My ride this morning convinced me that Long Island has a serious health problem on its hands. Yes, TB is back. I know because a sufferer was on my train, hacking up a lung aboard the 8:18.
I’d stag-leaped into my usual Long Island Rail Road car at 8:16 a.m., heady from having all that time to make the seat next to me look uninviting (try an empty condom wrapper once and you’ll never go back to mere newspaper). No sooner had I staked out my six feet of overhead rack when I heard proof that I’d made a woefully bad seat choice. From behind me came a death rattle whose source I knew well: The Phlegm Monster.
My wife and I dubbed her that after the first time a hacking fit made us turn around in unison to see who’d slipped out of their iron lung. Instead it was a middle-aged woman with the worst case of congestion since Ratso Rizzo walked the streets of New York. She and everyone else must know it, because she sits as far removed as she can, and everyone obliges her by keeping a cordon of several empty seats around her.
We avoid her like the plague because, well, she very well could be a carrier, given her coughing, throat-clearing and general de-stuffing activities. But by the time I realized this morning that she was within expectoration distance, it was too late for me to find a two-across with any chance of accommodating just me for the trip. All I could do was yank up the collar of my jacket and breathe through my New York Times as if it was a surgical mask.
Worst of all is the cascading effect of her barking, snorting, wheezing and rattling. A well-behaved, sniffle-free car suddenly turns into the ward of a TB asylum as the standards are lowered.
Tomorrow, I’m bringing an actual surgical mask.