Saw a couple people who were fascinating to look at on the subway today... The most entertaining to describe was a mid-thirty-something guy during my ride home who looked like a Gay Hipster Jew that just got off from his professional day job he probably loathes (unless, by chance, it's actually cool, which is why he gets to dress like this). Either way, he looked quite serious, but you never really know what people are like by just staring at them, of course (trust me, I've tried). Anyway, he was, in fact, wearing a yarmulke, along with leopard-print - or was it tortoise shell? - glasses. He had a nice red plaid button-down shirt with the cuffs flipped up so you could see a different red plaid pattern at the wrists, and below, skinny kind of 60s-ish navy blue slacks that were just slightly too short and too tight for him, and at the bottom, pointy tan wingtips that looked vintage or possibly just well-worn. There was a bit of beard growth, and, finally, a slightly protruding round belly. He was probably going home to watch old Carol Channing movies, then read the Torah, then post something vaguely ironic on his FB profile. If only I knew!!! Anyway, I loved the look. He was handsome in a strange way. I wanted to keep staring at him in hopes I'd somehow figure out his story through a kind of mental-osmosis.
The other was a girl in the morning. She looked in her 20s and wore a black spaghetti-strap tank top with a black skirt. She had a few tattoos on one arm and a BIG tattoo of a feather on her chest. She had pretty dark brown hair that was fairly straight and long, and it was half-up, half-down. I don't think she wore much makeup, if any at all. I started looking at her more intently when I noticed that the earring she wore on her left side had a strange shape and texture. It took me a couple of seconds to realize that it was an approximately two-inch-long jaw bone of a small animal, or, rather, half of a jaw bone of a small animal (I assume the other half dangled from the other ear). Then I looked at her a bit more, and when people moved around getting in and out of the train, I noticed that she also didn't shave her legs. Quite hairy she was, probably about as hairy as my legs would look if I let them be au natural, being pale with darkish hair. I gave her a silent shout-out.
I love people watching.
Here's a short story I wrote for NPR's most recent Three-Minute Fiction contest. I won jack shit, so, maybe it's terrible, but I thought half the ones chosen were a waste of even three minutes time...So then, who am I to judge anyway, and who am I to tell whether or not three minutes of your life should be spent reading this or not? I won't then. Fine. I'll just shut up and post it now. (And no- this is not autobiographical, elements are, but the story is not.)
“My father warned me about dating guys I met on the subway.”
“Funny,” he says. They both laugh.
“It is funny,” she says. “But unfortunately it’s not a joke.”
His eyes look over the rim of his cup as he takes in the last mouthful of soda. The cup is big and plastic, the kind you usually find in diners and buffets. He holds the straw with his finger so it won’t poke him in the face. The ice rustles. “So,” he starts. “How’d the old man take it when you told him you were moving?”
She laughs again. There was a lot of laughing, but not many jokes. She took a drink of beer that shone the color of a dirty penny when it hit the light from the hanging bulb. The cold, bitter fizz enveloped her tongue, her throat, and she thought back to October, when it was just a few weeks before she picked up and moved to the other side of the country.
You see, it had been the worst possible time to tell them— her parents’ ancient, toothless Pekingese had just died.
Was this a cliché? Of course. All of it. She should have anticipated the Universe’s discouragement. No. No, this was a uniquely, unpredictably horrible situation. Yes. And no. But really, it didn’t matter. Either way, she would find herself sitting in the living room with her mother and father for two hours while they cried off and on, missing the poor little dog. They cried before she got there. And they’d cry after she left. She cried, too, though it wasn’t about the Pekingese.
The next day, she had to give them a call.
“God, I’m sorry— I didn’t mean to tell you all that.” She touches her hand to her forehead.
“No, no. It’s a good story,” the guy with glasses and a few grey hairs encourages. “Sounds terrible, really. Terrible timing.”
“Terrible,” the brunette echoes.
“How old was the dog?”
“Sixteen, seventeen. Pretty old. I think he lasted so long because my mother sang to him. Very elaborate tunes.”
“Like operas?” He asks.
“Oh, no. Totally original. Like nothing you’ve ever heard before. I mean, imagine you’re on your deathbed, and there’s this spry middle-aged woman serenading you some awkwardly syncopated song about how handsome you are, what she’s feeding you for dinner, praising your failed attempts to pee outside…”
“Oh, I’d live forever!” He says. “That’s the fountain of youth right there.”
“And my dad,” she went on, sounding oddly serious for a moment, “he used to say that most people think of pets as preparation for having children, but for them, my parents, it was children that were preparation for having that dog.”
“That’s a strange thing to say to your kids.” His eyebrows lowered.
“Oh no, it’s just his stupid joke!” She apologizes. “Though they really did love that little guy.”
“Oh, good. Good,” he laughs.
“And I— I still feel guilty,” she says shaking her head with a small smile. She moves the amber ale aside, pulling up the napkin that is moist with sweat from the glass. He watches her lay it back down on the wooden table and press it flat with her palm. “So,” she finally says. “Tell me about your big New York move. How was it?”
“Easy,” he says. “My parents are dead.”
She gives a laugh. “Very funny…”
He glances down, a bit embarrassed. “Well, actually,” he pauses. “It’s not a joke.”
"The world is perfect. It’s a mess. It has always been a mess. We are not going to change it. Our job is to straighten out our own lives."
SK posted this evening about her emotional fullness caused by both the success of the Egyptian protesters today and about her pending iPhone delivery. I, too, sometimes try to reconcile what seems like any number of distinctly different or incongruous sets of feelings.
But I realized at that moment that it's this diversity of feeling that is perhaps one of our greatest privileges in being Americans. We have the freedom and luxury of being excited about the lovely and the trivial; we also have access to a vast supply of information about the world and the people around us, and the freedom to express appreciation or sympathy for the more serious matters that face humanity(be they existential, philosophical, physical). I love freedom as much as I love Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. I hate war as much as I hate Nickelback and the sound of Sarah Palin's voice. And it's my fucking right as an American- actually, as a human- to do so. Our country just happens to be one of those where it's technically allowed and our standard of living generally supports it.
America. Fuck yeah.
But seriously, while things might be getting pretty fucked up in a lot of ways, I'd like to think, perhaps naively, that we've still got a pretty good thing going at the heart of it. So let's try to make it better, right???!!! (How, you ask?... Ok, look guys, I know you're hanging on my every word and all, but I only have time for so much expounding and solving of our nation's problems... That said, first step toward betterment: Reese's Peanut Butter Cups for everyone!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Also, refer to title of post [Joseph Campbell quote]. Maybe it's not that simple, but maybe it is...?*)
I haven't felt the need to shave for what amounts to about 2 weeks now, I think. 2 weeks and counting...
UPDATE: I made it 3 weeks. After the comments, I feel like a real high-maintenance, candy-ass pansy...