Tuesday, June 23, 2009

A Morning Train Ride

It was early morning when the alarm started ringing. I ran to my cell phone, more than half asleep with wisps of fast moving cars and a girl who followed me with a toothache. The colors of dreams moved with me as I opened the door from the bedroom to the kitchen. My eyes were almost completely shut and I walked with my arms out, feeling like a blind woman for furniture and a clumsily placed chair and the walls that now seemed to be in my path. I dropped to the ground reaching for my purse as the incessant ringing grew louder with each second, its monotonous call cried for me to join the land of daylight, the place where clocks and appointments and schedules seem to matter. I smelled the leather of my bag and reached into the cluttered guts of my purse. My fingers felt a wallet, a notebook, the red vinyl change purse, a handful of lipsticks and chopstick, I felt a couple pens, a roll of extra socks. My hands, which were now bestowed with the power of sight, whose fingertips were the only eyes I had, finally, in the corner of the bag, found the cold rectangular object. Memorized movements flipped the phone open and they pressed one circular button at the top and then the arrow to the right. The ringing stopped, and the small studio was back to a clear silence.
I walked back to the bed and lay down. My heart beat with the rapid pulse of a machine gun. I wanted to drift back into the current, but a thread of consciousness told me there was no time to spare, the night before I had already set the alarm a little later than I should, bargaining with myself that I could sleep later, but it would mean required swift action as soon as the alarm began.
And so, with a great blast of effort, I stood up from the bed slightly too fast and walked to the bathroom sink. Still mostly blind, I groped for the toothbrush I knew was towards the left of the sink and reached out with my left hand to the ledge by the window where a small tube of toothpaste sat uncapped. The brush entered my mouth and, as mint tingled my tongue, I opened one eye and caught the reflection of a tired looking young woman whose hair could have been a messy wig found in the bottom of an old cardboard box. A splash of water on my face felt good and I buried my head in a soft beige towel hanging from the shower ledge. Opening my eyes and looking out the blinds, I saw that the morning was young, the sun was still hiding beneath a layer of moist silver clouds.
My dresser drawers were messily opened and I reached for the first pair of sweatpants I could see. I put on some tights for extra warmth, then the sweatpants. I was headed for the San Francisco Bay, for the farmer’s market that was just steps from the water and the wind. I would be standing there for hours, ‘til the sun gathered force and burned the clouds to vapors, I did not want to be cold while I waited for the sun to show its strength. I put on a long tank top to cover the soft curves of my love-handles and another two long sleeved shirts and on top of it all, a mohair sweater. I wrapped my neck up with a long sequined shawl and headed out the door. Down the winding street I went, from my home and bed, from the warmth of my little sanctuary, down into the busy streets of Daly City. There were stop signs and red lights and cars and pedestrians, I went through all of them in a haze, as though guided by an angel of mercy. I parked a block away from the light rail system and, as I walked, I caught a glimpse of myself in a car’s dirty window. The image was slightly silly, slightly mad. Where would they think I was going dressed like this? I looked like a slightly stylish homeless person, the only thing that could distract from this perception would be the bright red lipstick adorning my pale lips. I looked again into another car window, “slightly insane”…but I smiled at myself, maybe as insane people do.
A voice rose from deep inside, “It doesn’t matter what anyone thinks anyway, image is a mirage, none of them will ever really know me. The ones who matter to me don’t care how I look.”
I stepped down a flight of cement steps and into the station. There was a mixture of beeps coming from the opening and closing doors on the train platforms above, the low dull sound of a mechanical woman over the intercom system giving security tips and the sound of people and buses coming and going. Pigeons darted in the open-air station, some looking for a quiet place to sit, others searching for their early morning meal and finding no difficulty locating dropped crumbs. I heard their cooing, their flapping wings. As I rose on the escalator to the platform, there was an 8-car train with open doors. I stepped into the yellow-lit car and took one of the few remaining seats. The blond woman next to me, with short hair and a black trench coat, sat hunched over her cell phone, punching in text messages.
I opened my backpack and spent some time unraveling the long cord of my headphones. The night before I had set them and the Ipod next to my bag, in anticipation of the 20 minute train trip, thinking that I would play the “good morning song,” (as I called it) on my way. The song was seven minutes of electronic beats and melody that nearly always had a profound effect on me. For whatever reason, I particularly responded to this song. My chest would open, my heart would flower, everything around me would become more interesting, beautiful, tender, important. I would be in the center of this amazing mass of movement, travelling through it, as though it was all a gift from a god. How many times had I been driving while listening to that song, feeling as though everyone around me, disguised slightly in their metal cars, where brethren, a part of me that defied words or explanation? And so I had planned it the night before, as though I was planning a psychedelic journey or an invocation, I planned for the morning journey.
The train doors beeped and then closed, I watched the people rise from the escalator seconds too late. The train moved and we left them standing on the platform, seconds too late to travel with us. I looked around as I put my headphones on, I scrolled through the Ipod and found the song. It started, slow first, then mounting in volume. I looked at a middle aged woman who sat in the seat next to the doors. She sat with her eyes closed, perhaps wishing she was still in bed. One minute later, we stopped at another station, we lost a couple of bodies and we gained a handful more. A woman with a young child in her arms walked though the doors and looked desperately for a place to hold on to. I started to get up to offer her my seat, but the woman who had sat with her eyes closed got up and walked away. Another minute passed and we stopped again, a horde of people entered and they stood in the aisles, holding on to the metal bars and plastic seatbacks for stability. The song was beginning to enter its peak.
