At the outset of this year— in the inaugural post of this blog— I hoped my months would be strung together by the two themes of satisfaction and delight. And so they have been-- with the additions of many other wonderful things (French hot chocolate rich as Trump), and unwonderful things (Trump), and of course many unexpected things, the most prominent and constant of which has been MOTION. To my surprise (and delight and satisfaction, if we're true to form!), I have travelled oftener and covered vaster distances in these past six months than I had in all my combined years hitherto. And nearly all of that motion has been through public transportation. Wherever I am in the world, and in whatever vehicle, I rub shoulders with the quirky and the elegant, the militant and the musical, the sleepy and the scornful alike— and catch a glimpse of the lives of each.
Characters of the Commute:
1. On the metro between castings last week in Paris, my train car was serenaded by two different street performers in quick succession: the first, an elderly gentleman with a trumpet and a mustache, played very well, and I gave him a euro for his skill and for reminding me how romantic Paris can be. To the second performer, an old lady who had only her voice as instrument and howled rather tunelessly, I also gave a euro— for her grievous lack of skill and the bad luck of having such formidable trumpeters to compete with. Moral of the story? If you should ever wish to take your musical talents (or non-talents!) to the subways of Paris, choose wisely the acts you follow. That, and… it seems my wallet is rather easy prey regardless, so scratch that about skill and wise choosing!
2. There is a dead man outside Port Authority. It’s a February morning on the steps leading to the terminal. Two EMS personnel are propping him up on a chair draped in a white sheet, darting forward repeatedly to uphold a tumbling limb like two children vainly persuading a heap of stones to stand upright. His bare feet lie splayed on the concrete, grimy and relaxed. I want to get far away from him, fast, but some perverse curiosity detains me on the steps to watch and wonder at his fate. I’m expected at a shoot, though, so I pass through the doors and to the subway. What would my agents say if I told them t'was a dead man made me late?
3. On a puddle jumper headed from New York to Dallas the other evening, I couldn't help overhearing the conversation of two men in the seats behind me (the rows were so tight, it was impossible not to!). One was old, the other young; one was Texan, the other a New Yorker; and both were strangers to each other. The older man, wearing a pink polo shirt, slacks, and loafers, was reminiscing to his seat-mate, unbidden, about his youthful dalliance with the army.
“When I finished school,” he claimed, “I joined the US army, for two reasons mainly: shooting a gun is fun, and I wanted to also see the world.” Korea was the US enterprise of the time, but our pink polo fellow didn’t get very far because, it seems, when he went to basic training he fell “madly in love with a flight attendant, and… that was it.” He decided not to go to war.
“Looking back at my youth,” he growled, “my biggest regret is that I never fought for my country.”
“Well at least, you know, you, um, had a happy ending,” the New York man timidly supplied.
“Not really.” Polo laughed. “We’re divorced!”
4. Meandering along a dim subway platform in midtown Manhattan, I passed a homeless man soliciting alms. A scuffle broke out a few yards ahead of me, where a tall man with a slavic accent was vehemently chiding his tall, small-headed son— “Homeless are garbage! Do you talk to garbage? Eh?”
His son gazed silently ahead. What hope rests on new generations!
5. This is the second morning that’s found me seated next to a mothball lady on the Rt. 45 commuter bus to Manhattan. With a broad-collared, spring-green coat on her lap, she smells like my grandma’s closet and she’s asleep. Snoring delicately. I’d like to snore too; I am so drowsy and the ride so monotonous, the jostling so rhythmic, the hum so hypnotic. Passing trees, curb, trees…