Monday, December 16, 2013

Riding the T

Here is a story I wrote back in grad school.  It's a slice of life from when I used to ride the T (subway/trolley) 3-4 hours a day to get to work and school.  It made me smile when I found it.

In the past year, I have spent an obscene number of hours on the T.  My most modest estimates put me at about 300 hours.  Sometimes it feels as if my permanent state has become a moderate twinge of motion sickness and a dull headache.

I’ve noticed many things over the months.  I’ve compared the faux leather seats of the orange line to their upholstered cousins on the red line.  I’ve noticed the metal handholds riveted to the crossbars and juxtaposed them with the plastic version, hanging more leisurely.  I’ve made mental notes on the narks riding the train, rating the “service” of the MBTA and the plethora of middle aged transvestites.  I’ve grieved for the homeless circulating from car to car fabricating stories to evoke just 5 more cents.

But today, I noted the walls and the floor of the T.  I have obviously stared at them unaware hours before, trying to avoid any unwanted eye contact.  But today I noticed them.  I noticed the plastic tack paper imitating wood that someone had adhered to the walls of the orange line.  I also paid close attention to the rust brick swirl of the linoleum floor.  Linoleum? I thought, like my kitchen?  How odd.  I assume that the pattern and color of the drab flooring was created with the same intention as dorm room carpeting- something that cloaks a nasty mess as unobtrusively as possible.  And to that end, the flooring of the T works pretty well.  The gum, lollypop sticks, and remnants of spilled soda blend pretty well. Perhaps too well.  

I remember riding the green line last year, and a woman kept throwing up.  Over and over she tossed the contents of her inners until there was only dark green bile splashing against the floor.  What struck me was that no one reacted.  Myself included.  Everyone needed to get to work, or get home, or get somewhere and so they set their face like flint and tried to ignore the sludge spreading across the floor.  

A solitary mother finally reacted.  She was getting off at Harvard Ave. She’d been out getting groceries. As she got up to leave she pulled her leeks from their plastic sheath and stuck them, naked, into her cloth “Please Recycle” bag.  She proceeded to hand the clear veggie bag to the poor girl, who could only nod before convulsing again into dry heaves. 

After a while, no one was on the train.  It was just me, riding the B-line to the end.  The heaving lady had even exited and I was left alone with the inanimate amoeba of bile.  I was shocked at how easy it would be for someone to enter the train unawares, and step into this nasty mess.  It had become part of the dingy flooring.  Only the smell betrayed its presence.

The train reached the end and I felt that I had to inform someone.  I walked to the front and tugged on the conductor’s sleeve. “Excuse me,” How did I say this politely?  “I think a woman back there vomited on the floor.”  All decorum had to be scrapped as the man indicated he did not speak English.  I was reduced to awkward reenactments of the scene and finally just led him to the mush.  “Oh” he said and shrugged.  It seemed normal enough to him.  Health hazards were all in a day’s work I guess.  So, he nodded a dismissal and I walked away.

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