Waiting. At The Star Market. Trying to Bend the Image.

7:05 am. Stamford station.

I’m waiting for the 2151 Acela to Baltimore. Overhead board flashes On Time, Track 2.

There are two empty seats adjacent to a scruffy, long bearded old man. He’s wearing a heavy jacket, way too heavy for August. A rollerboard stands to his right. His head bowed, sleeping. You’re asking for trouble. Find another seat. I look around, and can’t find another seat. I catch others watching me, judging, ‘The Suit won’t come near That.’

And Mind, ever so efficient, calls up a Marie Howe poem, The Star Market:

“The people Jesus loved were shopping at the Star Market yesterday. An old lead-colored man standing next to me at the checkout breathed so heavily I had to step back a few steps. Even after his bags were packed he still stood, breathing hard and hawking into his hand. The feeble, the lame, I could hardly look at them: shuffling through the aisles, they smelled of decay..Jesus must have been a saint, I said to myself…stumbling among the people who would have been lowered into rooms by ropes, who would have crept out of caves or crawled from the corners of public baths on their hands and knees begging for mercy. If I touch only the hem of his garment, one woman thought, could I bear the look on his face when he wheels around?”

He lifts his head, turns towards me and stares.  I freeze.  The Others are now watching. I pause, and make my move.

I take the seat next to Him.

Others watch for a moment, eyebrows raised, and then go back to their smartphones. Did you do it because you wanted a seat? Or because others would think less of You, or that you didn’t want this Suit to meet their expectations? Or because you didn’t want Him to think you thought any less of Him?

There’s one empty seat between us. But there’s tension in the gap. He turns to look at me, I can feel his eyes on me. Here it comes, Can you help me out with a few bucks, Sir?”  

He sits silently. [Read more…]

Driving Down MacArthur Blvd. Full of Pride.

He arrived on time. At the end of a 14-hour day. I’m bushed.

This day, which was preceded by five hours sleep on an alien mattress, which was preceded by a late night dinner, which included one oversized slice of home made peach pie (à la mode of course), and this was chased with a s’more. Yes, a S’more, you read right. With a home made golden graham cracker at its base, topped with a thin slice of Swiss chocolate, and a giant, home made marshmallow, with the waiter cautiously holding the blow torch as the sugar crackled and blackened into a light char.  Three bites, and it disappeared. A sugar addict with his fix, floating lightly above the table, abstaining from my dinner guests’ chatter, floating higher, higher, up and up in his delirium.

I slide into the back seat.

“How was your day Sir?”

I’m not in the mood for banter. Please, please, get me to the hotel. A long hot shower. Room service (sans S’mores). And early to bed.

“Great, thank you.” A.K. Benjamin’s passages dripping in and out of consciousness: “Studies have shown that your generation, our generation, lies on average two or three times every ten minutes, men to make themselves look better, women to feel good.” And he’s right.

I did not counter to ask him about his day. A direct signal that this door was not open for chatter.

“Would you like a bottle of water?”

“No, but thank you for asking.”

I pull out my smartphone, drop my head, emitting another direct signal of non-engagement. I glance up and see his eyes in the rear view mirror.  Tension rises in the cabin. He picks up on the body language: This guy is shut down.

He has a teddy bear on the console. Rainbow colored.  Odd. [Read more…]

Driving I-95 North. Private One-Hour Conversation.

Tuesday.  It’s late. It’s been a long day. I glance at my smart watch, 4,500 steps, well short of 10,000 target. Should have walked across town and taken the train. No you shouldn’t have.  Air is heavy. Feels like mid-August.  My head swims from the second glass of red wine. I walk half way up the block and back, while I wait.  4,935 steps. Well that’s Something.

I’m in back seat of car. Phone rings. Work. The call carries on. Something is off.  Antennae go up. I can feel him. Driver is listening. I’m conscious of my words. I shift to deeper code, quickly end the call, and set the phone in my bag. I sit quietly. Irritated. No privacy anywhere. Rude.

It’s silent in the cabin, air blows cool. Tension seems to rise a few clicks in the silence. You’re just tired. It’s all in your head Pal.

He breaks the silence.

