Amtrak 2151 Acela Express. With Centi.

7:28 a.m. Boarding time: 7:52 a.m. Amtrak to Philadelphia. Rocky Balboa. Eagles. Flyers. Liberty Bell. Cheesesteak Sandwiches.

I’m waiting at the Stamford train station, sitting on a hardback plastic seat. So hard, you could substitute it for Kevlar. Lower back, displeased with status. I shift, restless.

To my left and across, two men, middle aged, hard hats on floor, work boots, unshaven – sit and discuss his work injury…hurt so bad…Percocet…MorphineFloating. Both chuckle.

Across from me, large man, head bobbing, mouth gaping, asleep.

Passengers pass by through the automatic doors to Tracks 2 & 4. The doors hiss, at each open and close.

My eye spots movement below.  A centipede.  (And I’m not interested in you Entomologists out there telling me that it’s not a centipede. Where’s the 100 feet?  We’re going with Centipede.)

Back to my Friend.

His legs are flailing.  Turtle on its back, issuing an SOS distress signal. I watch it struggle for a few minutes and then turn away. I flip through emails.

Can’t focus. Distracted. Anxious…must be Centi’s anxiety transference. “Help me DK!”

I look around to see if anyone is watching. Then when I’ve established the coast is clear, I reach down and gently try to flip him. He sees a Giant: Danger! He rolls into a tightly, tucked black ball.

I grab my iPhone recognizing that there’s a story here.  I’m 9 snaps in.  Fuzzy shots. Too far away. Too close. Blurry.  I look up and see the Percocet Boys are now watching.  What’s that Idiot Suit doing?

I wait for him to unravel, my head is down, eyes are locked in.  Please, unravel, and do so with 100 feet down.

I wait. [Read more…]

Flying over I-40 N. With Roy Orbison.

I’m in the same seat, 24E Exit.
On the same plane, an Airbus A321.
On the same airline.
On the same flight.
Returning home from same city, AA1263 DFW to LGA.

To my left, across the aisle, and up one row, is same lavatory.

And here they come.

Wife, I’m guessing, is guiding him. They are 10 rows up, and shuffling down the aisle. He’s tall, 6’4″ est.  Middle aged, gray hair. Collared short sleeved shirt. Khaki pants.

Thick, black framed Roy Orbison glasses.

Blind.

The two of them make their way down the aisle. I set my iPad down to watch. She’s smiling. He’s grinning. Not a care in the world these two. And, You? A billion interconnected miracles happening every second for you to be you, and for you to see this moment. 

My index finger reaches for the volume button on my iPad to turn off the device. You can see the button. You can see the text on the screen. You can see your bag under the seat. You can see the zipper on the bag as you open your bag. You can see the compartment where you wish to set it in. You can see the two of them approaching. [Read more…]

Running. With light that falls.

6 a.m. Friday morning.

I’m running. Down the hill, around the corner, and down the sidewalk on Post Road.

I adjust my stride to miss the cracks between the concrete slabs. Grass sprouts up from the cracks, asparagus colored green, bushy clumps – it was a Simone Weil moment: “Only the light that falls continually from the sky gives a tree the energy to push powerful roots into the earth. The tree is actually rooted in the sky.”  How? How does this grass push its way through the concrete? The light, roots the grass to the earth, pulls it upward to the sky.

The street is empty but for a big city bus a few hundred feet up the road. Its body is dark, a hulking silhouette, its interior beams, illuminated. It’s odd to see a large bus in our small town, so early, so far from Manhattan. The bus is full, passengers lean their heads against windows, their mornings started in darkness some time earlier followed by…

A long walk to the bus stop.
A long wait for the bus, delayed.
A slow tip of the hand to release coins into the dispenser for the fare.
A long ride on the bus to work, seats worn, cushions flat, flush to metal.
A long walk from the bus stop to work. 
And do it all over on the return at the end of the day.

