Riding Metro North. With El ConVirus.

El ConVirus.

Platforms sparse.

Wide berth between waiting commuters.

Subways with empty seats during Peak hours.

Hands tentatively reaching for hand rails, door handles.

Hand shakes replaced with knuckle bumps and elbow touches. Followed by Smirks. The new greeting code.  Disquiet.

Travel curtailed, discontinued. Conferences cancelled.  Large meetings shifted to conference calls.

Corporates scrambling to pull together Business Continuity Plans. First one, then two, then more work from home, with sniffles, with flu, with Something.

Fear spreading like Bay Area fog.

I twist in my earbuds, fire up Audible Books on Tape, and settle in for the commute home.

75% through Colum McCann’s Apeirogon.  “Apeirogon, a polygon having an infinite number of sides...Combing the signals like moisture from the air.”

A cough. A sneeze. Duck for cover.

Combing the signals like moisture from the air.

 


Photo: Pierre Bacus via Aberrant Beauty

Flying AA1487 JFK to PHX. More Lav Follies.

I ran the themes of this post by S&S (Spouse and Son).

Both gave me the meh“.  “Tired.” “You’ve done this before.” “What’s so strange about that?”

Give me a hat tip. I choked down my usual retort. “Dumb and Dumber. What do you know?

But Mind only needs a bit of push back, and they had me spinning away from the Topic. Maybe they’re right.

He who- what was it?- walks out of step, hears another drum.”  Me and Ken Kesey, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

The Lav drum beats.

JFK to Phoenix. Wide body Airbus.  My usual seat. Exit Row. One seat back from Lav, and clear shot of incoming and outgoing Lavatory activity.

5+ hour flight.  300 minutes of Showtime.

Game time.

  1. Occupant. Male. Boomer. In. Out. Leaves door open. Looks back down aisle, notes door is open, keeps walking.
  2. Occupant. Male. Millennial. In, with Smartphone in right hand. Out, with Smartphone in left. Can’t be without a connection at all times. Helps bowel movements.
  3. Occupant. Female. Boomer +. Waiting in aisle for Lav to free up. Slides into our row to let another passenger pass by. Backs her toosh right into my seatmate’s face.
  4. Occupant. Female. Blonde. Gen X. First in line of 3. “Stinks really bad. I can’t go in there.” Nose scrunched up. Walks to back of plane to find another lav.
  5. Occupant. Male. Millennial. Was standing behind Occupant #4 above. Looks around to see if anyone heard previous occupant. Dips nose in, concludes: Toxic.  Line stretches out.
  6. Occupant. Flight Attendant. Comes by to check the root cause of ruckus. Toilet not flushing.  Accumulation backing up. Steps in. Repairs malfunction. “This was not in the damn training manual.”
  7. Occupant. Millennial. Female. Bose wireless over-the-ear headphones. No point in skipping a tune while conducting your bus-i-ness.
  8. Occupant. Retiree +. Male. Cardigan. Jacket over the top of cardigan. He is pushing, pushing, pushing on door. Passenger taps him on shoulder and points up to the Occupied sign. He shrugs his shoulders and shuffles down the aisle to the Lav in the back of the plane. Occupant inside at the time comes out with “WTH is going on?!?” look. Lady waiting in line lip syncs: Not me!
  9. Occupant. Mom. In 20’s. Holding diapers. With Toddler. Little boy, blond hair, sucking on lollipop, runs back down the aisle. “Poopy Mommy. Poopy.”
  10. Occupant. Man. Early 30’s. Grey Hoodie. Faded blue jeans rolled up to show ankles +. (That’s still in style?) Neck pillow, around his neck. Never know when you’ll need your neck pillow in the Lav when it gets rockin’ in there.
  11. Occupant. Man. Gen X. Face covered with Face Mask, Coronavirus protection?
  12. Occupant. Woman. 50’s. Wearing dark blue, down puffer jacket. Buttoned up to the neck. She comes out, red faced, forehead glistening.  Puffer Jacket in Lav? Really?
  13. And let’s close with the Finalist and Award Winner.  Occupant. Man. Middle Aged. Sport coat. Slacks. Silver pin in lapel. Stripped socks. No shoes. No Shoes. No Shoes. No. No. No.  Can’t be possible. No. No Way!

