The Aardvark Speaks : essence, effervescence, obscurity. Established 2002. A weblog by Horst Prillinger. ISSN 1726-5320

January 08, 2008

Light bulb

The other day, on the subway train, I sat opposite an old man in a gray coat who made a fairly normal impression, which is quite a remarkable occurrence these days. The only two things about him that were not entirely normal were as follows:

1. He was reading a copy of the free magazine that hangs around on subway trains in Vienna, and at oddly regular intervals lifting the magazine in front of his head, and heartily coughing into it. Since most people these days are coughing right into your face without bothering to cover their mouths, I considered this very thoughtful of him, but I was still confirmed in my resolve not to ever touch those free magazines.

2. There was a 100 watt light bulb sitting in the seat next to him. If I say "sitting" it's because the box with the bulb in it was positioned upright, and at the exact centre of the seat. Now the train was fairly full, with numerous people standing and people looking for free seats at every stop, but no one dared to talk to the man to tell him to remove his light bulb from the seat. It went like that for five or six stops. Several people were standing around the seat, suspiciously eyeing the light bulb, but no one made the slightest move to actually claim the seat. Luckily, no one sat down on it without looking either. As usual on this line, most people got off the subway at the stop below Westbahnhof station, after which it was fairly empty. As the subway started moving again, the man put back the magazine onto its hook and removed the light bulb from the seat.

Until I got off three stops later, he never even coughed once, and he held the light bulb in his hand all the time.

Posted by Horst on January 8, 2008 06:19 PM to creatures great & small | Tell-a-friend
dieter said on January 9, 2008 03:33 PM:

Sounds like that man simply cherishes a little private space in full underground trains. I do not dare to say whether he is egocentric or simply suffering from claustrophobia...

Jann said on January 12, 2008 10:18 PM:

Something odd about this though; why remove the light bulb from the seat when the train emptied out? True, it was no longer needed to keep people from sitting there, but why not leave it there anyway until he reached his stop?

Alternative theory: the gentleman had been diagnosed with active tuberculosis and told to isolate himself at home. Deciding to go out anyway, he took the precaution of holding the magazine in front of his face while coughing and using the light bulb to prevent anyone from sitting next to him. When his paroxysms of coughing were over, he put the magazine back and removed the light bulb.

(In order to contract TB, one has to breathe the germs in while in an enclosed area with someone who has active pulmonary or laryngeal TB, and is coughing, singing, talking..., something that would get the bacteria out into the air. One would not become infected by handling the magazine, for example; nor can one catch it outdoors.)

Jann said on January 13, 2008 01:00 AM:

I neglected to say that I think the light bulb was something of an ingenious idea; benign and yet off-putting at the same time.

dieter said on January 14, 2008 08:49 AM:

Jann, your theory on TB cannot explain why he stopped coughing when the train had emptied.

On the other hand, your information on TB is not very reassuring for someone like me who uses public transport on a daily base...

Jann said on January 14, 2008 03:55 PM:

Well, dieter, this is just a theory, and not a perfect one at that, but my my patients with TB tell me (when asked about coughing), that they cough at different times: some only in the morning, some only in the evening, some all day long, some not at all, etc. If this gentleman usually coughed at a certain time of day; the time his coughing ended could have been coincidental with the train emptying out.

I woudn't worry too much about catching TB, people who become infected are usually people who live in the same home, work in the same office, i.e., spend long periods of time sharing air with the person with the disease. But still, we make people we consider to be infectious sign home isolation agreements. And, of course, they don't always follow them...

Another theory: the gentleman is a college professor, (or student, his age notwithstanding), conducting conducting a social research experiment.

Jann said on January 14, 2008 07:07 PM: that I'm reading this over on my coffee break at work, it seems that I've started to stutter when I type.

geld lenen said on February 10, 2008 02:04 PM:

If your idea is true this would be to weird for words. Catching TB this way, yeah possible... But the coughing that way is bizar.

Don't forget that catching TB is only possible when you are VERY close to the infected person. Not to much worries ;-)

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