It’s a few feet from our back door to the garage to my car. The gas tank is full.  I push the button for ignition, the cool air conditioning envelopes me in the cabin. I adjust my position in the soft leather seat. Always have a seat. Never a long walk. Never a need for coins.

I pass a bus on the street on my drive to work. Passengers look down, with blank-eyed stares.

Yes, Simone. Yes. The light. The sky. The trees. The roots. The earth.

And…The Lottery.


Notes:

  • Post inspiration: “I honestly believe that…things can change in an instant, and made it key to my philosophy of life: neither money nor my work define me. I like them, they allow me to do many things I enjoy, but if I did not have them, I know I would be able to find something else to do, I would be able to survive, I could be happy…I never take anything for granted, and I never forget how lucky I have been, and am.” ~ Alan Cumming, Not My Father’s Son: A Memoir
  • Photograph: Skogrun
  • Related Posts: Commuting Series

Riding Uptown. Man on Venus. Man on Mars.

“How long to Grand Central?”

“20 minutes, maybe 30, it’s Rush Hour.”

Uber driver. Black Toyota Camry. Leather seats worn. Dashboard tanned with thousands of hours of direct sunlight.

“Your English is good. Where are you from?”

He glances at me in the rear view mirror. Reticent.

“Ethiopia, Sir.”

“How long have you been here?”

“9 years.”

“And your family? Are they here or back in Ethiopia?”

“Oh, they’re all back in Ethiopia. I’m here with my wife.”

“Do you miss home?”

Long pause.

“People think it’s easy. Here in America.” He pulls up. Polite, respectful.

I shift the conversation. We’re a few minutes out.

“You have a 4.94 (out of 5) driver rating. Wow. That’s something. How do you do it?”

“I don’t know Sir.” He smiles.

“I’m curious. Out of 10 rides, how many riders tip?” [Read more…]

Flying over I-40 S. With Lav #2.

Who’s the guy in the photo? No idea. Loved the shot, it goes up.

Does he resemble him? No. Hair color? No. Glasses? Hmmm, black frames, but not the polaroids. Body frame? Close. So what’s the connection? For some inexplicable reason, Tattoo runs up shouting “Ze plane! Ze plane!” to announce the arrival of a new set of guests to Fantasy Island. Not “ze plane” – “ze cane Boss“, “ze cane.”

I’ve been in here, this same room, a hundred times, maybe more. Always early morning, and an hour before boarding. The first flight from LaGuardia to Dallas.

Yes, we’re back talking about Lavs, after Lav #1 earlier in the week, and Lav Doors a while back. It’s the Men’s restroom at the American Airlines Admirals Club. Here, there are three certainties when you enter: (1) the smell of clean, before hundreds soil the floor with urine and slop the countertops with water and soap suds, (2) Musak pumping Chill music through the ceiling speakers and (3) Chill, like Arctic air, that triggers goose bumps on your skin…get dancing!

It’s July, 82° F, and he’s wearing a blue windbreaker.  Navy blue slacks. A baseball cap. 5’4″ tops, if stretched out from his stoop. Glasses, black frames; lenses…coke bottles. Age? ~ mid 80’s.

He’s standing at the urinal to my left. His cane, hard wood, weathered, has a silver wrapper for a handle. It leans against the wall, waiting. [Read more…]

Flying over I-40 N. With Lav #1.

airplane-black-and-white

I just didn’t know. Or perhaps I didn’t care to know. Or maybe it’s just not possible to know. How could you possibly know?

And then there’s a moment or two, when you cross that line, from passively aware or passively engaged to actually feeling. And perhaps you only feel when the suffering is so high, yours or others, that only just then do you begin to give-a-sh*t.

I’m seated in an exit row on an Airbus A3215, 1 seat back and across from the airplane lavatory: ~40” long x 34” wide x 75″ inches tall. Inches.

A Mother walks down the aisle. She grabs the back of one seat, and then the next, and the next, to keep her balance. The plane tips left and right in soft turbulence. She makes her way down the aisle.