Photo: View from the Wing

Lightly Child, Lightly

Every now and then, when my dad was working away, my grandfather came over from Ireland to stay with us. He brought a black holdall containing his only suit, a clean shirt, some vests and underpants and a bottle of home-brewed poitín. My mother slept with me in my single bed, so my granddad could have her room. ‘I envy him, a bit, you know,’ she said to me, squashed against my army of teddy bears. ‘He moves through his life so lightly. Just packs a bag and goes, without thinking twice.’

~ Jessica Andrews, Saltwater: A Novel (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, January 14, 2020)


Notes:

  • Prior blog post and Reviews of Saltwater: A Novel
  • Grandfather probably wasn’t carrying this black leather holdall from Lotuff
  • Post Title & Inspiration: Aldous Huxley: “It’s dark because you are trying too hard. Lightly child, lightly. Learn to do everything lightly. Yes, feel lightly even though you’re feeling deeply. Just lightly let things happen and lightly cope with them.”

Riding Metro North. Searching, for Important.

Jenny Offill : “To live in a city is to be forever flinching.”

Tuesday morning.

A brisk walk to train station.  32 F feels like 26 F.  No snow, no slush, no sleet.  Dry.  January.  I’ll take this all day, all winter long.

5:48 am train to Grand Central.

Plenty of empty seats.

I slide by her into a seat next to the window.

She offers me a smile, and tucks her legs in to let me pass.

I nod, offering my thanks.

She’s reading a soft cover book, verses of some sort. I can’t make it out. 98% of the rest of us are heads down into our gadgets.

She’s wearing a long (long), black puffer coat, that drapes down to the top of her black boots. A black knit cap. A knitted scarf wrapped around her neck.  She’s in her late 60’s to mid 70’s would be my guess. She turns the page. Why am I so distracted by her? Her elbows and knees are tucked in, and she’s sitting comfortably in her lane. Lady @ Peace comes to mind.

But for the industrial heaters blowing warm air through the ceiling vents, the train car is silent.

She gets up in anticipation of her stop.

The vestibule is crowded with passengers waiting to get off.

She waits quietly at the back of the line. [Read more…]

Walking. Old Town Barcelona.

August, 2006.

Barcelona.

Family vacation, using accumulated points for airfare and hotel.

Complimentary breakfasts included chocolate croissants. Buttery flakes melting on tongue, chased by the Sweet, ever-so-smooth, French chocolate.

Our late morning destination was Old Town Barcelona, the Gothic Quarter.

Large blocks of cobblestone line the narrow passages, buildings overhead offering shade, a cool respite from the summer heat bearing down at mid-day.

Cobblers. Cheese shops. A bookstore with Bibles in the window. Small cafes. Shops selling beads, necklaces and over-priced souvenirs, Tourists lingering.

Our pace, My pace, was quick. Rush, to see, to get to, to do. Next. Next. Next.

19 years later, I’m flipping through images on the internet, trying to retrace those steps and replay that one hour of Life in Old Town. I’m frustrated, not finding the right images. Memories fray on the edges and now at the center, old photographs left out in the mid-day sun.

And regrets, always hauling the weight of Regrets, why I had not savored those steps (and let my Family do so), rather than greedily gulping them to get to the Next.

It was yet another Meg Rosoff awakening: “I can tell you that you will awake someday to find that your life has rushed by at a speed at once impossible and cruel. The most intense moments will seem to have occurred only yesterday and nothing will have erased the pain and pleasure, the impossible intensity of love and its dog-leaping happiness…”

I often awaken to this same moment in Barcelona, on quiet Sunday mornings like this one.  I’m walking Old Town. Slowly. I can hear my footsteps. Hear my breath.  Feel the slight autumn breeze on my forearms.  And I’m swamped with a yearning to replay the moment, and regain that intensity of that feeling.

