Saturday, May 10, 2014

It's a Dan Brown World

As a nonfiction writer, I am glad that the crazies of the world (and especially the CTA) seem to be attracted to me. They provide me with excellent writing material and guarantee that my train commutes are rarely boring. Recently, I haven't met any notable crazies except a woman on the CTA who kept shouting that I was "the whore of the CTA" and "the whore of the airport." This was at 8 in the morning and I was too dumbfounded and jet-lagged (I had just returned from Ireland two days previous) to do anything but sit there and ignore her. We were the only two in the train car for about three stops. As soon as the typical morning rush began to bombard the train she turned her shouts elsewhere.

This week, however, I had a much more dedicated crazy. I was on my usual 8:06 a.m. train, which, I have noticed, seems to attract more crazies and angry people than the 8:09 train (the "you're a whore" woman was on the 8:06) -- I guess those three extra minutes of sleep really help! I was able to snag a corner seat. These seats are coveted on the new CTA trains where all seats face the aisle. If you're on a corner then you can avoid being sandwiched in by your book-ending neighbours and it also gives you a little nook to tuck away anything you may be carrying.

I claimed my corner seat, put my tote bag in the nook and began reading a new book a friend lent me. It took only four stops for the train to become jam-packed and a petite woman with a Starbucks cup squeezed onto the seat next to me. Normally I am so engrossed in a book on the train that I am oblivious to anything going on around me. What drew my attention away this morning, however, was the constant turning of the woman with the Starbucks cup. Every minute I would see her head turn and look at me. She did this enough times that I went from self conscious to annoyed very quickly. I then realized that she was talking, but it was at a level where you couldn't tell if it was to herself or to someone near her. Turning my head slightly - the perfect angle of being able to look at her without looking like I was looking at her - I saw that she had her iPhone in one hand and her ear-buds connected to the iPhone. "Ah," I thought, "she is talking to someone on the phone."

I went back to my book, but something about the woman's conversation kept drawing me away. I couldn't understand anything she was saying, but I was curious if she was actually talking to someone or not. She would say a few sentences and then stop, wait a few seconds, and then start talking again, but it wasn't the normal stop-and-go you'd except from a two-person conversation. Finally, I took a peek at the phone in her hands. There was nothing on the screen saying that someone else was on the line. "Here we go," I thought. The woman then dialed a number from her Contacts and waited for it to connect. The number was labeled "Signature, Inc." and was given the designation of "Home." I wondered if this woman was so dedicated to her job that she intentionally labeled it as her "Home" or if she just did not know how to work her iPhone. She waited for the call to connect and when it did she put her phone up to her ear even though her earphones were still in her ears and attached to her phone (for those of you that don't know, this means she could keep the phone on her lap and talk through the speaker on her headphones). Now I knew things were about to get interesting.

"Hey, hey -- it's me," she began, "yeah, I'm on my way down now, I'm on the train. Yeah look -- I talked to the detectives and the FBI and they're just not gonna do a thing. Not a damn thing." She had my full attention. People talking to phantoms on the phone usually say some interesting things, but the ones who bring up detectives or the FBI are even better. "It's that church, you know," she continued, "no one is gonna do a goddamn thing against that church. That's why I'm callin' the State's Attorney. The city of Chicago knows. Oh they know. And they're not gonna do a goddamn thing. They said two letters, two words, and one goddamn thing," She kept repeating this line a lot: two letters, two words, one goddamn _______. I could never completely understand that last word, but each time I thought I heard "game," "pagan," or "thing."

As I eavesdropped, I realized that I hadn't turned a page in my book for a while. It was still open in my hands and people were either going to think I was the world's slowest reader or, my real concern, this woman would realize I was listening to her. She was still glancing over at me from time to time so she was obviously paranoid. I put my book away, pulled out my phone, and began texting what was happening to my roommate. The woman continued to get angrier and louder on the phone: "Because I'm the next target. And no fucking, goddamn way am I going to let someone make me The Target and get away with it. They are endangering lives and no one cares. Not the city of Chicago or the FBI. They think they can just take lives and take mine and not have to pay. No goddamn way. NO GODDAMN WAY. They said -- they said to me two letters, two words, one goddamn thing. Yeah, you know it. Fuckin' church, fucking satanic rituals. Coming in here and taking people's live. I'm not gonna let them. Chicago may be looking the other way, but ain't no one gonna come and make me The Target and not get something from me. NO GODDAMN WAY."

