November 8th, 2006


Waiting for the Subway

I was seated on the brown subway bench at some ridiculous time of the night or morning.
There were only three of us. We sat evenly spaced, like men at a urinal; one man on the far left, another on the right, and I, acknowledging that (there being six seats to a bench) I would have to sit closer to one than the other, picked the one whose shoes I liked better and sat with only one space between him and myself.

At the far right was a man whose skin was so dark it was almost black-- the one whose shoes I liked because they reminded me of a pair I had before college that my mother made me throw out because they "had seen better days...I'll pay for the new pair if you'll just stop wearing those," she said, which I agreed to but later regretted.
Brown leather shoes from the Bass outlet at Woodbury Commons. Brown laces, rounded tips. The man with the shoes had strange scars flowing from the bottoms of his eyes like dry riverbeds in his skin, two or three scars to an eye, as if at some point he had cried so hard that the tears had cut through his face like acid. It made him look permanently sad, which was unfortunate, being that his mother had clearly allowed him to keep his brown leather shoes.
He was wearing a plain navy blue sweatshirt and jeans and it was nice, I thought, to see someone in a sweatshirt that didn't say anything.

The man on the left looked, to put it succinctly, like a small, Hispanic John Travolta in a black leather jacket. He seemed generally calm and unperturbed by the 30 minute subway wait, and had clearly put a good deal of work into his hair. He was reading the C-Town flyer, as if the wee hours of the morning were a good time to consider stocking up on Broccoli, or SunMaid Raisins, or Baba Ghanoush, and he had the beginnings of a beard (a beardlet?) on his chin, which he kept rubbing, as if a genie might fly from his nostrils and make the train arrive.

After a wait of about fifteen minutes, I began to feel about them the way you feel about neighboring cars who are stuck next to you in traffic for a long time. "Oh-- there goes the magenta Nissan. Bye! It was fun being caught in a bottleneck with you for an hour and a half on the Merrit Parkway. Have fun in Connecticut!"
The Hispanic John Travolta made a show of pretending to look at his watch and then opening his eyes really wide (Hel-LO!) before smiling and going back to his C-Town flyer. The man with the tear scars, who was incapable of looking anything but depressed, pressed his lips together tightly and shook his head.
I looked at my own shoes, brown loafers from the Dexter outlet (they look like fucking slippers, my friend said. It looks like you're wearing slippers on the fucking subway) and re-read the last page of the book I had finished 15 minutes earlier.

And then the train didn't come.

And then, ten minutes later, it didn't come again.

And then, fifteen minutes or ninety years later (I lose track of time, on occasions like these) we heard a rumbling noise and, ascertaining that it was none of our SunMaid Raisin-craving stomachs, rose in triplicate to meet the train. We stood, evenly spaced apart, as though transferring to another urinal.

And then, the train didn't come again.

We stared straight ahead until something about the sound of the train appeared to be off, and on the track behind us a service train pulled in with a dull, utilitarian clanging.
It pulled through slowly-- a sole subway car followed by numerous yellow flatbeds holding two packed rows of dark green dumpsters, each filled with tightly-tied hefty bags. The train looked like a slow, lackluster rollercoaster for garbage. Rows and rows of trash bags in their little green seats-- I imagined them going down a huge drop, the bags in front sprouting hands and holding them up in the air, screaming the way my sister does at Dorney Park while I am on the ground holding her hat and her sunglasses.
I would like a picture of that, I thought. Like the picture they take on the log flume drop-- garbage bags screaming and floundering as the tepid subway water splashes up into their eyes.

Which was when I saw the dog.

Several flatbeds back, amongst the endless rows of bags, was an enormous stuffed poodle sitting placidly in one of the dumpsters. It inched forward as the train pulled past-- it was a light purple, (Violet, maybe? Lavender?) with a small black nose. And it was as large as a human being. And as the tear scar man and the Hispanic John Travolta sat, waiting for our train that had not yet come, that would never come-- ever, I thought-- the enormous purple poodle slid slowly through our vision and into the darkness of the tunnel.

The spectacle being over, I smiled at the ridiculousness of it, imagining the poodle's long, quiet journey through the subway tunnels. I wondered how many other people would see it. And the Hispanic John Travolta smiled and opened his eyes really wide (Hel-LO! What was THAT?) and even the man with the scars and the shoes that I loved smiled, a huge smile, with all his teeth. And I hoped that maybe his smile would somehow erase his look of permanent sadness. Maybe he was happy enough that the smile would scar his face the way the tears had and that the next person waiting next to him for a subway would comment that, "He looked so happy. As if he had smiled once and the smile had cut itself into his face and he could never be unhappy again."