It’s Tuesday morning 630AM. I lock my apartment door and notice the grime collected on the bottom of my doorway as I turn the key and double-check that the door is locked. Once for the dead bolt and once for the regular lock. My shoes are new and they hurt my toes and squeak on the dirty black and white checker tiles. I descend the cast iron and marble staircase. The staircase reminds me of an M.C. Escher drawing. I squeak, squeak, squeak down the hall, into and through the sad, grand lobby that smells like 70 years of wax from a more elegant time. As I leave the building the vestibule smells faintly of a woman’s perfume, tobacco and marijuana smoke.
I step out of the door and into the brown crackly leaves. Crackle, crackle, swoosh, and whoosh. There is dried vomit from two weeks ago in front of the building. I remember how the porter who lives below me poured sawdust on it the morning after the vomit was deposited in front of the building.
“He’s just raking the leaves now,” I assured myself. “He’ll get to it later with the tea kettle. Surely no one would allow vomit to dry in front of the building.” Not one but two weeks with just light rain later and it was still there, a monument to rent-stabilized living in New York City. A martyrs monument like the one in Fort Greene, except featuring human remains of a different sort, live on display as an Incorruptible body all its own like some Catholic miracle. It was immortal, divine and holy vomit.
I remember asking the porter to sweep once. He was a chubby and balding middle-aged man with hiked-up baggy pants who appeared an idiot. I asked him if he could sweep and mop the 2nd floor. He was mopping downstairs, the lobby level, where he lived, where the floor was mopped twice a week. Upstairs where I lived on the 2nd floor it hadn’t been cleaned in years. He smiled with an empty face, the grin of the blessed, ingeniously cocky and humble, all at once. He didn’t need to say anything, he was a village idiot. He wasn’t paid to answer questions. Why on earth would I be looking to HIM for answers?! His mocking eyes told the truth of his awareness and they looked directly at the fool in front of them. .
After I pass the surprisingly clever porter sweeping the leaves in front of the building next door I make a right onto Sherman Street, past the wood-frame homes with their porches and towers, left on Greenwood Ave to the glowing green bulbs marking the stairway underground to the F train. I pass the token booth clerk that doesn’t sell tokens, swipe my Metrocard and down more stairs to the train. The G train, the worst train in the history of mass transit going back to the Phoenicians is stopped halfway down the platform because it is half the size of the other trains and therefore can only stop at part of the station’s platform. I see helpless commuters running to the train while the driver (there is no conductor) closes the doors and pulls away with the kind of smug self-satisfaction that you get being on a train during rush hour as it leaves people behind in the station.
I wait for my train, a full-sized F rumbling from Church Ave to the Fort Hamilton Parkway stop on its way towards Manhattan. I notice the youngish red-head sitting next to me before I sit down. Her hair orange like the color of an angry devil, porcelain-colored skin and good, thick thighs that make me begin to feel blood circulating to my crotch. Orange-red fiery hair and the wonderful, mysterious smell of perfume and shampooed hair which makes me think of the bedrooms of girls. Her skin both reflects and absorbs the heat from her hair, relieving it with its pale coolness and in exchange getting its delicate pink hue. I feel like all I have to do is inhale, exhale and we would simply fall into a bed, her bed together, old lovers who know each others bodies and minds, maybe souls. I look at this girl sitting next to me. I’m in awe of the power she could have over my body, mind and soul were she to handle my possessions correctly. She is looking straight ahead and indifferently listening to her IPOD. I look at her face and she is beautiful. She barely notices me. Some Subway love affairs last longer than others. This one at this point is not happening.
At Jay Street/Borough Hall I have the option of changing to the A train. The A Train is faster and travels up 8th Ave, closer to where I work. It is a very crowded train however so my chances of getting a seat are slim. It’s too hot and contains the rotting-meat smell of body odor. No thank you A train. As a matter of fact fuck you, fuck the A train. You can keep your stink of crowding like bad Chinese food and cocoa butter. I’ll take my comfortable seat and my fine red-head who smells of sweet bath oils, even if she does ignore me. It’s not my fault as we’ve not been properly introduced. At East Broadway, the first stop in Manhattan the red-head gets off. I notice the sag of her jeans in the back. She has no ass! I feel like writing the MTA, consumer affairs and Santa Claus. A long-legged, curvy red-head with no big ass! No ass with thighs like that! Marone! It turned a blessing into a curse! And I thought I had issues with God…
At 2nd Ave/Lower East Side a Bowery homeless gets on the train. I always thought panhandling was a bad idea in the morning, all the passengers can think of is how they have to work and this guy doesn’t. On the flip side it presents a physical testament to said homeless person’s sobriety. This guy doesn’t make with the speeches; he’s all business, even a little complacent. An older black man, he nasally mumbles his pitch, not putting much energy into it but surprisingly scoring the same amount of business others do. I respect his stratagem; he is economical with his time and energy. He has found his niche. Like the porter, like the token booth clerk and train operator, like the red head, this man, this bum knows the secrets to life, to the universe or at least to his own happiness, a way to remain untouched, unaffected by the perversions and transgressions of others. He winks at me on the way out like one player to another, maybe he can tell that I’m clocking and assessing his business model, if anyone would it would be him. He is the most self-aware person on the train. We are serfs who toil every day for this noble lord. No wonder people give him money at the slightest suggestion! I think about how only an ignorant person like me with a warm bed to sleep in every night of their lives could be foolish enough to be envious towards the homeless. I wouldn’t survive 2 weeks out there, the rats would eat me alive in some back alley, and I’d be hospitalized with flu and stab wounds or maybe a cock roach in my brain, soon dead of staff infection. Dead of flu. All the more reason to admire this man, the King of New York.
