Everybody Else Is Doing It by Regina Tingle

The following is an excerpt from one of my current projects.  
We all struggle with happiness, wouldn’t you agree?  I struggle with how I feel about myself and I’ve learned that how I feel about myself seeps into most other areas of my life.  I don’t mean how I feel about the pudge on my belly (okay, well, not really)—pudge isn’t something I can really add into the mix of “How I Feel About Myself” because the whole thing would just be too much.  What I mean is, what are the things I do that are in my control to make me feel good about myself and my life?  For example, if I get up by 7am and give myself plenty of time to write, I feel better about myself.  At the end of the day I’ve done something I want to do and I can rest knowing I did what I could.  If I don’t get out of bed, if I sleep in with the excuse I’m exhausted, I wake up later regretting it.  I regret not going to the gym, I regret not getting up to write, I suddenly regret everything I’ve ever slightly doubted doing or not doing because I’m irritated with myself.  Because I’m irritated with myself, everyone else becomes a source of irritation to me as well.  

Two days ago on the Stansted Express train on my way out of London, on my way to the airport, I walked through three or four cars before I found an empty place for my me and my suitcase.  It was one of those four-seaters with a table in the middle—the kind you always end up having to awkwardly share with strangers.  I sat down, catty-cornered from what you might consider your typical anglo-Englishman (probably just shy of retirement) wearing all stripes.  (Every time I go to England I see men wearing striped suits and purple ties.  This man confirmed it for me:  black pinstripe suit and pants, blue and white vertically striped shirt with a white collar, and a purple and blue diagonally striped tie, the English love stripes and purple ties.  They also have no rules when it comes to stripes, which makes me wonder where they get their reputation for being reserved and refined in their taste.  Certainly this generalization does not come from how they dress.  No, Kate Middleton, you’re exquisite and radiant, I’m not talking about you).

His table was among the first empty available seats I’d come across, so I sat down by the window and watched the countryside stream past me backwards.  (I don’t mind sitting the opposite way the train is going.  I think it’s sorta cool because you can’t really sit like that in a car or on a plane, unless it’s the seventies and you’re a kid in the backseat of a wood paneled station wagon or you’re on board your own private jet like the ones you see in the movies where the seats are made of tan leather and there’s a fancy phone attached to the wall with a direct line to the captain.)  I look away from the quickly passing countryside and over at stripe man and see that aside from stripes, he is also wearing glasses, reading the paper.  Aside from his stripes and glasses, the one feature about him that I notice the most is his bottom lip which is glistening and shiny with saliva.  It’s huge and protruding like a fish.  As a kid I once saw this movie my mom talked me into renting in the dollar section of the movie rentals of our local IGA, it was about this man who loved his pet fish so much he turned into one.  He wore glasses as a human and so when he turned into a fish, cleverly, he also wore his glasses.  (It’s how we knew it was really him; the Clark Kent/Superman of the aquarium.)  

Turns out, Fish Lips Striped Suit (his would-be Indian name) also has a bushy mustache.  When his phone rings, the ring tone is set to muted classical music.  He answers, telling the caller that Yes, yes, he is indeed on his way but that he’s running a bit late because he’s had some trouble with the trains this morning.  His British accent validates the words he speaks in a way my American accent could never authorize, and not only: it obviously fully excuses him for his tardiness.  Trains, he says to his caller on the other end of the phone, Who can control them?  He says the last part of the question more like a statement, as if he’s done this more times than he’d like to count, as if the caller knows exactly what he means and, yes, yes they do.  As he’s on the phone he picks at his mustache and I see that underneath his whiskers he has very dry skin which is now peeling off in large, white flaky clumps.  As I try not to stare out of the corner of my eye at the sudden fake snowfall, I can’t help but wonder the old chicken/egg dilemma: does he have dry skin because he has a mustache or does he have a mustache to cover up his dry skin?  I resign to the sad fact that I’ll never know.  

At this point I am grossed out but thankful I had not actually planned on eating anything at that table so close to so many dead skin cells.  As I look out the window across stoic green hillsides and Britain’s colorless royal sky, I think to myself: If this guy can do it, so can I.  Do what? You’re asking.  I mean GET UP.  If this guy can get up–(not to be mistaken for getting “it” up, a thought which I will now banish from our minds’ eyes).  I mean, if this guy can actually get out of bed in the morning when his alarm goes off, with his big, slobbery fish lip, put on his clashing stripes, not comb his mustache, run out of the house frazzled, almost forgetting his briefcase then probably almost forget his mobile phone and arrive at the train station only to have to wait due to delays; if he can do all that and sit there on the train with a cup of to-go coffee in hand, casually reading the paper, picking at his dry skin well then I have no excuse.  Because on any given morning, I don’t even have to do any of that.  I just have to get up, put on my dorky polka-dotted fuzzy robe, turn on the heat in my chilled loft apartment which never gets warm not even in summer, make a pot of coffee and sit my ass down to write.  Seems so simple, yet it’s not.  I assure you, staying in bed is the easier (or so I say to myself while still horizontal and warm under the covers) more tempting option.  Whether or not you believe me, well, I’d tell you to try it, but I probably don’t have to.  We can all agree, can’t we?  Staying in bed all day is definitely probably the answer to leading a perfectly easy life.  It really would solve almost everything; traffic, delayed trains and pretty much all else that is not within the small little realm of our (perceived) control.    

Indeed.  Life is hard for everyone, especially those with big lips and crusty mustaches.  Yet isn’t it amazing that (almost) every one of us gets out of bed anyway?  Like the woman in blue sitting calmly on the train with her two young, well-behaved children, both under the age of five.  I admire that on so many levels.  They are dressed so well and her hair is perfectly combed, not a strand out of place.  Yet she doesn’t fool me.  I know getting up was hard for her, too.  She probably had to smack her boys silly before they ever even woke up.  She probably had to drag them out of bed by their feet and yell until she was hoarse before she got them to cooperate.  I admire the Indian man walking backwards (!) down the aisle of the train, dragging a cart, selling hot tea that nobody seems to want to buy.  I admire the pregnant woman and her husband across the aisle from me, exchanging pleasant conversation.  How do people do it?  How do people get themselves going every single day when life, as we all know, can throw so many proverbial spokes in our wheels!  I put an exclamation point at the end of that sentence and not a question mark for a reason.  I know you get it.  Trains!  Who can control them!    
I’ll tell you how people do it: they get up.  Everyone (or almost everyone) takes the first step, which is probably also the hardest and the scariest step: the part where you actually have to get out of bed.  Knowing we have no way of knowing what awaits us—late trains, dry, crusty skin or the three pimples—like the mamma, papa and baby zit family who all showed up on my neck unannounced this morning.  When I see other people, like Fish Lips, doing it, it makes me want to do it better.  It gives me a whole new reason to do it in the first place.  (Get your mind out of the gutter.)  Why?  Because, really, there’s no reason not to.  And because (don’t tell my mother I said this) everybody else is doing it.*

*Note we are all actually ON the train, not throwing ourselves in front of it.  I’d like to think that is the part that matters.  Right, Mom?  In fact, when I look at it that way, I feel pretty good about myself.  I’d even go so far to say I’m happy.    

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