As the northbound train was arriving, people began to crowd around behind me. I could feel a warm wave of anxiety on the nape of my neck triggered and transmitted by that felt by those crowding me. Unlike them, I like to wait right at the cusp of the yellow thermoplastic road paint line that reads “Stay Behind the Yellow Line.” It’s not so much that I like to live life on the edge, but more of a nagging compulsion of always wanting to be prepared. As the train’s speed began to wane and it prepared to dock and open its doors, the crowd of people got testier and began to swarm the door like ants gorging on a sun-melted popsicle whose bubble gum eyeballs have been gouged and are slowly floating away in a viscous stream of sugar, puddling on the sidewalk dividers.
Suddenly, I felt someone pushing me from behind trying to either run straight through me as if I was a permeable incorporeal entity or push me out of the way and off the train platform. With my peripheral vision I noticed that the perpetrator was a woman in her 50s trying to get in the train as soon as possible and secure a seat. The automatic doors swooshed open and I was inevitably pushed out of the way. This helped me to get out of harm’s way and not get trampled by the stampede of tired angry people.
I looked around, as I often do when I first board the train, and I couldn’t help but notice the pushy woman sitting comfortably reading a gossip magazine. I wondered if she was reading about how one of her favorite celebrities almost got pushed off a train platform or trampled by an angry mob.
There was a young man standing in the narrow hallway that separates the conjoined train cars. He was wearing a burgundy slubby texture t-shirt with his right arm in the right sleeve and his left arm concealed inside of it. From where I was standing, it looked as though he was trying to rip his heart out of his chest, digging his nails into his skin. He eventually placed his left arm through the hoop of the left shirt sleeve and began grabbing his head, rubbing his face and violently thrashing his shoulders. It looked like a full body dry heave; a pleasure seizure. It soon became apparent that the train ride to his destination wasn’t the only trip he was on.
A man carrying a backpack and a guitar in his hand entered the bus exuding perspiring immediacy. His sun-burnt face was wrinkled, evidence of his advancing age. He seemed too old to be busking for a living. Too cynical and set in his ways; lacking the naïveté required to feed the lie that he’s a good singer and that he’ll make it some day. His steel resolve and amenity made it clear that he had consigned his dream of “making it” to a loathsome vow he had resigned himself to, of trying to get anything he could; monetarily or sympathetically. He was wearing a black fedora with a checkered ribbon that was not becoming of him and thus came off more as a costume rather than an article of clothing meant at best to protect his head from the elements and at worst as a simple statement of fashion. Before the ensuing performance, he made a proclamation regarding what was about to unfold before us, “I’m going to play some songs for you.” As he began to serenade the passengers, he walked up and down the aisles, swinging his mangy guitar up, strutting as if on the stage of Woodstock in ’69, trying to spread his jovial tunes like the John the Baptist of rock. Old ladies leaned away from him as you would when the circus tigers get too close to the audience. And the guitar, it sounded like a carnival and his breath smelled like a beer. This urban troubadour viewed the collection of money so infra dig that he ordered people to pass his sweaty fedora around so that they may bestow in it his minimal performance fee of “just 50 cents or $1.” A small price to pay for his unwanted crying in the wilderness of our bewilderment.
The southbound train approached ours pari passu on the opposite track. For a brief moment both trains were in perfect love-making harmony. This instant purveyed a view—lasting the lifespan of an inhaled breath—in which the people on the other train were momentarily visible. The rapid juxtaposition of the square window panes moving in opposition—not too slow or too fast—created the illusion of a short film reel. The window I was staring out of was my screen, while the ones on the other train whizzing by, frame by frame, were a motion picture too sudden not to take notice, but too common to commit any memory to it. Too fleeting to even forget that it ever happened.