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The more I find, the more I want.


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The Commute (Part 7)

This one dollar bill, which means nothing to me, is Ned’s salary for the day. What kind of person would I be if I left it on the train for another person to take? What human being would take this dollar and hit the nearest Wendy’s for a delicious hamburger on his lunch break? Or insert it into the vending machine for the Oh Henry! bar that calls his name every day? Huh? Tell me!

Contrary to the thoughts of tasty foods to which my mind wanders, I have to return it. Besides, I saw the way Eileen looked at me when I bent down to get the dollar. Although she would’ve taken it in a second, she’ll silently condemn me each and every day we ride the train together if I don’t get it back to Ned. But how would she know?  It’s not like she’s playing Samwise to my Frodo on this excursion.

Getting off this train will throw me off schedule. I will arrive late to work and my whole day will be off balance, all because a bum lost his fucking dollar. How ridiculous. As I exit the train I can’t help but think what a day this is turning out to be, and it’s only the beginning. I am appointed a mission I want nothing to do with. Rescue the princess, slay the dragon, return the dollar. Fate has dealt me a cruel hand and in it is this dollar bill.

Fuck it. I’ll do it. For Ned. If anyone asks why I’m late to work I’ll simply reply, “I missed my fucking train this morning.”

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The Commute (Part 6)

I never donate to the “homeless” because I can never tell if they are sincerely homeless or begging to feed their addictions. If I can pull off the homeless look, especially on laundry days, then anyone can do it. On Dateline, they ran a special about undercover cops who pose as the homeless. What if this is an employed cop with a fat bank account keeping the donations for himself’ I’d be the jerk off who just gave him a single to spend at the strip club. Can’t fool me, Piggy. Tough luck, “Ned”- if that’s even your real name.

God, I wish I had a book or a newspaper, something. Eileen has the perfect cover. Subway bums never bother people who are reading, especially the ones who look thoroughly engrossed. He’s only steps away now. I find a point to focus on so Ned and I don’t make eye contact. If we don’t make direct eye contact, I won’t have to contribute to his fund and Ned will assume I didn’t hear his plea for help and he won’t be offended. We both win.

I tilt my head down and act as if my bag is the most interesting thing in the world. While I’m fiddling with the zipper, Ned, still shaking his cup, stops right in front of me.

“Any help? Any help at all.”

Nope. Not from me. Sorry, pal. I can’t risk taking out my wallet to give this guy a couple of nickels. What if I touch his hand as I throw the change into his cup? What if he grabs my wallet and runs? What if the condom I’ve had in there since I was sixteen falls out?  I’ll need that someday. No. I can’t. It’s too risky.

When I don’t reply, Ned moves on. He opens the sliding door that connects the subway cars with his right hand. In his left, he holds his cup- his wages for the day. As he steps onto the small platform, however, the train takes a sharp turn and, in combination with the wind from the tunnel, some of Ned’s money, a one-dollar bill- flies out of his cup and lands next to my left shoe. Shit. Ned keeps walking. He doesn’t notice. But Eileen does. She glares at me with those beady eyes of black.

“You have to give it back, you know. It’s not yours to keep,” her eyes seem to say. No shit, Eileen. “Go back to reading your fucking book” is the sentiment I try to project with my eyes. Ned continues to walk through the next car, still unaware of the missing bill. I pull the sleeve of my jacket past my hand. I bend down and pick the bill up with the material. I wonder how many germs this small slip of paper holds. I contain my gag reflex.

Since I can’t walk through to the other car- rules, my friend, rules- I wait for the next stop. I stand up and peak through the window. Ned’s moving systematically through the car in front of us. When the train stops, he exits.

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The Commute (Part 5)

I can never fall right to sleep on the train. It takes me a while, but once I’m comfortable I begin to doze. I never go into a deep sleep though; more a half-sleep. I wake every stop to ensure I don’t miss mine. I wrap the strap of my messenger bag around my arm and lodge one fist under my chin. I don’t try to do the whole head- balancing thing like some people do. If I did, I’d look just as absurd as they, the Head-Bobbers, do. You know- the people who fight sleep on the train, who will themselves awake by keeping their head level and straight. They want to play it off as though they aren’t sleeping. What eventually happens is the head begins to fall forward and is jerked upright, creating a bobbing effect. However much I love watching Head-Bobbers, I’d hate to be one. It’s humiliating. Especially when you bob so far forward it wakes you. You know what just happened and so does everyone around you, but nobody says a word. They just laugh to themselves.

