Five forty five, Tuesday, November 7th, 2017 waiting for the F train in the 34th Street station. Its been a day yet it feels as if it were three. But! I have my kindle in my pocket and “Look Homeward, Angel,” waiting to be read. The world of Liza, Gant, Eugene and the people of Altamont.
After three M trains rolled in and out of the station, at last an F train ambled its way into the station. Through the windows I saw that the cars were packed;I would be standing but hopefully it’ll empty out at Delancey Street and I could grab a spot to sit.
I stood with my arm extended up holding onto the metal bar six inches above my head. To my right was a lady slowly and loudly biting into and chewing an apple. With each bite she chewed maybe one hundred and thirty three times and then exhaled. Took another slow motion bite, spraying all who were within a six foot perimeter of her and went into her chewing routine.
To the left of me was a young couple who obviously were physically attracted to each other. The loud sounds of their kissing even grossed, an avowed lover of passion such as myself, out. Out of reflex a quick glance towards the explosions of lips touching lips , tongues in a raging war against each other.
In front of me, sitting comfortably and in deep discussion was a middle aged couple. I had the pleasure of listening in on their conversation for the next 49 minutes.
The man was a around my age, fiftyish and dressed in dad fashion. The woman was perhaps 10 years younger with a prettier look and dressed better than the average mother.
“I am just not convinced this is what my life is meant to be, my time to be spent this way.” The man was saying, which intrigued me; I gave myself permission to intrude in this private public conversation.
“So what do you want to spend your time doing? You have a family, are they not what you want as well?”
“No they are the reason for my compromising my lifes ambitions.”
“Yes; you think I like selling shoes and socks? You think I grew up laying on my bed dreaming of the perfect shoe?”
“It’s not the shoe, isn’t it about the rewards of commission and income?”
“The rewards are not the answers to my prayers; they barely pay the electric and the gas.”
The woman let out a sigh, looked to the lady biting into her apple and grimaced. The man turned towards the kissing couple and seemed to stare through them; the woman noticed his staring.
“Remember when we could barely keep our hands off each other?” She put her head on his shoulder. He smiled perhaps they were sharing the same memory. A car parked, a knock on the window by a policeman and their explanations that there was nothing untoward happening.
He rubbed his eyes, ran his hand through his hair and leaned his head against hers.
“I never thought I would find myself at this stage of my life – enveloped by so much…I feel so imprisoned by responsibilities and impossible financial escape or rescue scenarios.”
She closed her eyes.
“I feel as if you are all better off cashing in my life insurance…”
“Stop that stupidity.”
“I can’t live this way anymore…getting old and getting old too quickly.”
The couple were locked in a tight embrace now – Delancey Street coming up. The lady with the apple was chewing, chewing, chewing…the train came to a stop and the young couple walked off while the lady with the apple took another bite and began to chew…
I stood there and it seemed no one was getting off the train; the conversation in front of me was frustrating to hear and the now a man was singing a song about Otis Redding. In his voice you can hear the overuse and the abuse he had scarred it with. A black man with a hat turned upside down in his hand asking for donations while he sang now, “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay, watching the tide roll away…” which a throat phlegmy and filled with a yearning and a need to be doing just that. I gave him a quarter, it’s all I had on me. I looked at the couple in front of me and they were speaking in hushed tones and the lady next to me was chewing her final chew. The train stopped at 2nd avenue and the singer walked off and the car jerked into movement again.
Still standing, even after Jay Street, I watched as the train rumbled through the darkness and jerked and stopped. A young boy was wearing headphones and playing a game on his phone. There was a long bearded man with square glasses reading a folded up newspaper, perhaps the NY Times as it fit his demographic as a hipster, who I bet myself would be exiting at 7th Avenue. There were two Asian ladies speaking to each other really loud and another passenger told them to lower their voices, to which they ignored, causing her to huff and puff, pull out her headphones from her pocketbook and put them on.
“I just don’t know what to tell you.” The woman in front of me told the man next to her.
