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Tuesday, April 29, 2003
By Paul Ford
Ftrain, 6:30 PM, between 23rd St. and Smith and 9th St.
I was the 6'3" fat man standing there with my hand wrapped around the stainless steel pole. I was in a dark green sweater vest over a light gray-blue shirt, and I looked tired. I wore a large black backpack, and one of the straps held a cellular phone.
You were the bearded homeless man who was shouting inchoately and shaking his styrofoam cup-o-noodles cup, its few coins jangling, at the Eastern European man. You were that Eastern European man, smiling and nodding to the bearded homeless man, trying to be kind, letting the madness wash over you like an unexpected breeze, not getting up and walking away. You were the Latino boys with tiny pencil-line-thin beards gangsta-mugging for invisible cameras, your bleached-haired girlfriends sitting to your right. You were the thin woman in a gray skirt, stroking your girlfriend's hair.
You were the 16-year-old girl reading a horror novel about vampires. You were the 20 and 30 year old women with exposed bellies, bellies poking out like baby robins coming out from their eggs, bellies like soft kittens crawling out of a drawer, bellies as tempting as a box of sugared fruit. Thank you for your bellies.
I was the tall, fat, blue-eyed man standing with my arm around the pole. I'd had a really difficult day. You were the Black man reading the New York Times magazine. You were the anti-war protester in dyed hair with a huge anti-war slogan written in permanent marker on a piece of fabric and safety-pinned to your bag. I said "your bag is great," and you said, "thanks," and that was enough; there was no missed connection there, because I said all I have to say, and you even acknowledged it. It was wonderful, to have that moment with you, a stranger.
You didn't know I was going through a hard day, and if you'd known, you wouldn't have cared--how could you, with all that's going on in your life? That's not why I'm writing you. I'm writing to thank you for being the librarians, the musicians, the bartenders, the shop clerks, graphic designers, sandwich makers, track repairwomen, custodians, press operators, tai chi instructors, and veterinarians. I'd be nervous and shy to thank you individually, worried I'd scare you with sudden interjections and jubilation, so I never say a word. But my life would be nothing without you.
Thank you, F train, smelling of cologne and deodorant in the mornings, smelling of the pheremones of long, tiring days in the evening. I like your human odor, your ambient noise of scattered conversations, your baggy sweatpants and your lip piercings, your neckties and sweatbands. I know you can't love me in return. I don't care. I still thank you. I hope you got home safe, that all of your connections were made. Can I see you again some time?
See also: Personal.
This piece is sponsored by Christian Crumlish, who in addition to sending me cold, hard scratch, has done me the service of telling me about the occasional typo. He is the soul of gentle kindness, and you should hold him in your heart.
I hear your echoing cries: “Where can I learn more about this remarkable and generous man?” In an age of unfiltered and instant gratifications, it takes only a click! Visit Christian's A Supposedly Staggering Infinite Work of Heartbreaking Illumination I'll Never Read, which offers, among much else that is fine, one piece that opens with the sentence “Today my father finally has an all-female axis of evil.” and closes with the line “Oliver Cromwell is off the A-list.” That's exactly the sort of thing I like to see.
I don't know about you. I just know about me. But when I'm out there reading the Internet, and I come across something with a strong opening line, I feel as if I am sitting on the porch of old friends, drinking cheap beer and talking about sex.