Sunday, January 24, 2010

The neighborhood

I step out the back door of my new building, and see a man in a doorway across the street. He’s sobbing out loud, his mouth open like a little kid.

It’s raining hard today and the train is packed, people stuffed close enough to smell. A young man gets on; he reminds me of a kid I knew in college. Open, freckled face, good raincoat. He’s talking earnestly to someone, but I can’t pick out who it is.

“Sure, they’re thinking, why does he get to stand there?”

I look closely at the woman next to him to see if she is the one he’s addressing. She looks closely at me. We both realize it’s neither of us, or both of us and everyone on the train. His hand holds the pole directly in front of my nose. He wears a ring on his left pinky; dolphins are embossed on the band.

“That’s why I’m the focus, that’s why they’re studying me,” he says.

“It’s not crazy to hear voices,” he says, “It’s just crazy to answer them.”

I get off at my station. A man stands just outside the turnstiles. He holds a Fed-Ex box. He holds it out to passers-by, asking, asking, but I can’t tell what it is he wants. I can’t tell what he wants, but I recognize the gesture, the heart’s need for something, and how many of us confuse one want for another? We all want something that we can’t always name. We all sob aloud – in our room if we have one – or quietly, hoping not to wake the person sleeping beside us. I turn away from the naked need of the man with the box, the sobbing man, the woman selling scavenged copies of Street Sheet, unable to answer, ashamed of the echoed need in my own heart.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Catastrophe

I hear the scree of brakes and in the long 30th of a second before the crash, I anticipate it; I live through the long crushing grind six times before it happens, and it doesn't help, it goes right through my teeth and shakes my bones.

A cab has t-boned an airport shuttle, the nose of the cab peeled right back, skinned like a fresh kill, naked innards shoved under the side of the airporter, obscene and intimate. I cross the street at the light, coming closer to the accident, and see five people raise cell phone to ear, almost in unison, one-two-three-four-five.

I seem to be walking through sludge, everything slowed down, it takes an age to cross the street, turn left, walk the half-block toward the scene, glass glittering across the road, sprayed out from under the shuttle bus.

The cabbie is sitting very straight in his car, looking out through the windshield. A man with suitcases is out in the street, turning around, a bag in each hand. He turns and looks, turns and looks, like the answer is hiding just over his shoulder.

Someone opens the cabbie's door, but he doesn't move. He stares straight ahead.

Traffic is clotting in the street. It's a weekday, people are on their way to work. Someone honks, then honks again.

I look one more time over my shoulder as I walk. The cabbie still sits in his car, the man on the street turning and turning, but the rest of us have to get on with our day.