There are two hands gripping the tops of her shoulders. She’s slight, maybe 5’2”, and stooped under the weight of the hands. The hands are owned by a strapping 14-year old who towers over her. Mildly handicapped?

She enters the restroom first, her Son doesn’t let go. She lifts one hand off her shoulder and turns to him. She slides her arms under his arms and begins to tug him in. Won’t fit. Not possible. Two full size humans in 40 x 34 x 75.

There’s silence, five minutes or so, which is interrupted by a toilet flush. She exits, pulling him out with her arms under his. She strains to extract him from the box, her face red, filled with rage.

She extracts him and pauses to catch her breath. Her Son claws after her shoulders to grab on as the plane tips. They head back up the aisle. She settles him in.

She comes hurrying back down the aisle.  And into the Lav.

It’s quiet again, now for 5-7 minutes. Then a toilet flush.

She exits. Her right hand dries her eyes, now red and swollen. She catches my glance, offers a forced smile, turns, and heads back to her seat.

You just don’t know. No chance. Not close.


Notes:

What are you going through?

All around me were strangers. I knew no one. And as far as I knew, no one had any idea what I was dealing with….As I turned away and stared at the Pacific Ocean through the little window from my seat on the plane, I was left with a bunch of grief and two big questions. What burdens are all the people on this plane carrying? And how would I treat them differently if I knew?

~ Carl Richards, from “Ask Yourself This: What Burdens Is That Other Person Carrying?”

 


Post title and post Inspired by: “I remember reading some works of Simone Veil, a French woman who lived in France during the war and she said there’s only one question worth asking anybody and that question is, “What are you going through?” ~Leonard Cohen, From Leonard Cohen interview With Stina Dabrowski (Thank you Make Believe Boutique)

Sunday Morning

A homie named Cruz spent his last dollars taking a Metrolink train sixty miles to Los Angeles from San Bernardino, where he had relocated his lady and newborn to avoid the dangers and desperation of his previous gang life. He had a part-time job but could not get his boss to give him more hours. Now he sits in my office, rattling off a list of the pressures and needs of his family. With no safety net in sight but me, he speaks of no food in the fridge, no lights, landlord looming, no bus fare. When he finishes this breathless account, Cruz stops, shaken and exhausted. He grows teary-eyed and says quietly, “I just keep waiting.”

“For what, son?” I ask.

“For the last to be first.”

~ Gregory BoyleBarking to the Choir: The Power of Radical Kinship


Notes:

Walking Cross-Town. With an unsorted heap.

Hampl is not far from this mind. Hampl was there on my train ride to the city on Thursday and there with me as I walked across Manhattan to the office. And Hampl’s here with me today, early Saturday morning, as I sit in darkness, in silence, but for the tapping of keys, with birdsong easing through the open window bringing in the dawn.

Life is not a story, a settled version. It’s an unsorted heap of images we keep going through, the familiar snaps taken up and regarded, then tossed back until, unbidden, they rise again, images that float to the surface of the mind, rise, fall, drift—and return only to drift away again in shadow. Call them vignettes, these things we finger and drop again into their shoebox.

He shifted his legs as I took the empty seat across from him. Early 30’s. Two to three day beard. He smiled offering me “Good morning.” I’m settling in. How startling it is to be greeted with a ‘good morning’, a smile, a greeting on a morning commute. 

She was on the right side of 50. Anxious. She had to go. I mean really Go. She paced in front of the toilet. It was occupied. She knocked on the door. She knocked again. She stepped back and stood in the vestibule, waiting. She lifted her right foot, and then her left, and quickly repeated the sequence. She then grabbed her mid section and grimaced. She walked back to the toilet and knocked on the door again. [Read more…]

T.G.I.F. (from another seat)


A migrant, part of a group intercepted aboard two dinghies in the Mediterranean Sea, rests after arriving at the port of Malaga, Spain. (Jon Nazca, Reuters, wsj.com, April 26, 2018)

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