I have a new job, one that has me leaving the house after years of working in my pajamas. So that means a commute, which I’m comfortable with. This has afforded a small moment of peace, as turbulent as that sounds, since I am away from the family and the office for a combined eighty minutes give or take when the next train comes. So, of course, I write. I keep three notebooks in my bag along with all my other items. Lately I’m using one of the smaller ones since I’m working on my new Haiku Mixtape project, which doesn’t really need a lot of real estate as far as paper is concerned. The larger notebook comes out rarely, but when it does it’s only when I can sit down waiting for the next train, and when i really need to put down something long and drawn out.
This isn’t a new thing, I’ve been doing this for years. What makes it different is the ritualistic nature of it now. The pulling out of the black book and pen, the faces of daily commuters surrounding me becoming small easels for facial descriptions, etc. It isn’t like the weekend train ride. there’s a permanence to it now. This continued mobile isolation of sorts will be a productive one, hopefully. Until the job drives me insane.
(Note: parts of this were made in repeated drafts written on the PATH train on Monday and Tuesday of this week.)
[This is a repost from my Tumblr from something that happened two years ago. I decided to put it here just in case something happened to the other site in the future.]
The heat of the 9th Street PATH station was the least of my annoyances that night. I sat down on the only free spot of a bench with no back rest, next a loathsome group of men in pastel polo shirts and women in garish colored tight dresses. The ladies’ voices dripped with superficiality and their conversations were infested with horrible pop culture references and appending “hashtag” to meaningless words. It reminded me why I never understood the newfound attraction people have in moving to Hoboken and become like them. The train on route back to New Jersey came in, and I entered few cars away from that group. It made no difference – this time a group of completely hammered Hispanic men and women stood a couple of feet to my right, swaying near a connecting door, slurring lyrics incoherently as loud as possible.
As I am wont to do on late-night trains, I activated the gentlemanly part of my mind that I had shut down earlier at the club. I let the elderly and women exhausted from their own partying take any seat that could have been mine. Tonight I was especially urbane, as I needed atonement for a brusque exchange with a lady in the mood for a dance or two. Those dances did not happen, of course.
I kept to myself, holding a pole and hearing the conversations around me. Three men gave someone directions to Newark Airport. I looked over to see who was on the receiving end of the advice. A girl about my age sat at the end of a seat. She had a light frame and wore a short black jacket, holding on two pieces of rolling luggage that if stacked on top of each other would block her out of view completely. She had wavy reddish-brown hair with black roots that looked natural-colored. From my preliminary look at her I saw that her skin was a healthy white, but she was not Caucasian – perhaps a mixed race Asian. She had a tired look on her face.
I waited until the stop the Hoboken purged the generic party crowd before I walked over to the pole nearest to the girl. My second examination made it clear the she was Arabic, Turkish most likely, from the deep black eyelashes surrounding hazel eyes and full lips that were amazing in spite of no lipstick.
“You’re trying to get to Newark, right?” I asked her.
She looked up wearily but with enough energy to smile. “Yeah,” she said.
“Just follow me then, we’ll be at Journal Square soon. OK?” She nodded.
The rest of the ride to the transfer station consisted of making fun of the drunken Latinos. They were amusing until one of the men who decided standing between the cars and bouncing around was a sane idea.
“Hey dumbass, get back in here, I don’t want a delayed train!” I shouted. I turned back to the girl. “I promise not everyone from New Jersey acts like them,” I said.
“Well, that’s good,” she said. She didn’t stop smiling.
The seat next to her cleared on the next stop. I sat down and finally asked her name.
“What does that mean?”
She laughed. “It’s a bit embarrassing, actually.”
I told her mine.
“Like, Jesus, Jesus?”
“Yup. So trust me, your name won’t make me laugh any more than people have laughed at mine.”
“Well…my name means something like “woman so revered that kings would fight over her.”
I looked at quizzically. “How is that a bad thing?”
She laughed and shrugged.
The rest of the trip to Journal Square I let her tell her story. She was on her way home, in Vancouver, to visit her parents before visiting family in Montreal – I told her I had family there as well. After that stop, she said “I’m going back to uni in Istanbul. I have to learn more Arabic.”
“Why? What are you going to school for?”
“I want to be a war correspondent.”
The image of this shy and beautiful young Turkish girl wearing the stereotypical bulletproof vest, with her hair tied down but still moving to the winds created by jet fighters and mortar fire, appeared in my mind. I pushed it away to listen to her internships – one at Reuters, another for the Associated Press – and her experience in a boot camp created to prepare journalists for the dangerous areas ahead in their careers.
“The first things they gave us were a bulletproof vest and a helmet,” she said, and her excitement from the memory increased the broadness of her grin. “And the only thought I could think of when they gave it to me was… awesome.”
The train stopped at Journal Square. I moved into gentleman overdrive and reached for one of the luggage pieces and pulled it in the open door’s direction. She tried to dissuade me with the oh-you-don’t-have-to’s and are-you-sure-you-can’s but I calmly told her I couldn’t just leave her dragging those beasts on her own. This was one of the few times I was glad the late night Newark train took its sweet time.
I kept my answers to her questions brief. I used my San Francisco card rather well, and she asked about my immigrant story. The only thing question that caught me off guard was:
“Well, now that you’re back in New Jersey, do you think about leaving again?”
I paused and gave her some vague answer, but I know that the true answer is yes, I do always.
We reached Penn Station and after passing by a toothless homeless woman throwing obscenities at the two of us, I hailed a taxi for her and let her go. She hugged me and I gave her a quick kiss on the cheek – I have absolutely no idea why I did that. I was picked up by my normal ride, and in hindsight I should have asked if she wanted a ride, but that would have been a very suspect proposal.
It’s been a week and she is still on my mind, with that sheepish smile. I think she will have more men fighting over her soon – this time with actual guns.