He didn’t bat an eye when it brushed against the top of his leg. Gently moving from the fabric of his shorts to the skin just above the knee. I watched it as it danced lightly across both surfaces.
He boarded the train at the stop after I did and sat directly across from me. No headphones. No reading material save for the screen of his phone. Uncharacteristic for a man of his age at this time of day. Slender. Plaid shorts. A red v-neck t-shirt. His tanned skin was the same color in all locations, including his head – which had been shaved a couple of days earlier. He sat quietly with his thoughts.
At Belmont the train filled to standing room only. A young man boarded caring a backpack. Before grasping reaching up for the standee bar, he hoisted his backpack into place. This action blocked my view of the seated man I’d been watching.
When the train arrived at Fullerton the train filled even more. The young man moved inwards and with that my view of the seated man returned. The backpack now perched directly above the seated man’s lap. As the train swayed to and fro the nylon straps of the young man’s backpack hung like tendrils over the seated man’s legs, fluttering as delicately as an aphid over a patch of clover.
I looked at the face of the seated man expecting to see expressions of disapproval. There were none. The sensation, which could surely be felt, was either something he expected or something for which he longed. An expression of bliss would have been inappropriate even if it had gone unseen.
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It wasn’t until she put on her sun glasses that I noticed that she looked like Elizabeth Taylor. Dark sweeping hair. A long strand of pearls resting atop her cleavage, exposed by the deep cut neckline of her black blouse.
Prior to lowering the sun glasses over her eyes, she’d been applying her eye make up. First eye liner. Then mascara. And finally eye shadow. She monitored each application in the reflection of herself in the round mirror inside of a plastic compact which was held in her left hand. This, during her morning commute while surrounded by strangers
The woman setting next to me is doing the same thing, though she’s no Elizabeth Taylor. She was applying her make up when I got on the train. I try to read but I’m distracted by the proficiency that these two women have with their morning routine.
At Wilson a man boards the train. His shoes are brown – the preferred color of shoes by men in Chicago. His pants are a light grey plaid. He’s wearing a dark grey vest, buttoned, over a crisp white shirt. Everything that he’s wearing is perfectly in line for a inbound commute on the Red Line, except that each article of clothing is too large for his frame.
I look up at his face. He’s young. Not much over twenty and I try to determine where he’s going as well as what brought him to Chicago.
It’s evident that he’s not from here though I can’t pinpoint why, save for the oversized clothing. His actions and lack of reactions indicate that he’s used to riding the L. He holds on to the bar overhead with one hand and reads a book that’s held in the other. The changes in the track that cause the train to sway do not disturb him. He’s not eyeing the crowd. He’s adept. An indication that he’s been here for awhile.
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The cap. The gait. The goatee and the shaved head. He has the appearance of Lenin. He removes his cap as he sits down. Beady eyes and writing in a spiral notebook. Furiously writing. Furrowed brow.
He wears no watch and no rings. His cuffs are unbuttoned but not rolled up. His clothing is not fitted but loose though not inappropriate for his frame and his brown shoes are in desperate need of a shine. I’m texting a friend in another state about this. He suggests that I approach him. I ask why. “Sheer curiosity I suppose”, he replies. I see no need.
His hands are wide. Thick. Veins struggle across the tops of them. While he writes with his right, in his left he holds a blue coffee tumbler. He unscrews the lid and takes occasional sips and glances around the car.
Now he’s reading a thick book though it’s title is hidden from my sight. I continue observing him and while he is aware of his surroundings he never once realizes that I’ve been watching him for the past ten minutes.
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It wasn’t their physical appearance that caught my eye, but rather the fact that they looked at one another while they were speaking. Sauntering down the street in no apparent hurry, side by side — they’ve known one another for some time. The narrow space between them filled with familiarity and trust.
A well-built man was leering at me in the shower at the gym. His unexpected proximity startled me. When I asked if he was looking for something he darted away quickly. While toweling off I introduced myself. He smiled from ear to ear. Because I think that is what he wanted. An opportunity to say something. An opportunity to be noticed himself.
Out to dinner with a friend that I’ve long admired, we sat on the same side of the table so that we could share a computer screen. There were glances from around the room as people noticed and smiled, just slightly. I liked having him next to me. I suggest that we go to New York together. He won’t say yes. He won’t say no.
His ruff and tumble photo is just a facade which does not accurately portray just how much of a pussy cat he really is. I know this because we speak on the street. It’s the man from Scruff who lives less than 600 feet away. I wonder if he’ll ever take me up on my offer to have dinner together.
