describes life down home and how much he and the missus enjoyed Blue Man Group last night. I want my own table goddammit. If I felt like dining communally, I’d eat in a prison or my local soup kitchen.

Flying is even worse than eating out. Not only are airline seats approximately half the size they once were, where there used to be ten rows, now there are twenty. Once you’re folded into your “seat,” the position is disturbingly reminiscent of a visit to the gynecologist — your knees are up around your ears, it’s unbearably stuffy and badly lit, you’re holding on to the armrests for dear life and hoping against hope that this time you won’t have to slide down or extricate yourself suddenly to pee. Invariably, the person next to you is either morbidly obese and overflowing into your space, unpleasantly fragrant, involved in an intimate phone chat, watching porn on his laptop, or all of the above. And once the guy ahead of you reclines, you’d best hope his toupee is glued fast (they do fall off, let me tell you).

Stewardess! There’s a toupee in my soup. Via Underachiever’s Guide to being a Domestic Goddess.

The shrinkage of personal space is as much psychic as physical. For this I blame reality TV and its hyperactive, evil spawn, social media. Now that we can watch regular, ordinary people — like the Kardashians, Snookie and Big Ang — going about the business of their daily lives in lurid widescreen detail, we seem to have the idea that everything we do is fit for public consumption, and we all need video cameras up our asses every hour of every day to document same. There’s no expectation of privacy anymore. In fact, if the cameras aren’t rolling, we Americans hitch up our can-do spirit to our Yankee ingenuity and do it ourselves. Praying to go viral, we Twit news of our every nose pick, bowel movement and proctological exam to anyone who cares to follow along. Enough already, people. Stop inviting me into your space; it’s too much.

And while you’re at it, stay out of mine. As the great Divine once said, “I’ve got hampers of ironing to do, and my diet pill is wearing off.”

About WSW

Writer, wife, mother. Toiler in the bottomless, black, soul-sucking coal mine of domestic life. Thank God for the portable bar.

Posted on July 29, 2012, in Commentary, Rants, The Slattern Speaks and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 23 Comments.

  1. Long communal table are for beer gardens and places of loud social drinking, not a fine dining restaurant. And don’t get me started about parenting children.

  2. Preach it! I flew yesterday and had a couple of rapskallion devil-spawn mini-humans kicking against my chair for throughout the flight while their mother sat right there with them. I’m a fan of child-free zones, or at the very least, requiring children to behave well in public. My condolences about your skirt!!

    And yes, you’ve got to love social media… I’m all for having an easy way to contact friends that are all around the world. But please, no more “It’s all about me” photo albums on Facebook with the duck lips and bathroom photo shots.

    Space is a beautiful thing…. :)

  3. Awesome!
    Totally with you on the ankle-biters running around like headless chickens (LOL at ‘free-ranging’) in the restaurants with tables that almost touch each other.
    Also, I swear to you, the parents of these children are getting younger every year. How do you expect to teach your child public decorum when you’re playing on your PSP on the A train?
    And I hate communal tables too. Instead of groups of people chatting comfortably, what we have are crowds of strangers too awkward to talk loudly as they’re waiting for their food to arrive hoping no one can hear their stomachs rumble.

    • Thanks, Bharat! Public decorum, as far as I can tell, has slipped from mandatory to optional. More’s the pity. And I’m glad I’m not the only one whose stomach growls in an unseemly manner.

  4. You have very aptly put into words what I have been thinking for years. Why does everyone assume that you will be just as enamoured with their kids as they are? I am amazed that you were able to refrain from making large footprints up and over that inconsiderate mother. I probably would have ripped the child’s footwear off his feet and flung them out the doors at the next stop. But I have an exceptionally low tolerance for stupid people.
    I must ask–where the heck is East Bumfuck? I have some people I’d like to send there.
    I hate what has happened to air travel. Humans were not meant to remain in squished quarters with their arms tucked neatly at their sides, with a sleeping stranger’s head on their shoulder (or does this only happen to me?), and a cloud of putrid body odour emanating from another stranger’s armpits permeating their nostrils for extended periods of time. And we pay good money for this experience.
    Thank you for venting on my behalf. I need a drink.

  5. In Spain last month, it was a Spanish resort, kids would be up past midnight as they all dines, they would be playing onthe beach still too, all perfectly behaved. Either they just bring them up better or they are on sedatives.

    The old adage of seena nd not heard rung true, and it was perfectly fine. Being in London people love taking their kids out to restaurants, but they choose not to sit with them, once the adults all had one table then all the kids at another and were running riot rolling on the floor, throwing food, parents ignoring them whilst they laughed and sipped their chardonnay, while the rest of us had to endure this chaos.

    Don’t they know your social life is officially over when you have kids, no more socialising, move out of the city etc…

    Oh and the communal table, had my first encounter with it a week ago. It was horrible watching others eavesdrop and chew their food.

    Good rant

  6. Is it the space that’s getting smaller, or that we’re just getting B-I-G-G-E-R…? Hmmm?

    Great post!

  7. Incredibly funny, true, and well written.

  8. I don’t have kids. That being said I’m amazed by well-behaved children than little brats. Maybe our parents were a bit too tough on us and we overcompensate. The disciipline gets weaker by generations. Now we have rug rats running wild and parents hoping Little Johnny will run far enough away so they can sneak out of the store and go home to kill a six pack.

  9. Usually, my kids just kick me when we’re on public transportation while everybody else has their ear-buds in, blocking us out. I do NOT understand the trend of taking children to restaurants, movie theaters, or for that matter, grocery stores past their bedtime. They’re going to melt-down. Guaranteed. It’s just torture for everybody.

    • Years ago it bothered me less. I just figured, “Thank god it’s not MY kid,” and moved on, but now it drives me out of my mind to listen to child screech for even a millisecond. I wish it were otherwise, but I also recall that my child was instantly removed the second she started to howl; I wish I could get a little return on my investment in the karma bank.

      • We are in a hotel at the moment, and our toddler, who has been a good sleeper the last 6 months or so (after a horrendous first 15 months) woke up and cried soooo many times last night. I felt horrible for our neighbors. I remember feeling smug because my daughter, now 6, used to never have temper tantrums when she was 2 or 3. I pay for that now, because now there is DRAMA.

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