It Hardly Matters

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

New Haven

On the way back and forth between Grand Central and New Haven, I sat in the same seat on the train. It was the last window seat, in the last car before the dining car. Yep, right near the bathroom. I was traveling to meet my parents for a Mom's-60th-birthday weekend in Mystic, CT. Mom had decided last minute, at my prodding, to take a mini-vacation away from the encroaching lakefront neighbors on Lake Thompson, away from the dogs, away from our aging relatives, and stick her toes in the sand and sip on tonic-and-limes until the sun set. Delicious.

Both ways, the train was packed. Families featuring cranky babies and 10-year-old girls with pink Puma backpacks tossed soft coolers containing Sierra Mists and tunafish sandwiches wrapped in cellophane up into the overhead bins. Yalies in worn heather-gray sweatshirts broke the bindings of their previously-uncracked textbooks, then sighed. Downtown chicks in metallic flip flops and flouncy skirts, bra staps defiant and fabulous, texted their friends upstate to say that the train was on time and that they couldn't wait 4 th mojitos! They settled in for the 90-minute ride. I was Sudokuing like crazy, hoping no one would sit next to me. It worked. Well, for 10 minutes.

At Harlem-125th Street, a few people crowded on to the train. A sweet-faced, cornrowed man gestured to me and I moved myself over a millimeter to accommodate him. My iPod was on; no words were exchanged. He was on the phone. Talking loudly. OK. I can deal with this. After a few minutes he clapped his phone shut, rustled around in his duffel bag, produced a 40-ounce King Cobra, cracked it, and looked at me, smiling, offering. It was 10:17 AM.

Yes, I drink. A lot. But 10:17 AM? I shook my head ever-so-slightly: no thank you. Great, an alcoholic thug next to me for 90 minutes. Furious Sudoku.

I had a migraine. The numbers weren't fitting. My iPod battery was dangerously low. My seatmate was shifting, sipping, watching me stare at the grid populated with empty boxes. My jaw muscles flexed, teeth meeting in an unnatural grind. He kept staring. The pressure built, my teeth bricks against sawblades, sparks flying into my brain. I finally broke. Devastated, I flipped to the end of the book for a hint. Motherfucker.

I filled in the remainder of the boxes with excessive force, almost tearing through the paper with the tip of my retractable pencil. Smugly, he looked the other way to see what the dark-haired woman across the aisle had to offer in the way of entertainment. Rumblings. A bit of relief. They were talking. In between songs, I heard: "Are you a vet?" "Yeah." Then more words, like tiny knives stabbing the tips of my nerve endings: war, man, they send you out there and what do they expect? I am a terrible person.

He gets off in Bridgeport, after talking to the dark-haired woman for almost the entire ride. She is nice, she is a human being. I'm an alien with a completed number puzzle, an empty seat, an empty bottle of malt liquor, a folded flag, a broken heart. Bound for the beach, for my parents, my loving, wonderful parents who never had to worry about a son in the war. Bound for gin and tonics and sunset.

What do they expect?

4 Comments:

  • This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    By Anonymous Sleeping Child, at 9:20 PM  

  • This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    By Blogger mega74, at 9:24 PM  

  • This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    By Blogger mega74, at 9:30 PM  

  • or, what if that one little episode in the middle had gone this way....
    he politely offered a pull from the forty of King Cobra and I genteelly nodded in that "no thanks" fashion, then reached into my Kate Spade weekend bag and pulled out my own 45 oz Colt 45 and, after spilling a little for the homies who never made it back from our last trip to mystic, winked to my new friend and let the cool malty ambrosia slide down my throat. Happy birthday mom.

    By Anonymous Jay Nebraska, at 11:31 AM  

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