“Sir, what is it that you do?” I’m wary about my response, but I respond, and at 100,000 feet. He’s not getting anything out of me.

“How long have you been doing it?” I respond curtly.

“That’s a long time.”  At this point, I feel I need to take control of the conversation.  “Why do you ask?” [Read more…]

Sunday Morning

It’s hard to hurt things.

Isn’t it.

I’m afraid of spiders but I still scoop them cold

into my hands & let them free.

Where’s the church for things like this.

Talin Tahajian, from “No steeple” (Cosmonauts Avenue)


Notes: Poem via bostonpoetryslam. Photo “no bell” by Christian Collins

Sunday Morning

Why is it any more ennobling for someone to claim to be a person of faith rather than a person of doubt? I like people of doubt. I like people who question what the hell is going on. St. Thomas is my favorite apostle, even if he was wrong. Galileo smelled a rat, and he was right. It doesn’t matter what you believe; it only matters how you behave. Or as it so succinctly says in Christian scripture, “Faith without works is dead.” Believe what you like, but this is what I believe. God, if there is one, speaks and expresses Herself through a group of people who the great becardiganed philosopher Fred Rogers called “helpers.” […]

Helpers are people who try to make life more bearable for those who are suffering. They are people who try to clean up the mess, are tolerant of the weak-minded, and resist those who would exploit others for their pleasure or profit. […]

So if I have a religion it’s in appreciation of helpers, whoever they happen to be at the time. I’ve tried not believing in God, but that’s just as hard as swallowing all of the liturgical mumbo jumbo. I don’t know who or what composed our universe, but I’m not sure that matters anyway. I suspect that any real spiritual peace lies in simply being a decent human being. Or at least trying to be.

~ Craig Ferguson, from “The Helpers” in Riding the Elephant: A Memoir of Altercations, Humiliations, Hallucinations, and Observations (Blue Rider Press; May 7, 2019)


Portrait: AT&T Performance Arts Center

Time Well Spent (got jacked up on rage)

They knew us as the ones who checked the day’s euth list for the names of the dogs scheduled to be killed the next morning, who came to take the death-row dogs…for a last long walk, brought them good dinners, cleaned out their kennels, and made their beds with beach towels and bath mats and Scooby-Doo fleece blankets still warm from industrial dryers…They knew us as the ones who worked for free, who felt that an hour stroking a blanket-wrapped dog whose head never left your lap and who was killed the next morning was time well spent…The knew me as one who love in them…the patent need, the clinging, the appetite. They knew me as one who saw their souls in their faces, who had never seen eyes more expressive than theirs in colors of clover honey, root beer, riverbed… We would do anything for them – their heads and bodies crossed with scars like unlucky life lines in a human hand, yet whose tails still wagged when we reached to pet them…They knew me as one who got jacked up on rage and didn’t know what to do with it, until a dog dug a ball from the corner of his kennel and brought it to my side, as though to ask, “Have you thought of this.” …They knew me as one who saw through the windowed panel…a dog lift first one front paw and then the other, offering a paw to shake though there was no one there, doing a trick he had once been taught and praised for…They knew me as one who decoded the civic boast of a “full-service” shelter, that it means the place kills animals, that the “full service” offered is death…They knew me as one who asked another volunteer if she would mind holding Creamsicle, a young vanilla and orange pup, while I cleaned his soiled kennel and made his bed at the end of the night…We were both tired, and took turns holding the pup against our hearts. They saw this; they knew this. The ward went quiet. We took our time.

~ Amy Hempel, from “A Full-Service Shelter” in “Sing to It: New Stories” (Scribner, March 26, 2019)

 


Image Source

Heartbreaking…

“By any reasonable standard, I have won life’s lottery. I grew up with two loving parents in a peaceful house. I’ve spent my whole career doing work that thrills me—writing for newspapers and magazines. I married the best woman I’ve ever known, Alix Felsing, and I love her more now than when my heart first tumbled for her. We’re blessed with strong families and a deep bench of friends. Our lives are full of music and laughter. I wouldn’t swap with anyone.

Except on those mornings when I wake up and take a long, naked look in the mirror…”

Read on @ The Weight I Carry by Tommy Tomlinson, (The Atlantic · January 10, 2019)


Photo Credit

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
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