Adam Morby is force-fed a big dripping slice of existential misery when his bike goes in for repairs and he has to spend the week on the trains.
I usually ride my bike everywhere but occasionally the inevitable happens, a flat tyre or a crap mechanic, and I’m faced with a week on the trains. This is what happened recently and there I was, stuck in the middle of it all.
The first thing I noticed was the panting of the commuters as the train filled up, the relief that they’d made it on through the crowds on the platform, followed by the sudden sadness of the eyes as their faces fogged over with a very serious expression of misery. Then came the glazed sighs as they quietly realised yet again that they were stuck thirty-six thousand seconds from their home and their beds and their families. How do they do it everyday? I thought. What’s at the end of it? Some unseeable yet hopeful future that probably isn’t going to happen? What is it that motivates us to live, because the more time I spend on those trains the more I suspect that some pathetic, tacit impulse is telling us quite simply that we’re supposed to, that that’s how life is and if you keep on pushing your way through this ridiculous, soul-sapping hell, then self-actualisation is just around the corner – and what’s the alternative? Nothing, infinite nothing to be exact.
Is it simply a case of ‘relative’ and ‘absolute’ existential misery? Or maybe it’s not, maybe ‘relative’ is worse because death is an easier concept to accept when you’re living in a state of ‘absolute’ existential misery, when the best case scenario is no famine, no war, no floods, no starvation. Of every human being borne into the world since the beginning of time, I am in awe. Did cave people get depressed? Did they feel anxiety? Did existential misery get too much and force them to jump out in front of…a herd of brontosaurus? Or walk up to a T-Rex with their arms out?
When daily misery becomes the norm, when it becomes accepted, when it no longer constitutes ‘misery’, the paradigm of happiness is shifted, it takes a tumble backwards. So what happens? I suppose people just bury their heads in their own private hyperrealities. It’s as though, to avoid the moment itself, we are living in it less and less. We’re living in the moment after the moment, the moment about the moment, and then the moment after that. I watched over a woman’s shoulder as she wished someone happy birthday, then she wished two more friends happy birthday and I saw that she had somehow acquired over a thousand friends, which made sense mathematically – an average of three birthdays per day. I know they say time is an abstract concept, but not quite, because it can be stolen from you in the form of life. In the form of trains and commutes and shit jobs that fuck your life up, and then resold back to you as simulacra – but the currency that you pay with isn’t money anymore, these days you pay with your senses – you give over about a quarter of your sight and your hearing to advertising – which are then messed around with by a load of psychologists who try to tickle them in ways that should statistically initiate a sale. According to most people this is the only way the human race can exist.
A fat, red boy of about eighteen boarded the train. It seemed he was on his way to work in an office. The kind who probably had it pretty rough at school, he looked terrified, his sensitivities de-sensitised, head down, pushing on, dead inside. There was nowhere for him to go.