I’m sitting in a pleasantly air-conditioned car of a Manhattan bound R train, enjoying the sparkling new novel by Cathleen Schine when I am poked by a stray elbow. I stop reading to glare at the owner of said elbow and see it belongs to a young woman who in all probability did not intend to poke me; it’s just that her absorption in applying her mascara—two coats of Maybelline’s Great Lash—has rendered her oblivious to my presence. I continue to steal glances at my seat mate, who whips out her cream blush and rubs it vigorously into her cheeks, and then applies a liberal dose of lip-gloss in a shade somewhere between cinnamon and mulberry. Toilette completed, she snaps shut her compact and stows it in her handbag, along with the rest of her paraphernalia. I sigh, and return to my book.
Since when, I’d like to know, did a public subway car become a private boudoir? Someone should clue me in because such behavior is not unique: I frequently see women on the subway (usually young, but not always) doing things that should be reserved for their bathrooms or bedrooms. I don’t mean a dab of powder on a shiny forehead, or a discreet, post-prandial retouching of lipstick. No, I mean women who bring out their entire cosmetic arsenal while going over the Manhattan Bridge.
What is with them? Do they regard their fellow passengers as insensate or blind? Do they not realize that the rest of us would rather not witness their little pouts or the yanking of a lower eyelid to better apply eye-pencil? Have they completely lost desire for a bit of mystery concerning their own appearance? And how about common courtesy? I have seen a woman clip her nails in the subway, indifferent to the tiny scraps she sent flying, and another pluck her brows, clearly not concerned with the potential danger of wielding a small pointed object while in a moving vehicle. And I once—this is not made up, but absolutely true!—saw a woman flossing her teeth on the D train.
Frankly, I am stunned by such behavior and the erosion of manners it represents. Is there no longer any difference between the public and private spheres? Or has the notion of what is acceptable in public become so debased as to render such differences meaningless?
I love make-up and routinely regularly cruise the cosmetic counters at Bergdorf’s and Barney’s, Saks and Bloomingdale’s, happy to dab on a shimmery swipe of this, a sparkly smear of that. And I’m on a perpetual quest for a lipstick in the perfect shade of red. But you can rest assured that when I’ve found it, you won’t see me applying it as I sit across the aisle from you in the subway. I’ll put my make up on at home, thank you very much, and I won’t face the world until I’m done.