Just as I am about to doze off I hear a gruff, raspy voice. “Hello everyone, my name is Homeless Ned. You can call me Ned or you can call me Homeless. I am sorry to disturb you, but I need help. I’m looking to eat a hot meal today. Anything you can help me with is much appreciated. Can anyone help me this morning?” A man in tattered, dusty layers of clothing shuffles down the subway car. He wears an aviator cap over his bushy hair and a large, flowing cape that sways around his broad shoulders with each of his steps. His shoes look three sizes too big and, as a result, he drags them instead of picking his feet up. His salt-and-pepper beard covers the entire lower part of his face and continues down his neck. He carries a large plastic cup from Burger King and shakes it rhythmically to get attention; the coins inside jingle-jangle. As he nears me, I panic.

What if he touches me? What if his cape brushes my leg? Yeah, it’s an awesome cape. I mean, I don’t have a cape. But still. What if he smells’ It was just my luck that I happened to sit right next to the door to the other car, the exact door which Ned will go through to begin his speech all over again to another group of passengers.

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The Commute (Part 4)

My stop arrives and I wait until everyone exits even though I’m pressed for time. I end up being the last to leave the train. I can’t stand to be casually touched. I’ll do it occasionally- shake a hand or two, give my Aunt a hug once in a while, slap a high five at a game, but in a subway it’s obviously inevitable that you’ll be pushed, brushed, nudged, pinched, squeezed, cupped and jostled by those around you. This is what I try to avoid it at all costs. It’s unsettling to think that another person, one to whom I have absolutely no relation, has touched me. I take extra precautions to avoid contact. I move away more space than is necessary. I constantly switch sides of the platform when walking; and I always carry a bag to create a buffer zone when I sit. It’s a matter of personal space.

I run down the stairs, careful not to touch the handrails. I find my spot on the platform and wait for the L train. The L comes equipped with a mechanical PA system. Instead of the muffled voices that are standard on the older subway cars, I am met with a clear and precise male or female voice calling out the stops and announcing that the doors are closing. I’ve become close to these voices. When I doze off, I hear them in my head. I hear the voices when I go to bed at night as well.

I take a seat and prepare for the ride. This is the longer ride of the journey. There are still several vacant seats left. In the two-seater across from me is a woman whom I see every day, but neither of us acknowledges that fact with a greeting. Her light brown hair is cut close to her head. Her clothing is usually loose fitting and it’s hard to tell what department she’s been shopping in- men’s or women’s. She always boards with a book to read. The brown book bag she carries every day rests on her lap. Her book is drawn close to her face. I can’t read the title; she’s folded the book so she can hold it with one hand. Extraordinarily thin and possessing a mousy face, I’ve given her the name Eileen. She looks like an Eileen. She looks as if she speaks like her name is Eileen, very nasal and high-pitched.

Midway through my ride, a teenage girl boards the train. She’s popping her gum. Great. The large gold hoop earrings her ears barely hold are the size of a bracelet. It’s a wonder her ears can sustain the weight. Her book bag sags on her back; probably empty. She taps her sneakers to the song on her iPod; a song that is loud, unreasonably loud. I feel badly for her ears again. She leans against the subway door with one foot flush against it and the other tapping on beat. There are available seats all around her so it makes me nervous that she doesn’t sit. Why is she standing right next to me? Right above me? Why would she lean on the door when the sign clearly states do not lean on the door? When she falls out when the doors accidentally open then she’ll sue the MTA, right?

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The Commute (Part 3)

I use my hand to push the metal bar of the turnstile as I walk through. I wonder how many people have touched this same bar today, yesterday, and years before me. I wonder how many people will touch it years after me. I wonder how many people picked their noses, scratched their asses or fingered their ear wax before touching this same exact bar. I repulse myself with the thought of how dirty the bar must be. Next time I’ll just push it with my leg. I try not to swallow in an effort to hold back my vomit. Dateline should do a special on this. I saw the expose’ they did with public telephones. They found fecal matter on random phones in New York City. Fecal matter, shit. They found shit on the fucking phones. What the hell are New Yorkers doing- talking out of their asses? Ha. That’s not half bad, pretty funny! That’s the reason I hold the phone far from my face. Sure it’s hard to hear, but I make sacrifices. Maybe Dateline already had a special on the bacteria that lies on MTA turnstiles. I’ll Google it when I get home. I make a mental note to shake Manager Matt’s hand but not to touch my face until I get the chance to wash my hands.

I take the stairs two at a time and reach the train doors just as they’re closing. I stick my hand through to stop them from closing. Luckily, the train operator sees me and opens the doors for me to step through.

