Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Jason Shelowitz - Give Him An 'A' On The Train

Jason Shelowitz (aka JayShells) is not just another cool hipster living in Williamsburg. These days, he’s an action hero taking on the rude behavior of New York’s subway riders. His guerrilla ten poster campaign takes rude New Yorkers to task covering littering, hygiene, seating, staircase etiquette, loud music, preaching and physical contact. Two posters are pictured above. With his graphic skills and nerve, he’s the talk of the town.

To us, he’s a fellow etiquette activist. Like him, it’s not above us to take action and point out to people on the spot when they're breaking laws of etiquette and we share some of the same pet peeves such as clipping nails in public. (See our post, Clip Notes, The Nasty Ones, March 18th.)

His campaign has gained global attention and he’s very busy but was courteous enough (Of course!) to answer a few questions.

Q: Is the subway etiquette campaign the first of its kind that you've done?

A: Yes, I haven't done anything quite like this before.

Q: Are you a stickler for etiquette?

A: I guess I am. Mostly when other people are forced to deal with others in confined spaces (subways, buses, elevators etc.). Because in these instances, we have nowhere to go and are forced to deal with other people behavior.

Q: Have you, as we are known to do, ever approached someone while they were doing the rude things people do?

A: Oh yeah. Just two weeks ago I had a little confrontation with a religious radical on the F train. She was screaming her head off at everyone about how we were going to all burn in hell. So I gave it back to her pretty severely. Can't remember exactly what I said, but I basically cut her off every time she tried to yell at us. I remember asking her if she thought it was fair that we were being forced to listen to her, and asking her if she thought her God would approve of her bantering and threatening all of us. I got a round of applause and moved to the next car at the next stop. I also said something last summer to a person who had (no shit) a plastic bag of crabs in his hand. He was sucking meat out of the crabs and throwing the shells on the floor. Can you believe that shit? I say something when the opportunity seems right, other times, I just change cars. You never know who's gonna pull out a weapon, you know?

Q: What was the defining moment that motivated you to create the campaign?

A: The defining moment was the moment I got access to a silkscreen studio and could begin making posters. There was no particular event on the train that pushed me over the edge, just years and years of nastiness.

Q: Has the MTA contacted you?

A: No they have not, despite what you might have read.

Q: Have you received suggestions for other posters? (We have some.)

A: More than I can keep track of. For these people I will just say to be patient. We are working on a site where people can type in their own messages onto my template and download a PDF to do with it whatever they like. Also, the message they input will go to an online gallery for other people to view / download.

Q: Do you find subway people ruder than bus people?

A: Oh, yeah. But there are bus perpetrators too (as I'm sure you know)

Q: Were you in danger of being arrested?

A: This is not an offense that warrants an arrest, there’s a $25 fine. I am still putting some posters up, so I guess I can still get caught. I'll be done by Wednesday, April 28. Have to hit the 7 train because I've had so many people contact me about that train specifically. So I'll hit two of them, one heading to Queens, and one coming back to the city.

Two of the posters will be in an upcoming F.I.T. show in Williamsburg; it's a subway related art exhibit. Also, because so many people have contacted me about it, I'll put about 10 of each poster on my Etsy page for people to purchase. I love the irony. People want to pay for something that I have put up in the public domain for free. Hey, I've got bills to pay so why not right? Plus, a lot of the people who have asked for them live in other cities. That's why this campaign has taken off and gone global so quick; because it applies to any major city with public transportation.

Jason says our site is fantastic, we think his campaign is pretty fantastic.
It’s a mutual admiration society thing.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


We’re trying to make it a national day of observance wherein all of us, gay or straight not focus on other peoples’ sexual preferences. It gets you nowhere fast unless you are romantically interested in that person and don’t want to ask directly (and you still may not get the answer you’re looking for). The thing is, people who are not even interested in pursuing a romance with the person in question are often the most curious.

We find the question a big bore, rude and sometimes dangerous especially in the hands of those who have certain political views and worse - power. Yvonne will never forget the day while discussing someone with a magazine editor; he informed her with great authority that this person was gay.

“Really?” she responded, “He was pretty straight when I was going with him." The embarrassment on his face told her that there was no chance of her ever getting an assignment from him.

Let’s turn the dinner tables. How would you like it if questions about your sexual proclivities were the topic of conversation? Wait a minute; we hear a song, “Ain’t Nobody’s Business”. Inquiring minds should stick to their food and table manners instead.

So, what to do if someone asks you if a man or woman is gay? You could simply say you don’t know. Don’t try and figure it out with them by exploring gaydar clues. Some think a dead give away is a guy who knows how to make gravy and arrange furniture or a woman who’s never seen with a man.

If you do know and don’t care to share someone’s personal business, you could say, “I don’t ask those kinds of questions and I don’t answer those kinds of personal questions.”

Or you could say, “Funny that you ask, someone asked the same thing about you and I told them I really don’t know.”

That ought to get them back to eating their vegetables.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010


We love children. We were once children. But back in the day, children had their place and it wasn’t walking all over seats on buses, trains or furniture. You crawled, hung out in your play pen (Do they still make those?) or sat on your parents’ laps. And you certainly didn’t have the privilege of sitting in a seat while a grownup stood. Caregivers or nannies (Whatever happened to The Babysitter?) - the title seems to change according to the neighborhood - when offered a seat will let the little one sit down instead of putting the kid on her lap. No wonder so many teenagers and adults won’t give their seats up to elders – they’re confused, they’ve been sitting ever since they were children, it’s their right. Why grownups used get up so they could sit, even their caregivers would stand while they sat!

Vestibules and hallways have been turned into mudrooms – tiny boots and high tech strollers are stationed sometimes in front of fire doors. Parents must think that fires happen to other people, not where they and their children live.

One morning, on a bus, a child was playing ‘dip mommy’s Metro card into the fare collector machine’. The bus driver told the woman that the reason people were on the express bus was to get to their destinations sooner and her child was slowing down the ride. The mother glared back at her with an expression that yelled, “How dare you not let my child have an impromptu play date with the fare machine!”

Recently, there was a brilliant piece in the New York Times. It was a Complaint Box essay about loud talking parents teaching their children right from wrong and other important life lessons that everyone in the area had to hear. We know that there’s such a thing as an outside voice but in this case it’s more like ‘outsized voice’. When people become parents and we know it’s not easy, is it a given that etiquette is put on hold until their children reach puberty?

We’re sounding kind of cranky today. Maybe we’re sleepy. That’s the excuse our parents used to give when we weren’t being very nice. Nap time.