From this point, the woman's conversation began to repeat. I was intrigued by what was going on and wanted to learn more, but all I could piece together was that a church in Chicago is performing satanic rituals on their parishioners, the parishioners are dying from these rituals, the city of Chicago is aware this is going on, but choosing to turn a blind eye, and since this woman is The Target, no one wants to help her. I wondered if she had read any Dan Brown novels lately.

I took another look at her phone. Apparently the call had connected at some point and although she had been talking for about ten minutes, the call time said she had been connected for less than two minutes. I also noticed that Signature, Inc. was an 800 number.

The train finally went underground and the woman got off the phone. She continued to talk angrily to herself about the church and how she had all the evidence that would bring them down. She stated, to no one in particular, that she had a video that would prove everything. She pulled up the video on her phone and, being the creeper that I apparently am, I watched it over her shoulder. The video was of a pair of feet, wearing black sneakers, and walking on carpet. The camera did not move above the ankles and trailed these feet for several seconds until the feet reached tile. At this point the feet moved out of the frame into blinding light and the camera was lifted and moved slowly across a wall of mailboxes. I noticed the woman's current footwear (black sneakers) and gathered that she had videoed her own feet walking down the hallway of her apartment building, into a tiled foyer (hence the bright light probably coming from the front door of the building), and the mailboxes were the ones for the apartment building.

As the train passed through the dark tunnels I was able to get a look at the woman's face. I recognized her immediately as the same woman who, a few weeks previous, had told everyone on the train that we were going to die because the train conductor was new and didn't know how to drive. She said this after the train knocked everyone around a bit at the spot where it always knocks everyone around a bit. I remembered thinking, "Give it a rest woman! Clearly you don't take the train that often if you think a little jolting is the conductor's fault." Now, seeing her again, that previous morning and her shouts made much more sense. I also realized that she was a regular commuter and that our paths will probably cross again.

As we passed through the Loop, most of the morning commute crowd had dispersed and there were about seven other people milling about on my side of the train car. (Some of you may be thinking, "How could all of this possibly take place in one morning commute?? How long are you on the train?" I am on the train for 45 minutes. Just enough time to see most Crazy Train Events from start to finish! Lucky me!) The woman was still very agitated and said, "No one believes me. No one fucking believe me. These goddamn motherfuckers are gonna get away with it -- well not if I have something to say about it! I'm gonna throw this coffee in someone's face and maybe then they'll fucking listen to me." At the mention of "coffee" all seven heads in the train perked up and turned towards me. The woman was holding her coffee in the hand nearest me. I decided that, although I like listening in on these crazy stories and enjoy relaying them to friends, I was not about to become an active member of this woman's delusional morning. I grabbed my tote bag and began to stand when the woman suddenly hopped up and walked to the train door. Everyone watched her out of the corner of their eye (or maybe they were watching for any sudden movements of her Starbucks cup). The woman continued to look over her shoulder at me so I stayed in my seat. I didn't want her thinking I was one of the church members sent to follow her.

The train stopped and the doors opened. As soon as the doors closed again I grabbed my stuff. I stood and headed towards the door since mine was the next stop. I hopped over someone's stretched out legs and planted myself right in front of the exit. I looked out the windows and was suddenly met with the reflective stare of the woman's eyes. I thought she had gotten off at the last stop! Without thinking, I spun to look at her. She was standing right next to me, glaring and looking ready for a fight. I took two huge steps back, making sure to place the outstretched legs between myself and the lady. She kept her eyes on me and I nonchalantly adjusted the straps of my tote bag around my wrist, acting like my almost leap backwards had been a totally natural thing.

Finally the train stopped again, the doors opened, and I let the woman exit before me. We both went up the escalator and while she stood on the right side I scurried up the left. I made it through the turnstile, up the second set of stairs and out of the station. I walked swiftly in the direction of the Sears Tower and waited until I was two blocks away before pulling out my phone to leave a friend a message about everything that had just happened. Before I began talking into my phone I looked behind me to make sure the woman and her Starbucks cup were no where in sight. Then I had to laugh at myself - who was the paranoid one now?

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