By and large, most New Yorkers believe there are certain things that just shouldn’t be done on public transit. 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. However, one weekday morning I was greeted with one of those situations that just screams out as being grossly awkward.
On a normal commute from Park Slope, Brooklyn, to Midtown, Manhattan, I’m rarely lucky enough to get a seat on the train and 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. As I looked around for the source with that noise echoing in my ears, I found the woman sitting on a 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. While she did have the decency to bury her fingers in her handbag, I just couldn’t believe what I was seeing. While I understand that clipping nails are just a thing that we all have to do every few weeks, we have grown accustomed to huddling over a toilet, a garbage can and even a sink to control those runaway nails that tend to go flying – a packed train is no place for grooming.
I’ve seen people floss their teeth, pluck their eyebrows and clip their nails all in some misguided sense of efficiency.
I gave her the eye, but she kept trimming her nails. This culprit absconded from the scene of her moral crime at Union Square, and our fleeting six-stop encounter was over. 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.
Benjamin Kabak is the editor of Second Ave. Sagas, where a version of this post previously appeared. Ben has been covering all things related to New York City’s vibrant public transit network since 2006. He is also one of the founders of River Ave. Blues, a fan blog about the New York Yankees. He is a recent graduate of the NYU School of Law and works as a technology lawyer.