The Commute

Written by None - Do not Delete on . Posted in Miscellaneous, Posts.

I used to drive
to work to Tulane Medical Center in New Orleans every morning at 7 a.m. I’d
always speed past a billboard that read "Thou Shall Not Kill" in 7-foot-high
white letters against a black background. Of course, the statement was quite
literal down there. The reminder placed in any other city would be a general
call for commuters to keep it together. Keep it together we must.

I’m in
my sixth commuting pattern since I moved to New York nearly four years ago.
This variation is particularly horrifying. It has given me pause to consider
just what role commuting plays in my general happiness.

In every variation
to date, I set out from my modest apartment into some area of the city. I consider
this a penetrative act.

One commute,
summer ’98 I believe, took me through the morning crowds of the Chinatown
fish markets on Canal St. I’d emerge from the J/M/Z station at Canal St.
and Centre, often accompanied by my friend, who, much in the style of the time,
struggled with a very upsetting dependency on heroin. Our destination of W.
Broadway and Canal lay several blocks away, at the other end of a sea of people,
whose native language resembled, to my morning ears, abbreviated yelps from
stolen infants. We would struggle through the crowds, the stench of fish and
the slippery sidewalks into a Chinese bakery for a particular sweet roll and
heavily creamed coffee. The staff was abusive. The crowd was nearly impenetrable.
It was in that Chinese bakery, surrounded by the citizenry, pulling wadded bills
from my jeans, that the horror of commuting revealed itself in the quiet notion
that, hey, I may not be all that special.

I’m not. I continued to commute. I found myself walking underground between
the 6th Ave. L stop and the 7th Ave. 1/9. There’d be hundreds of us walking
toward and away from one another. Often my body coursed with hangover. For weeks,
I wore a camouflage NASCAR baseball cap pulled over my eyes. I felt it complemented
my personal "darkness"–I used that word freely back then, as
if it meant something. I began to racialize. Inadvertently, I’d kick other
passengers’ shoes or yawn in their face. Fights would nearly break out.
It seemed to rain perpetually. When I would finally surface, it was to the screaming
insanity of Varick St. a few blocks north of the Holland Tunnel. I never saw
hatred so concentrated. I never felt so defiantly insignificant.

The sun came.
I no longer commuted, unless you consider the walk to the local cafe a commute.
I’d walk there sometime after 10 in a bright orange Carhartt hoody and
my ugly white leather sandals. I didn’t shave because I didn’t work.
As I walked through the quiet streets of my modest community, I’d watch
the artists on their bikes or lingering on the corners. I wondered just what
the hell these people could be doing. Did they work? Of course they didn’t.
Where’d the money come from? I couldn’t figure it out. I’d sit
in the local cafe, reading Flaubert, sipping my double espresso effeminately.
It was spring. The sun still surprised us. I drifted around like a patient,
my little heart fluttering like a bird. In a rather charming way, I found my
purpose moving so purposelessly. Movement exercised my vanity, rather than my

Out on the
broken docks with other jobless youth I found self beholding the other–the
mighty city– defiantly drinking beer on a spring morning. The citizens
were at work that day, but in the spring sun, on the waterfront, my patient
little heart was at play. That can’t last forever, as we know, and spring’s
showers came as my severance waned. Before I knew it I was back in it.

Each morning
was a little easier now. I’d seen the light–that was one thing–but,
more importantly, I came to understand the esthetics of commuting. The notion
that I must introduce myself into the work day as cautiously as the zoologist
introduces the ape into captivity became the operative principle. I woke early,
ran several miles, always watching the skyline in the distance–reminding
me of its otherness–showered, shaved and out the door. Often I’d meet
a friend of mine on the platform. The train would amble over the bridge–the
sun seemed to always shine. We’d discuss parts of speech, Proust, where
we missed shaving that particular morning and, perhaps, that we’d meet
for lunch. A stop or two later, we’d step out onto the Bowery, ignoring
the men of the residential hotels and the overbearing bridge traffic, and walk
down Spring St. to our little French cafe. Some people spoke French inside.
I did not. I’d order a latte and eyeball the pastry invoice that was always
in view. Hmmm, I’d think to myself, they only mark up the croissants 30
cents. How nice. We’d step outside and my friend would buy the Times
from a blind Bangledeshi woman with the most benign, mangled face. The coffee
was sweet, but the croissant was sweeter.

But the niceties
of my morning commute turned quite sour again. My office moved elsewhere–Chelsea,
in the absolute shit. It was fall, though there wasn’t a tree around to
tell you that. I only knew because life became more difficult in the hour between
8 and 9. Renewed racialism, abuse in the coffee line, interminable distances–had
I not transcended all this? Apparently not. Again I joined the collective pull
to the work machine. I attempted taking the F train one morning and experienced
the raw alienation a child experiences when someone else’s mother takes
him to school. I swayed underground, my path not quite clear to me, trying to
figure out how I had lost my direction, how I had lost my simple formula. A
woman screamed at someone who attempted to bring a dolly onto the car. I stepped
on someone’s foot.

When I finally
did surface my destination offered no consolation. I stopped in a Portugese
cafe. Behind the counter a bitter gay gentleman took my order. I stood in line,
received my abuse, and understood why, in all my travels, I had never gone to
Portugal. The croissant dissolved into a sort of adhesive when I ate it at my
lonely workstation.

It will continue
for better and worse. The opposites will prevail upon each other, over my insignificant
self–in a desperate, often not nice yet sometimes bathed in sunlight way–the
way the playful heart of a patient little bird ticks up and down, one claw clutching
the crust of the croissant that fell off the truck.