I need to go back.

And do it right this time.


Photo: epepa.eu

Flying AA 5240. With Grace.

It’s a head cold that won’t release.  Thurs, last week, I wake with a scratchy throat, a cough, and a certainty that this, this thing is sliding, and sliding fast. And it does. And it did. And it’s still here.

I take inventory.

Air travel. Hands laid down on arm rests, where hundreds of others set down exactly in the same spot. American’s Clean-up crew, not enough of them, mop up major spills. Most arm rests sit untouched by the cleaning rags, or maybe they are touched, with the same rag passing from one arm rest to the other to the other. Petri dishes, waiting.

Airline club. I brush away crumbs of food on the seat and the arm rest. Coffee cups, soiled napkins, all sit stacked on the side table. One cup, 3/4s full, has a lipstick tattoo, and a fingerprint, a thin film from hand lotion leaving traces of her DNA. I shift in my seat, the freshly painted Quiet room can’t hide its fatigue from the thousands that pass through the day. It groans, Give me your Tired, Your Hungry, Your Rich, all sequestered in this Oasis a few minutes before boarding. Passing our crumbs, paying it forward.

Long term rehab facility. Walking down the hall. Avoiding a stare in each room. Ventilators pumping oxygen. 24×7. Pumping. Pumping. Why is she here? Why is he here? Does she ever get out of bed? How does she not get bed sores?  I turn the corner to my Brother’s room. A roll of the dice and he’s here. Here. Inside. I’m Outside. His roommate. A Veteran. (?) Amputee. It’s Veteran’s Day on Monday. Our eyes connect. Good morning I offer. He never responds. He has no bowel control. The Help pulls the thin curtain. It’s OK Sir. No problem. Just turn a little to the left. The smell of disinfectant fills the room, and burns its tracks.  On the flight home, someone has passed gas, the smell detonates in the cabin, the young lady in the seat next to me buries her head in her sweater and whispers: “Disgusting.” I’m brought back to Rehab. Just turn a little to the left Sir.

It starts in the head, the slow drip of fatigue slides like lava and builds, from sinuses down to the toes.  DayQuil every 4 hours. NyQuil before bed. Bed. Sleep. Work. Bed. Sleep. Sleep. Sleep.

This morning. I flip open the smartphone. 26° F, feels like 22°.  And it arrives. Why now, I can’t explain.  Anne Lamott’s ‘mystery of Grace.’  Mucous secretions streaming. This air I breathe. This thick comforter, and the warmth that it offers. This miracle of being here, in this moment, in all of its fog.  I’m Grateful. For all of it.

And, I’m not moving, not from here. Not from this spot. Not today. Not until noon.


Photo: (via Endless Summer)

Truth

In “How Steam and Chips Remade the World” (op-ed, Oct. 19), John Steele Gordon remarks that “a man from half a century ago would surely regard the . . . smartphone as magic.” As one of those men, who keeps his phone more off than on, I disagree. Driving cross country as a 19-year-old in a beat-up car with only $50 cash and a gas-station map, without interstates, was a magical experience. Magic today would be a young person doing the same, or finding a parent who would let them.

~ Stephen Borkowski (Pittsburg, Texas). In letters to the Editor. (wsj.com, October 24, 2019)


Photo: Ansel Adams, Desert Road, NV 1960 (via Newthom)

Walking Cross Town. Small gestures with big tailwinds.

Late to bed Tuesday night, following long return flight from Phoenix.

Late jump Wednesday morning.

4th morning train to NYC.

Light misty rain.

And, Terry Tempest Williams continues to lay tracks.

In the end, it’s rarely the large gestures that count, it’s the small ones.

My antenna is up.

On train, a middle aged man gives up his seat for a lady. She’s not young. Not old. Not pregnant. He just does it. And stands for the entire 55 minute ride.