I get off at 42nd street/ Bryant Park and ascend the stairs to a decadent part of Midtown that reminds me of some Utopian Olympus where no mortal dare live. Walking past the giant button, needle and information booth which marks the entrance to the “Fashion District,” I cross to the west side of Manhattan and the streets are dirtier, more seamy and depressed. The nearby lights of Times Square lighten the morning twilight but also cheapen it like too much make-up on a pretty girl. I continue down 39th street to the Starbucks on the corner of 8th Ave. I get the usual flirty winks and giggles from the tip-hungry girls behind the counter. There is an upstairs which overlooks the street from a catty corner angle. I walk upstairs with my breakfast and silently acknowledge the same couple I see every morning. Young lovers, embrace one last time before the work-day. I’m not sure if they are Puerto Rican or Dominican but know they’re in love. They too have found their own loving way of being untouchable, dignified in the face of humiliating service-sector jobs. There is a old man who appears to be homeless dressed in dirty, ragged clothes. He is at his own small, discounted laptop computer probably purchased at a second-hand electronics store, using the cafe’s internet.
The next day I walk over the highway using the pedestrian bridge to the other entrance to the train station. The man who sells newspapers is out there every morning. Everyone has a hustle. I try to make it to the turnstile before the person behind me and then I take too long fumbling with my Metrocard. The man behind me waits patiently and I thank him. He’s listening to his IPOD. He stare blankly ahead and mouths a “your welcome” that sounds like when deaf people talk.
Sometimes I wonder if most people even know they’re alive. They walk around like zombies. The average person is trapped in his/her own insecurities like someone tied up in rope. A pregnant woman gets on at 15th street, she is dark with medium brown hair grown long and parted in the middle and the way she’s dressed she reminds me of pictures from the seventies. She is reading a book called Your Baby’s First Year I begin to consider the fashion trends. I feel like telling the pregnant woman that she is beautiful, I wonder if that’s what she wants to hear, I wonder if any of them want to hear anything.
I notice a girl get on at Delancey. I like her freaky matted blond hair. For all her individuality she is also one of the IPOD people. I wonder how many people won’t meet, the chance encounters that won’t happen because of preoccupation with electronic devices. Jesus Christ, how will anyone get married outside of their own little inbreeding clique of friends if this extreme anti-social behavior continues? Maybe that’s exactly why people are so ignorant of others? Maybe they don’t have the time/energy for socializing, much less finding new people to socialize with after making ends meet? Besides, most of the people I wind up meeting this way are the not the kind of people I would want to know. I could just imagine what a paranoid young urban professional must think of chatty old timers and weirdoes on the train.
The thought of my own ends which never meet cause an uncomfortable feeling in the pit of my stomach. In the morning when I’m rushing there’s something about the combination of mint toothpaste and anxiety that makes me start to gag. When my ex-girlfriend would sleep over the combination of these things with the overpowering smell of her make-up would sometimes make me almost throw up when we would kiss good bye. I thought again of the vomit in front of my building. Maybe it was left there in the morning by someone leaving? The rumble in the jungle of my stomach warns me against continuing this line of thinking so early.
The blonde with the matted hair gets off at 42nd Street/Bryant Park, the same stop as me. She has a good ass, not exceptional but solid. She is wearing baggy clothes but I can tell she has a good body. It’s surprising how many girls with overalls and baggy jeans have smoking bodies and sex drives underneath. The blonde reminds me of a girl I met 3 years before. She was a teacher from California visiting friends. It was at the Blarney Stone on Trinity Place. She was wearing baggy mom overalls. I was 27 at the time and she was 35. When she took me back to her friend’s apartment across the street and she took off her overalls I was amazed. She did not have a big ass or large breasts but what she did have was a slim and amazingly unblemished body. It was like the face of a thirty-something was attached to the body of a girl. At 35 she did not have one stretch mark, not so much as a pimple scar. She liked to talk dirty in bed and made me think of porno and how many of them are made in Southern Cali. We had unprotected sex and she asked for my information just in case. Like a man after a traffic accident I asked her for her information also. When I went downstairs in the elevator to the lobby and walked past the jealous lobby guard I took the slip of paper out of my pocket and looked at it: it was the one with my information on it.
It was a very large building and I could not remember which floor much less the apartment number. The guard, another comfortable soul who seemed to know the meaning of life or at least more than I did was useless. The building was a brand new high rise condominium. Every floor and every door looked the same. I took the elevator up to the 10th floor, then the 12th, then 16. The teacher’s friend’s was on 18. Eventually after walking past a few doors I found the apt. She reminded me again, this time in a motherly tone to ALWAYS carry a condom.
I lose track of the blonde woman with the matted hair in the station and proceed down 39th street headed towards work. I notice a non-working fire hydrant with the cap removed. At first it looks like there is vomit coming out of the valve. At second look I can see that someone has vomited into the cap and impressively UP INTO the hydrant’s opening. It’s as if the bowels of the city itself were throwing up. The comedic value in all this actually prevents me from starting to gag.