The little girl in her mother’s lap kept looking at the people around her, her head and eyes darted and then she looked at her big sister who stood a couple steps away, holding onto a chair back with one hand and holding the folded up stroller in the other. What was she thinking? I looked at the hairline of the young Asian man in front of me, his body and skin seemed smooth and young, but he had gray hair that speckled his head. There was a man with a dark blue suit standing up, he was wearing a lavender collared shirt beneath his tailored suit, he looked Latin and had dark hair and big dark eyes. He was tall, not needing to stretch at all as he held onto the overhead metal bar. A short white man entered the train at the 16th Mission St. stop. He was blond and had thin arms and legs and a protruding pot belly. He was wearing knee length khaki shorts and tennis shoes with little white socks and a salmon colored polo shirt, there was no mistaking that he was gay, the color of the shirt accentuated it, but it was his being, the way he stood that announced his sexuality. I looked at the man with the lavender shirt, a color many heterosexual men would run from, but there was no denying he was heterosexual, there was something very obvious about it. I felt them both, two men, their sexual preferences evident in their bodies and the way they stood. I looked again at the guy siting in front of me. The little hairs on his neck where dark and I looked at them with the whole of my attention.
To his left, an Arab man with a large nose read from a small book, there was a picture that looked like a very old woodblock print on the left side of the page, it was an ancient deity surrounded by floral embellishments and other blurry details. On the right side of the book was a bold heading which said “Morning Prayer” in English letters. “He’s praying,” I thought. Then he closed the book and put it in his bag and he turned his head in my direction but did not make any eye contact. All of them seemed interesting, beautiful and worth the full power of my attention. The baby with the big brown eyes kept looking quietly at her sister in between moments of staring at other passengers. “What does she see?” I thought once again.
As the last beats of the song faded, I skipped a couple songs ahead and put on a less familiar song. A very simple melody with three notes began to repeat every couple of seconds. There was a beautiful beat on top which seemed to move and move, taking my heart through landscapes and ringed worlds. Tears began to flood my eyes and I opened myself to all of them. I looked at the Latin man in the suit, my head tilted slightly to my right shoulder and I looked at his form. A small salty droplet escaped and went down my cheek, I did not wipe it away. The man, sensing something, looked at me. I looked back, hearing the music in my ears, holding contact, looking at him without thought, he was not good, bad, handsome, nice…I just looked at him from the eyes of an open vessel, he looked at me, held contact for less than two seconds, then looked away. What did he see? His break did not prevent me from looking. It did not stop the tears. I looked at others with the same sense of wonder without structured thought.
I looked out the train window as I felt the brakes begin to work, I was close to my destination point. The song was fading and I looked around me sensing that a wave had passed and now I was wet to the knees at low tide. I scrolled around the Ipod for a second, but turned it off. The train door opened and I stepped out, joining the line of people on the left of the escalator that walked instead of letting the escalator take them. We moved past the line on the right that stood in place. I reached daylight again and the downtown center where people in professional suits and skirts and clicking high-heels and tailored jackets walked past me. I saw my reflection again in an empty storefront. “Still goofy, but it doesn’t mater.”
I spent the next couple of hours setting up an organic peach stand. Michael, Fernando and I opened tables, set up the canopy and opened boxes of summer peaches. I was reminded of the moment in Pulp Fiction when Marsellus Wallace (the ring leader of a criminal organization) opens a briefcase. The audience is never explicitly told what’s inside, but a yellow glow shines on his face, as though the light from a golden sunset is projected straight towards him. When I opened a ripe box of apricots to cut samples, the light from them was just as bright, it was breathtaking and beautiful and I tried to retell the experience of opening the box for a couple of customers who commented on the pretty color of the apricot skin, but something vacant in their eyes revealed that they didn’t quite understand the story I was trying to tell them.
During a lull in customers between the breakfast shoppers and lunch-time, Fernando and I were standing together, gazing at the many types of people that walked by the Ferry Plaza Building. He looked to me and said, “You know, you don’t look like a woman.” I turned to him, all 29 years of me, “What do I look like?” “You are so slim, you look like a teenager, like a kid.” “Oh,” I said nodding. Knowing that in his eyes and mind, his words were not a compliment. He liked women, not girls. Almost instantaneously, I felt small, ugly, worthless. I felt self conscious in my sweatpants and messy hair, undesirable amidst the career women in their shiny high heels and form-fitting dresses. I heard a faint voice again, “Who cares what they think, it’s all image, he doesn’t know anything about you.” But I hardly heard the voice, I started to feel like it did matter. I went to the bathroom and reapplied some lipstick and tried to fix my hair, but there was nothing to be done. It was my internal landscape that had shifted. So open early in the morning, so tender, that a couple of ill-conceived words went in like zig-zagging daggers and sent the entire fragile newborn edifice sprawling to the dust.

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