The man who lives in the Loop who texts me about my weekend accomplishments, but never asks to be a part of them. But then, I’ve yet to extend the invitation. Until yesterday when I suggested that we meet for a coffee and a donut next weekend.
The Wacker Drive executive who is so handsome that he makes my insides melt whenever we meet for a drink. He’s kind. Friendly. Charming. But he won’t initiate a conversation. He admitted once that he has no idea what he’s looking for.
We’re all so close and yet we’re hiding. It’s done now in plain sight but it’s still hiding. “Don’t look. Don’t touch. But please notice me.” That’s the mantra. Except that it’s not working. We should be over this by now because we’re nearing our fifties. We have the resources to accomplish almost anything and yet we keep ourselves from accomplishing this.
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If it were not for the occasional grey at his temples he’d easily be mistaken for one of the Hardy Boys. His boyish face and boyish frame – remnants of an earlier age, are still present, such that I’m convinced that he has freckles despite the fact that he doesn’t.
The look on his face is difficult to read. At times he appears timid. Or deep in thought. Perhaps he’s confused. He looks up at the train map every now and then and his forehead contracts deepening the creases that are already there. He watches commuters board at each stop and when he does this he lowers his face but looks up with his eyes. Now he appears as innocent as he was when his his mother caught him sneaking gum drops when he had been explicitly told to wait.
It could be that he is new to the city. People that are new to the city have different mannerisms when they ride the trains than do people who have lived here awhile. It’s the glancing up at the map, and the attention at the stops. New people to the city watch others board the trains not because they think a friend might get on but because they’re studying how the crowd functions. It’s a subtle difference. As for the map – eventually they learn to feel their way along the Red Line based upon the sounds and the sway of the cars.
While his mannerisms appear to be that of someone new to the city, his style of dress does not. His brown suede shoes have salt stains. Nicely cut navy-blue cotton slacks fit him perfectly as does the black quilted winter jacket that is tapered near the waist. The collar and placket of his wool sweater is visible because his jacket is half unzipped. His charcoal hair has a slight sheen and is parted precisely on the left. The cut is borderline hipster but is kept far above his eye brows.
He pulls a book from his brown canvas bag. On it’s pages are charts and graphs. Statistics. The subject congruent with his appearance. Mostly the book is a prop because he doesn’t spend time focusing on the pages. When he thumbs through the pages I notice the ring he’s wearing. It’s the same matt-finish tungsten ring that I’m wearing. I think he’ll notice mine when it catches the light – that he’ll see that it’s the same as his and this will cause him to look up at my face but that doesn’t happen.
I loose track of his actions by the next stop not because he has left but because the train fills and those that are standing block my view. Maybe now, with no clear cut view of anything, he’ll begin studying the pages of his book.
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He boarded the train a couple stops after I had.
The nearest open seat was between two commuters and in it he squeezed. Those on either side adjusted themselves accordingly. He was glossy eyed and unshaven. He wasn’t a commuter on his way to work though it appeared as if this may have been a fairly common routine. A green ball cap covered all but the fly-away gray curls that sprung forth around it’s circumference.
In his hand he carried two things. Carol O’Connell’s book Shell Game and a beer wrapped in the plastic bag. Shouldn’t it be wrapped in paper?
Click. Schuup. Tick. Then he raised the can to his mouth as foam encircled the opening and took the first sip. His hands shook as he placed it between his legs, securing it as he opened his book to a dog-eared page. From his pocket retrieved his reading glasses.
With the exception of the beer and his shaking hands, his actions were completely normal for this hour of the morning.
I changed trains at Belmont and boarded a Purple Line Express that was now making local stops through Old Town. At Sheffield serval more passengers boarded, including two women who, at first glance, fit the Lincoln Park Trixie look to a T. Yoga pants, t-back sports tops, running shoes with florescent soles, one with pink and the other with lime green, and each with an expensive bag over her shoulder.
Both women had their hair pulled back into pony tails, both wore large dark sunglasses, and both were carrying their Starbucks cups and somehow avoided smudging their sparkling lip gloss.
The two women were classic Lincoln Park Trixie, except for one thing – they were pushing fifty. It was their somewhat thick ankles that first caused me to give them a second look. They did not have bony hips nor did they have petite waists. I was standing close enough to them to see behind their sunglasses and it was apparent that they had had their eyes done.
Though the train was somewhat crowded, the two woman pranced playfully in place as they talked to one another. A little too made up and a bit larger than the others, their movements reminded me of full-sized poodles on short leashes who had just run into each other again this morning at the entrance to the dog park.
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