Friday, June 03, 2005

Mass in transit

The T into downtown Boston, Friday night. Gum chewing girls in spike heels and jeans, earrings glinting, brushing their white shoulders, eyeliner and blue shadow streaked over baby skin. A boy with long, thick lashes, eyes downlooking, dark clothes, beautiful magenta manicure. A drunk couple kissing, the woman recognizes K, my guide for the evening. She is Roman, holding onto her midwestern hippie boyfriend, apologizing for her drunkenness, eyes shining up at her date.

Emerging into the Commons, figures sharp and vertical against the sky, and I drag K over to see.

I put my hand in the horse's mouth, waiting for the teeth to come snapping down on my fingers.

The New York subway, Saturday night, with my dad. The light is yellow, we are miles underground, the people inside alive and bubbling, taut men staring ahead in frozen trance, tired women on the way home, a rasta family sharing gum, warming with laughter. The doors close and an old white man begins his speech.

"Ladies and Gentlemen. I am not used to this, I am a man who has fallen on hard times, I am not practiced with words, this is hard for me, but I have no choice..."

He goes on, carefully rehearsed, years of practice making it into a song, a performance, a thing of itself. Dad pulls a bill out of his pocket when we reach our stop, and hands it over, the man beginning his gratitude refrain, Dad tells him, "well done."

He is offended. "This is not a performance!" But he keeps the cash.

Back home in San Francisco, another Friday night, another train. MUNI light hard on the cheeks of a dragged-out woman, black eyemakeup, eyes terrified from a shock no-one can see but her, glittering dress hanging from handlebar shoulders, on and off again at the next stop. Swedish brothers, full shopping bags from the grocery store. A Native American, hair over his collar, overhears our conversation and joins in, a distant smile growing on his face as we talk about traffic tickets in Finland.

We come to our stop and he waves us goodbye.

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