Monday, November 13, 2006

Humanoid Underground Dweller

I think I may have inadvertently created the perfect discordant experience earlier tonight. I was coming home from work, listening to the Allman Brothers. This alone is rare. The Allman Brothers recorded many, many songs, of which I have exactly two on my iPod (of the 5,814 songs I currently have on there; and no, that number isn’t my usual exaggeration for comical non-effect, it’s just the real number). The songs are “Melissa” and “Jessica,” and I only ever really listen to the former.

But this time, I was listening to “Jessica,” mostly because after staying at work until 8:00, wrestling with demonic Xerox machines when everyone else had been sensible enough to leave for home or perhaps to have minor surgery performed, I was too tired to pull the listening device out of my coat pocket and switch to a song that better suited my mood. If you’re not familiar with “Jessica,” it’s a long(ish), noodling, airy instrumental, with a main guitar figure that is arguably the perfect soundtrack for carefree motion. It could easily and appropriately accompany any of the following activities: driving on an open highway during a bright spring day; running after a frisbee between courses of a picnic in a park; running full stride among a pack of large, happy dogs.

What it does not appropriately accompany, and what made its presence so perversely enjoyable tonight, is sitting on the E train, with its doors open at the Penn Station stop, surrounded by glum, fallen faces like so many broken lamps.

In my search to locate the nexus of my recent (OK, yearlong) ennui, I’ve alighted on the subway. In its way, of course, it’s a marvel. It keeps me from making any kind of car payment, it is (despite the maddening exceptions) fairly reliable, and it is the world’s most dependable designated driver. (You never see the D train off in the corner doing a kegstand after it promised to be your ride home.)

But the commute (about 45 minutes each way every weekday) is taking its toll. Or, as a good friend who was in the city freelancing last week put it to me over lunch, with a smile on his face, “Yeah, I think if I’d been making that commute for the last five years, I would have killed myself by now.” Thanks, JF.

It’s been almost six years, actually.

For some reason, the approaching winter always makes the train population seem that much more...gross. People are splayed all over each other, children piled on top of children, the bass of neighboring headphones seems louder, the ching-ching of cell-phone video games replicates the noise of a Vegas casino floor, even the rats on the tracks seem more put out.

Tonight, on the D, there was a guy sitting in the far corner of the car. I think it was a guy. He was wearing a too-small knit cap pulled tight over his head, his bottom lip drooping down at a remarkable angle even for the sad sacks of Gotham, and he looked legitimately lost more than sad or hungry. He was of indeterminable ethnicity, and very small. If I had to guess, and I'm not joking, I'd say he was a Sherpa who had made a wrong turn somewhere west of Nepal. He was one of these people you see sometimes in the city, and I honestly don’t mean this to be needlessly cruel -- he didn’t appear nearly as destitute as many here do -- who seemed literally out of place, like someone was taking care of him and thought, “Hell, we’ll just throw him on a subway train in New York. No one will think it’s that weird.”

Normally they'd be right. But I’m starting to think things are that weird again. Can’t tell if this is a sign to leave, or a sign that it’s too late -- that I’d look to residents of other places much like that guy looked to me.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

the single best thing about my day job is that it's about a 3-minute walk away from my front door, and i don't have to cross any streets on the way. not only does this save money and time, but obviously sanity as well, judging from your rapid deterioration.

i definitely take this perk for granted, though, having been at this job for going on 6 years. the only real downside to it is that it takes much more determination to go out on a weeknight, especially in the winter. the choice between walking up the block to arrive home by 5 after 5 and walking to the rush-hour subway platform is a no-brainer when it's cold and dark outside.

4:37 PM  

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