“There is nothing I am wanting you to say. Life is hard and I feel like I have failed everyone who I care about the most.”
“You only fail if you give up, Harry.”
“That’s bullshit and you know it.”
“Its bullshit if that’s how you want to see it.”
“I have the audacity to expect more from myself than perhaps I am capable of.”
Silence. I thought about myself and stared at the couple. To the right of me the lady with the apple was done biting and chewing; she was now holding the remains of the apple in her hand and using her phone with the other. On the 4th Avenue bridge now the sky is dark and the apple lady get’s off on Smith and Ninth and a man with a thousand faces with a guitar strapped around his shoulder walks on and stands to the side of me.
“Compromise is not the answer to the questions, Helen.”
“Compromise is the answer in this case – you need to compromise your ideals of what you want out of life for the realities of what is needed. Happiness, self happiness is a rich person’s idea of life; not someone who has 2 kids at home, a mortgage and lives in Brooklyn. You need to earn the right to choose your happiness in this world.”
The man with a thousand faces began to play…
“I went to a garden party. to reminisce with my old friends…”
“I dont believe that, Hel.”
“What do you believe then Harry? You are an atheist, you have no sports teams you root for and you seem to have lost all understanding of what love is.”
“How dare you say that? I love you and the kids. If I didn’t I would have left here a long time ago.”
“To do what, Harry?”
“I don’t know.”
Silence, she took his hand and she held it.
Seventh Avenue and they get up and leave the train, along with the hipster and the Asian ladies. I get a seat to sit on and I stare into space thinking.
“You can’t please everyone, so you gotta please yourself.” The man with a thousand faces is singing and smiling as he departs the train behind the ladies. The train is still in the station when an announcement comes on.
“This train is now out of service, there is an F train behind this one. Please get off the train as it is heading to the yard.”
“Come on.” I say to no one in particular. The rest of the passengers sigh and accept the fate of departure because there is no point in resisting. I stand on the platform and watch as the train leaves the station. I stand and turn on the music on my phone, “Why try and change me now,” from Bob Dylan’s “Shadows in the Night” album.
“Let people wonder, let them laugh let them frown, you know I love you ’til the moons upside down…don’t you remember I was always your clown? Why try and change me now?”*
The F Train rolls in and its packed, I stand by the door as it lifts slowly out onto McDonald Avenue – I stand by the door as the train makes its way to Ditmas Avenue, 18th Avenue, Avenue I, Bay Parkway, Avenue N and finally Avenue P. I get off the train and its drizzling outside with the temperature having dropped. I am wearing my black light overcoat over a collared shirt, jeans and black sneakers. I am listening to Neil Young singing “Thrashers” and I smile when I think about where I am these days.
“How I lost my friends, I still don’t understand, they had the best selection, they were poisoned with protection, there was nothing that they needed, nothing left to find.”**
I was lost and my head was spinning. I was alone. I was the man walking down the street in the rain, listening to words being sung by intimate strangers who had accompanied me for most of my life. They could never truly understand where I was, who I was or how I was; but they could express in words and music just how I was feeling at the time. Here I was walking home to a home that was no longer my home but was inhabited by the stuff that makes up my life.
We all walk along a path that is made by the choices we make, we walk as we choose, with a rhythm of our own, all within ourselves a drumbeat, a tempo and some of us throw in a guitar or piano solo. So we hop, here and there and we move to the tempo of the song – we can relate to the lyrics because they were written just for us. They ask and answer questions, the piano opens the songs or ends them, the guitar and the bass harmonize with the drummer who has a beat all of his own. We walk and we walk into holes in the road, rocks or downed trees blocking the passage. We adjust. adapt or jump or swerve. We do what we can with what we have. But it’s rarely good enough, it rarely contains the answers, the maps, the stars are invisible to the eyes who search for guidance and the higher powers can only be accessed by the ones who truly understand.