I used to think the doors were motion-operated, but they’re not. The doors are operator-controlled. I once saw a woman stick a baby carriage with a baby in it in the door of the train. The doors closed and the carriage became wedged in. The doors, despite the woman’s screams, the baby’s cries and my laughter, did not open. She was forced to yank the kid and carriage from between the door and wait for the next train. All the while, a voice over the loudspeaker robotically repeated, “Please release the train door.” Fucked-up, right? Funny-yes, but fucked-up too.

Since I wasn’t standing at my usual spot on the platform I am unable to sit on the first seat to my right, where I usually sit. Instead, I am forced to find a seat while the train is moving, which I hate to do. You can never plant your ass in the right spot when the train is in motion. You always end up halfway on top of a person when choosing a seat this way. There are a few seats available as it is only the second stop. I find a spot between two women. Now, unlike others who would choose this seat based solely on its proximity to women, I, on the other hand, choose it because it is closest to my usual exit door, which shaves precious seconds off my travel time.

The woman to my right is a blond, but obviously not a natural one. Her roots are showing in her sideburns, which are unusually bushy. The sweat-beads building up under this woman’s second chin gently slide down her three chin hairs. She wears a white-collar shirt and khaki-colored slacks- probably heading off to work as well. Her foot fat is pushing over the top of her heels, like a muffin bursting out of its pan, and there is a run in the slimming stockings she wears to hide her two spare tires. She smells faintly of perfume that alone would smell good if it wasn’t mixed with the Dunkin’ Donuts coffee she holds in her hand.

The woman on my left is quite the opposite from Large Marge. She has dark brown hair and eyebrows trimmed into high arches. The New York Times is neatly folded in her lap so the masthead shows. She stares straight ahead. Why isn’t she reading it? Maybe I should ask her if I could read it. I mean, she’s obviously not using it. Her hands are folded across her chest and she blinks once every three seconds, like clockwork. Maybe it’s an image thing- looking smart holding The New York Times. You’d be smarter if you actually read it, I try to express in my glare.

As she feels me looking, she brings her arms closer to her chest. She probably thinks I am going to hit on her but that’s the last thing I would do, especially here, on the subway. To hit on a woman on the subway seems so slimy, so stalker-like. I’m slimy, yes, but no stalker. I mean, to where can these women escape? It’s illegal now to walk through train cars and if they wanted to change cars, they would have to exit the train but then they run the risk of being shut out altogether. They would have to give up their seat on a crowded train if they wanted to move further down the car and would then have to stand for the duration of their trip. No. Hitting on women who have no possibility of escape is just wrong. Plus, everyone would hear if I got rejected.

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The Commute (Part 2)

I walk briskly down the hill toward the main street. It’s still dark out. I know “they”- the ever-accurate weather people- said it would be a warm day today; however, this morning is anything but. I button the top button of my jacket. I can always take it off and wrap it around my waist if it gets warm later on.

I dodge those walking in front of me, obstructing my way. Bob to the left and weave on the right; side shuffle past the old woman passing out Jesus flyers and hurry around the group of school kids debating who has better tits- Kardashian or Simpson.

I have to make this train. What else can I do? Jump on the tracks and hoof it to work? Battling giant fucking rats? No. I’ll wait, but it’ll throw my whole day off. I’ll be late getting into work, late starting my work, late to lunch and ultimately late to leave. It’s all downhill if I don’t make this train. All day long I’ll have to say “I missed my train this morning” when something goes wrong. Break the copy machine… again? “Sorry, missed my train this morning.” Knock over a cubicle divider while trying to break my record for number of chair spins in a minute? “Huff, I missed my train this morning.” Staple Amanda’s thumb to the “Work Together!” board? “It’s because I missed my train this morning!” No. Not me, not today. I will make this train. Mind over matter, left in front of right.

I finally make it to the station and just as I’m walking up the steps, I hear it approach. The signal goes off, “BEEP BEEP BEEP.” It warns the people on the platform to step back; the people sitting on the benches to step forward; and the people almost there to move their asses. I’m a member of the latter group. That high-pitched signal can be the beginning of a great day or a shitty one. I burst into an all-out run up the stairway that leads to the platform. Usually I don’t do this, to avoid looking stupid if I miss the train, but today is different. I still have a flight of steps and a few footsteps between me and the train doors. I swipe my card. “GO” appears on the tiny screen. Thank God.

My all-time record for Metrocard swiping is eight times. The day I broke my record, I stood there, at the rejecting turnstile, and swiped my card over and over again until it deemed me adequate to pass. I could hear the sucking teeth of the people behind me, but this was a record I was breaking. I’m sure they understood the situation.

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