The Commute, Part 4

4:49, 23th Street: A twenty-something man and woman, seated across the aisle from me, proceed to have the following conversation-

Girl: Who was that guy that stopped by the bar last night?

Guy: Who, Marco?

Girl: The guy you were talking to when Kim and I were at the jukebox.

Guy: Yeah, that was Marco. We went to Penn State around the same time.

Girl: Were you guys friends?

Guy: I guess. I mean, we always got along ok and we knew a lot of the same people, so we’d see each other at parties or whatever.

Girl: Does he live in New York now too?

Guy: Yeah, in Brooklyn, why?

Girl: <shrugs> No reason, I was just curious.

Guy: Let me guess – you like him.

Girl: <laughs> He was cute, yeah. So?

Guy: No, it’s just, I knew it right away. He’s very much your type.

Girl: Dark hair, dark skin, dark eyes, you mean?

Guy: That’s it. <laughs>

Girl: Is he Latin, or…?

Guy: He was born in Belize, but he grew up here.

Girl: Well, I Belize I just found my new crush, no pun intended. <laughs>

Guy: What do you mean?

Girl: What?

Guy: What do you mean “no pun intended”?

Girl: It’s just an expression.

Guy: But it doesn’t make any sense.

Girl: Well, I didn’t make it up.

Guy: No, but you used it wrong. You say that when you inadvertently make a pun, like when you use a common expression that just happens to make a pun in the context of what you’re saying.

Girl: That’s what I did!

Guy: No, listen! Ok, say like…say I find out my ancestor used to be a duke, or some sort of English royalty. And I’m telling my friend about it, and I say something like, “Yeah, it’s sort of cool, you know, but it’s not a big deal. It’s not like I’m going to lord it over anyone, no pun intended.” That makes sense, because you use the expression ‘lord it over’ in everyday conversation, but in this case I’m also talking about the fact that I’m descended from an English lord.

Girl: So how is that different from- ?

Guy: What are you talking about?! You used the word ‘Belize’ in place of ‘believe’. If you don’t intend it as a pun then it makes no fucking sense!

Girl: Whatever.


4:51, 28th Street: The second he steps into the car you can sense it. So much of one’s commute is undertaken in a sort of torpor, the routine so immutable – even the random acts of madness begin to assume a pattern – as to be mechanical. Still, there are certain, rare individuals whose presence is so overpowering it brings all assembled back into the present, fully awake and hyper-conscious. One’s sixth sense is ignited, like a dog’s in the seconds before an earthquake.

At first glimpse he seems seven-feet tall. His hair is piled on top of his head in matted, ratty dreadlocks – the product of time and neglect rather than any intentional grooming – so that it looks as if an oversized pineapple has been balanced on his neck. Some as-yet unnamed style of coat hangs loosely from his shoulders, unbuttoned and cinched about the waist with a nylon cord; think knee-length, wool Chesterfield coat crossed with a duster. Underneath he is bare-chested, wearing only plaid cabana shorts, knee socks and L.L. Bean hiking boots. His eyes are the size of golf balls and protrude from his skull in the manner of a leukemic mouse’s. In his right hand he clutches a garbage bag, filled to capacity and straining under the weight of its load.

It is the very first door through which he enters; almost imperceptibly, everyone else shifts towards the back of the car, leaving him the four front seats all to himself. If he is offended he doesn’t show it. He plops down on one of the benches as if it were his, had been reserved specifically for him. Indeed, I doubt he has ever been forced to stand on the train in his entire life. When he is situated, he places the bag on the floor between his feet and opens it. It is filled with phone books and old newspapers. Idly, he rummages through his collection, now and then taking up a book and leafing through its pages, as if looking to pick up the thread of a story he had been forced to interrupt. I fix my eyes back on my own book, doing everything in my power to remain inconspicuous. Strange mutterings emanate from his direction, an incoherent jumble that sounds to my ears like a cross between some African tribal language and a Pentecostal speaking in tongues. Too afraid to look in his direction, the rest of us shoot each other covert glances, tiny reassurances that we are all in this together. The distance between stops feels like miles. When he immediately gathers up his bag again and exits on 34th Street there is an audible sigh of relief. Smiles flash throughout the car. For one brief moment, anyway, a kinship has formed.


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