Thursday, April 24, 2008


I hate prefacing a post by saying shit like, “Many of you have written in asking me what I think about…,” but this time it’s the truth. Many of you have asked me what I think about this guy, and his campaign to force “civility” down the throats of all the oblivious slapdicks who make riding the Long Island Railroad so unnecessarily unpleasant.

I’ll also preface this post by pointing out that I probably have a lower threshold for the type of bullshit LIRR customers inflict upon one another – the cellphone rudeness, the permeating food odors and the clipping of the toenails in the morning – than even John Clifford does. In case you haven’t noticed by now, I have way too much awareness of what’s going on around me and have yet to figure out a way to keep other people’s assholerie from derailing my good moods.

I’ve even gone so far as to tell people to “shut the fuck up” myself - on multiple occasions. This would typically happen at some godforsaken hour of the night on my way home from a bouncing shift in West Chelsea, after some drunken, coked-up twenty-year-old from Franklin Square decided it would be a good idea to randomly scream obscenities in my ear. It gets tiresome, as do most people on the eastbound LIRR at five in the morning.

As for John Clifford, you might be surprised to find out that I’m not entirely on his side. I mean, the “cellphone vigilante” thing he’s developed is a hell of a good concept, but it’s very poorly executed, and I’ll tell you why.

A few years back, we had an ice storm around here and I lost power in my apartment. I had no heat and no light, and when the sun went down, I wasn’t getting anything useful out of the pair of candles I’d found in my junk drawer. My girlfriend at the time, whose house still had power, picked me up and we went to the diner.

The weather was so shitty that day that only three booths were occupied. The dining room consisted of us, an older gentleman and his wife, and an African-American family with three young children whose mission in life seemed to be an avoidance of noise lulls. These fucking kids cried, cried and cried some more, and their parents, obviously inured to the noise levels they were producing, did nothing to remedy the situation. After several minutes of this, the guy at the other table decided to take matters into his own hands.

“Excuse me, but could you please either quiet your children down or take them out of here?”

I don’t remember what was said in response, and it’s not important for the purposes of the story. What is important, however, is that they left soon after. Whether this was because of a sudden awareness of the inconvenience they were causing or because they were finished eating, I also can’t recall (let’s be honest here, though: in New York, a young black guy probably wouldn’t run out of a room as a result of being rebuked by an old white guy). What I do remember is that the older guy at the other table sure was proud of himself for his role in silencing the room – so much so that he couldn’t help but recount it for me. Over and over again.

“Hey, sure is quiet in here now that those people are gone, right?”

“Sure thing…”


“I think he’s trying to get your attention again,” said my ex-girlfriend. I looked up.

“Hey, good thing they’re gone, right? Now we can all enjoy our dinner in peace!”



“Oh, for fuck’s sake, will you shut the fuck up? You’re worse than the fucking kids! Will you leave us the fuck alone?”

See, I get the impression that John Clifford’s subway vigilantism is forced – that he goes out looking for problems and wouldn’t be satisfied with his commute unless he’d caught someone engaging in the behaviors he so loathes. He needs for people to act badly, because this validates what he feels and does. I know the feeling, because I do this too. When I take the LIRR and it’s quiet, smooth and pleasant, I feel as though I’ve been cheated because I’ve been given nothing about which I can complain.

If you tell some irritating jerkoff to shut the fuck up, but the way you tell them to shut the fuck up is more irritating to the people around you than the behavior that spurred your reaction, you’ve become the problem.

I wouldn’t have defended the kid with the cell phone, though. I’m coming at this from a different angle. Guys like John Clifford – if there are, in fact, other guys like John Clifford – don’t really know when to stop, so they become sources of infuriating noise pollution in their own right. I’m sure I’d laugh my ass off if I saw him doing what he does on my LIRR car, but it’d eventually come to a point where I’d blow a gasket and tell them both to “shut the fuck up.”

The solution? There is none. The fight to get people to understand how fucking irritating they are is one that can’t ever be won. You can, like John Clifford, shout at them and slap them and snap your fingers in their face, and they’re simply not ever going to grasp the concept. What you have to do, unfortunately – what people have had to do for eons – is just sit back and endure it until you can be alone, because this is the culture we’ve created. This is the way the world works now. If someone is stupid enough to sit there yammering away on their cellphone on a busy morning rush hour train, they’re not capable of unlearning the behavioral patterns that generated the problem in the first place. To verbally beat your head against so many brick walls in an attempt to teach them otherwise is an exercise in futility.

Even worse, it compounds the problem.