At Grand Central Station, Construction worker, hard hat under his arm, looks behind as he crosses the threshold of the exit, sees me coming, holds door open. I was several yards back. Let’s say 10 yards back. Rare occurrence. It was a conscious act.  Everyone is exhausted with political attacks, the lack of civility. How about some decency today?

And the gestures, small, keep coming.

Flight to Phoenix. Elderly lady sits in aisle seat. Not her seat. “Would you mind taking the window seat.” She gestures asking him to lean closer: “I have a bladder problem.” He slides across and takes the window seat. “No problem.” She exhales.

Susan out for a morning walk in Phoenix. She returns to tell me “the most unbelievable story.” I roll my eyes. Can’t wait to hear this.  She comes across a lady walking “Sunny”, a Golden Doodle.  Lady asks where we’re from. Susan explains. “Here to visit my husband’s younger brother. He’s hospitalized and breathing with the aid of a ventilator.” Lady pauses to assess the receptiveness of her planned gesture.  “I’m sorry to be so forward, but would you mind if I said a Prayer for him and for you.” And then proceeds to reach for Susan’s hands, and Prays.

I walk across Fifth Avenue. It’s 7 a.m. E.S.T. and 4 a.m. in Phoenix.

He’s sleeping now, machine pumps oxygen into his lungs.

I stand waiting for the cross walk sign to turn.

I look up, light drizzle brushes my face, three flags flap over a major hotel entrance.

I inhale deeply, and then exhale, and this Agnostic fires up his own Prayer.

Breathe Bro. Breathe.


Photo: Mine with smartphone. At Times Square yesterday morning, at the end of my cross-town walk. NYC awakening.

 

Driving I-95 South. Baptized without God.

5:33 am. Friday morning.

Google Maps signals 17 minutes to destination. Smooth ride, cruising down I-95 South. Truckers, insomniacs, and DK listening to Audible, his book on tape. More Terry Tempest Williams, her new book, Erosion: Essays of Undoing.  Terry’s way in my head, and beyond, and yes, we’re on a first name basis now. “Our undoing is also our becoming. I have come to believe this is a good thing.”

The Heads-up Display on the windshield flashes alert: Object ahead on highway. It flashes an alert again. I tap the brakes.

A wind gust blows leaves across three lanes. I exhale.  Wonders of technology. Car warns you about objects on highway, or if you veer outside your lane. I’m listening to books on tape, beamed from the cloud. GPS tells me how long to the office. And I can’t remember what I had for lunch yesterday.

The car wobbles over uneven pavement. 4000 pounds of car, wearing grooves into the asphalt, with my back and forth 4-5 days a week.

Read somewhere from a survey that 85% of us wished to travel more.  And that one in 10 Americans surveyed say they have no interest in going anywhere.  Welcome readers, to Me, I’m on top of this stack of 10. [Read more…]

Riding Metro North. Seat Selection Psychology.

I’ve noticed.

It’s happened enough times, to notice. Is it only me that notices these things?

Typically off peak trains.

I’m early.

I take the window seat, in a three seater. Always a 3-seater. Always the window seat.

I don’t place my bag on the seat, a Welcome mat for other commuters.

Train car begins to fill.

Ladies. Men. All colors, sizes.

They take a quick glance.

And they pass.

They’ll crowd into a two seater across, in front, behind. Or a three seater in front, behind.

The car reaches capacity,  and he (or she) will approach,

look up and down the car,

and take the seat.

But why?


All of the seats already had an occupant, which meant I was going to have to position myself next to a stranger. In a different mood, I enjoyed this game: one had ten seconds to scan the occupants and select the slimmest, sanest, cleanest-looking person to sit next to. Choose wrongly, and the fifteen-minute journey into town would be a much less pleasant experience—either squashed beside a sprawling fatty, or mouth-breathing to minimize the penetration of the reek emanating from an unwashed body. Such was the excitement of traveling on public transport…I stared at the floor, my mind racing. Did I … did I look like the kind of person who ought to be avoided in a game of bus seat selection? I could only conclude, in the face of the evidence, that I did. But why?

~ Gail Honeyman, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine.


Photo credit

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