So we, us wanderers, we walk the streets muttering and grabbing at the signs that appear and then disappear just as quickly. We search for a friendly face who can empathize not sympathize. We listen closely for the voices we yearn to hear – the words we yearn to ingest. We walk, we stop and then we walk again. That road, the one with the destination signs appearing and disappearing like a blink of an eye. We are never satisfied because that does not exist in our nature to be satisfied. We want more and we want it better than before.
I thought about the man from the train who said that he had been “compromising” and I somehow could understand what he meant by that. We start off our lives wailing, we smile, we learn to express ourselves and then the words begin to make sense. We look around and pick and choose the scenes around us that inspire us, that enthrall us and we wish to emulate. We judge for ourselves what we really need from life and we choose to waylay some of our other desires. We choose a never ending responsibility because we know, deep down inside, that true happiness, true peace and true religion is all about “love.” When you find the love you find yourself at odds with so many other emotions – bills to pay, mortgages, food…So you compromise. You dream at night and you work all day. You realize that compromise is not a profanity but more of an expression of love and acceptance. But it still hurts.
I thought about that couple and wondered where were they coming from and where were they headed?
I thought about that lady with the apple and realized she had it all together. She had the apple and she relished each and every bite, chew and swallow.
I thought about the young couple and realized that they were expressing what they believed to be the one and only true love story in the world. Maybe it was.
I thought about the song sung, “Garden Party” and realized you really can’t please everyone so you gotta please yourself. To me, pleasing myself, means pleasing the ones that I love…
There is no intimacy as intimate, nor as elusive, as the relationship one has with their own selves. We, as human beings, are unable to fully connect, emotionally, physically with anyone other than ourselves. Yes, we can connect on both emotional and physical levels with others – but completely? Not possible. We all have our pretenses which act as our defenses against the cold and harsh winds of reality. Reality, if truly delved into, can be quite painful, no matter your level of happiness or peace. No one can fully understand another’s true identity despite their delusions or the need to understand.
We all need our solitude, it’s a way of catching up with our inner selves. Some run from the chance for fear of untidy revelations. Some, no most, people cannot even see or feel through the layers of protection, the armors, the fortresses, the enforced multiple persona syndromes created to distract oneself from their true self.
Can anyone truly accept failure? Loss? Death?
Can anyone truly allow themselves the allowance of the painful healing powers of surrender? Some run around searching for connections, some drink or eat more than they should; some are abusive pouring out their pain onto others as if conquering the sadness by causing others to feel it for them, from them.
Some just go through time with distractions…They keep the noise surrounding them at all times – people, music, television, smart phones, computers…open the windows and let the noise distract us. At night, as one lays in bed, intrusions of inner noises such as memories or embellishments of one’s history. Rationalizations for the decisions in our lives we choose to avoid regretting or taking responsibility for. “It all happens for the best,” or the ultimate shirking of responsibility – “God is in control.” We close the door to those intruders whose aim is to disturb us from our dreams; so we close our eyes tightly and we force ourselves to be someone else, somewhere else…We sleep to dream and awake to the alarming sound that the time to dream has past.
In the distance I heard a train rumbling above McDonald Avenue, a doberman walked past me it’s leash held by an diminutive old lady, she was struggling to corral the dog and was victorious as he stopped his rushing ahead to walk alongside her. The lady smiled at me as she walked by and she reminded me of someone I once knew a long time ago.
Look into her eyes but they never seem to welcome us in; we open the light but it never seems to illuminate anything around us; despite the light we are always lost or most at home, in the dark. The dark is our comfort zone; somehow we feel protected there in the thickness, later we find ourselves sore and aching when searching for company. Only to find ourselves itching to leave, itching to be…but where?
Ah, gold dusted hair with mahogany eyes she looks at me but can never understand my protestations of peace. Inner peace is elusive – a deep breath works for a breath; but when the walls are closing in and there is no moon, nor stars to illuminate the night it’s not possible to feel that freedom to exhale.
*written by Cy Coleman and Joseph McCarthy
**Lyrics by Neil Young