A ride on the F train

Forest Hills, NY

I nestle into my parka: this is one of the stations that, being close to the ground and not very crowded, maintains the chill of the outside winter temperatures – versus the smothering vapor barrier in places like union square; I always forget the very subtle difference between a bit of a walk and a little stroll that seems to be defined quite precisely by the distance it takes a body and a mind to traverse from E 28 st to the 23rd street F/M train station, but unlike other chilly nights, this one remained on just about the pleasant side of regret. I dismiss the M train and remember, woefully, how I’ve taken it late at night, drunk and tired, hedging my bets liberally and just assuming that the F will be just as slow to take me to the comfort of a bed and a restroom; tonight, however, I’m sober, early, and just beginning to feel hungry. My gaze rests in the past just one bit more: how many times have I taken that M train, who have I been during those times, where have I been with respect to myself? The doors close and take my thoughts amongst other commuters who either travel to somewhere near in Manhattan or have taken the liberal bet early this evening, and decide to go local, no sleep till Queens.

Reveries come and go as I stare at my kindle before swiping to awaken it and continuing my voracious consumption of the Complete Walker IV, and the reveries take the background as the wit of Colin Fletcher and Chip Rawlins make even the subject of first aid a page turner. A slight tremor, a faint breeze, a migration of quiet commuters forth into the platform announces the arrival of the F train, and soon the automated voices that accompany the doors defy subtlety and dare me to stay within hitting range of the closing doors, I step into the half empty car, glad to have chosen one that wasn’t the temporary residence of an unfortunate, and sadly malodorous, drifter. One thing I’ve never been quite able to get over in this city is the dilemma posed by the harsh reality of the homeless: as many of my local friends say, there are too many to feel emotionally invested and help, so I dither between apathy and guilt at that apathy, between blindness and heart-rending sympathy for a fellow person who, by misfortunes or bad decisions, has found it inevitable to forego conventions and just try to steal some warmth, and maybe some charity, in a subway car: that could be us, or someone we love. I still don’t have an answer, nor an antidote to either their pain or my own. It’s a thought I escape from, alas.

Fickle as the mind’s eye is, I soon have evaded the depths of human misery again and engage in more immediate matters, my permanent phobia in NYC: is the seat I’m on reasonably clean? Will it bequeath me with stains I can’t quite commit to, not with my time and meager skills? In my – otherwise successful – survey, I spot a suspicious stain on the seat right beside be and down on the floor, and I realize I know this stain: I’ve spotted it, sat next to it, and wondered about whence it came and how long ago many times; and I sink into a recurring reflection: isn’t it an instructive insight to realize one’s exactly in the same place that a past copy of oneself has occupied? To fixate the space coordinates and be able to look down the hazy axis of time and try to look into those minds again, be those selves again, evaluate who they were and who we are now. It happened to me in Yoro, during New Years, while visiting my aunt: I’ve been to that house many times, as a toddler, an energetic kid, a sulking teenager, an infatuated college feller, a busy and anxious young professional and a more content, more relaxed, slightly more composed and slightly older dude. To realize how much things change and how much they stay the same feels like a rich opportunity for self-evaluation, for asking oneself The Big Questions; but perhaps it’s a rich setting for luxurious, and fruitless navel gazing. Perhaps treasures lie there which I haven’t realized I’ve found yet, perhaps it’s just dirt and a regrettable case of losing sight of the world, but whichever it is, here I am, digging, sitting on a queens-bound F train, whistling David Bowie songs to myself, hoping a sliver of light comes through whenever I need it, or you, dear reader. You go there, to your places that repeat, I’ll still be there, digging.