Archive for June, 2013

The robin-egg blue dress was either vintage and in excellent condition or it was a reproduction.  It appeared to be tailored precisely to her body though she needed the bit of stretch that the synthetic crepe fabric offered.  Silver buttons sewn to false pockets in front, along the cuffs of the sleeves, and on to the epaulets on each shoulder.  They were metal and more like large rivets than buttons.

Cherry red lips against her very white skin were the only punctuation on an otherwise muted palette.  Her hair was platinum blonde and cut into a bob though sharply angled up from the nape of her neck which needed a trim because it exposed her hair’s chestnut origins and thus this was her only imperfection.  I imagined her eyes to be pale grey but they were hidden behind classic Buddy Holly styled sunglasses.

She carried a pristine cordovan leather attache.  Her baby-doll shoes were propped up on heel that had architectural significance.  The leather on each was scuff free.  By far, this was the best looking woman ever seen on an in-bound train during the morning rush.

It could have been easy to view her as a caricature of the female persona of this city;  the post-war arrival from the farm who’d come to Chicago a few years earlier to earn a living, enjoy the frivolity of being anonymous in a place for the first time in her life, and spending her money any way she wanted.  One could determine, however, that this woman was raised in the city.  If not this one, then certainly another of equal proportions.

The seat she choose was adjacent to mine and her decision gave me a choice of something to look at besides the usual brick buildings that had been adjacent to the L tracks for the past seven decades.

Once seated with her attache in her lap she continued with deliberate motions – the kind of motions that someone might perform while laying out a picnic.  She opened the attache and pulled out a stack of periodicals, of which the majority were graphic novels.   With the stack now placed atop her attache, she leafed through a couple of them before choosing the one that she would read.

This woman, the one I was watching today, would have been precisely the customer that yesterday’s woman in  the orange wedged-heeled shoes would have talked to for hours had she entered the fictional comic book store housed in a dark store front with wood floors.

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Facing inward, though it didn’t matter, sat a blind man gripping his cane as one end rested on the floor between his legs.  It wasn’t he that I first noticed however, nor was it the others sitting near him.  It was their shoes.  Two of them were wearing neon-green running shoes and another had a neon-green gym bag and this mass of color took my eyes to the floor of the train first after boarding.

The man with the neon-green gym bag had unzipped it and was leaning forward, fiddling with the contents.  His shoes were newly purchased Chuck Taylor’s, the kind that Target sells for forty bucks.  From his bag he pulled out a large zip-lock bag and inside of that were smaller plastic containers filled with unrecognizable food.  He placed one container on the seat next to him – and the man sitting two seats over from him, one of the men wearing neon-green running shoes, looked down at the container, then up at the face of the man who placed it there.

Once he organized his plastic utensils, the man took the container of food onto his lap, opened the lid – holding it precariously because it contained residue of the contents it covered, and began eating.  It was a soupy mix – maybe cream of chicken.  Surely cold.  He methodically consumed the entire contents over the course of just a couple miles.   It appeared that this was a routine – things packaged so precisely and not a drop spilled on his white v-neck t-shirt.  When finished, he placed the empty container back into the zip-lock bag neatly.

At Addison the blind man stood up to exit and I realized that he was not blind at all, though he had stared blankly foreword the entire time.  The cane between his legs was his collapsable fishing pole.  I had wondered if he knew the man sitting next to him had been eating.  If he could smell the food or hear the sounds – which of course he had, though he never once looked.

At Belmont the train filled as usual.  As I stood up to offer my seat to a woman with a small child, the man with the neon green gym bag stood and offer his seat to another.  Together he and I stood near the door, each with our headphones in, each in our own tiny world and just inches apart.  He was shorter than I.  Well built.  Auburn hair on his forearms and the same color beard, which was actually mutton chops, now that I could see more than just the side of his face.

When the train arrived at Fullerton there was only standing room and when the young pale-skinned woman in orange wedged-heels boarded, she looked across at me, up and down, making mental notes of something.  Perhaps the stitching on the yoke of my shirt.  Perhaps my beige suede wingtips.

In addition to her orange wedged-heeled shoes she carried an orange messenger bag that looked like the kind of bag one might obtain by sending in twenty proof-of-purchase bar codes.  It was dirty and its brass zipper did not close properly.  I wondered what was inside.

She leaned back against the partition that divided the standee area from the seats behind her and braced herself with the wedged heels after the doors had closed and while the train was accelerating.  Her shapeless dingy black skirt hung limply from her waist and didn’t cover her knees which were shaped like the kind of apples that have fallen and have been left under an apple tree in an empty lot.

In her left hand she carried a clear container of cold coffee with a lid and a straw.  It too looked dirty, like one that had sat in the sink for a day or two and had not yet been rinsed out.  When she reached up to adjust her glasses with her right hand, her sleeve came up enough to expose a tattoo of words that encircled her right forearm just a few inches below the elbow.  Dux Femina Facti.

Her appearance – pragmatic and certainly not cosmetic in any way, led me to imagine her working behind the counter in store that bought and sold comic books.  A dark, wood floored tiny shop with a hanging velvet curtain that hid a storage area.  She believed in super heroes I imagined, and in a comic book store she could theorize with others who would come in to look for an issue that was missing from their personal collection.

For a moment I thought that she might work at an adult book store, where she’d glare from her slightly raised platform behind a glass cabinet at the men who came in and browsed the DVD covers.  It would be the kind of work that would disgust her and justify her beliefs simultaneously and she would revel at being able to present this disdain because the cashier at an adult book store always has a certain contempt about the people they serve.

As the train moved downward into the tunnel I began to prepare for my exit at the next stop and realized that those with neon-green shoes had already left the train.

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His Sunday suit fit him well.  It looked as if he’d always been a petite man, not because the suit appeared old but because he moved so fluidly as he has likely done for the past forty years.  When he sat down and crossed his legs it was done as though it were an emotional response.


And it was when he crossed his legs that his black Champion All-Stars – a not-so-unexpected contrast, became visible.  While perhaps the same age as the beloved Chicago character known as Ferris Bueller would be today, he had that same mischievous look about him.


Behind him sat a woman with skin of porcelain and precise posture.  From a part in the center, her hair fell equally straight on both sides.  She reminded me of the generic customer service representative inside of any Finnish institution.  Stoic.  Unflinching.  Emotionless.  Her duty is to be present.


Nearest me sat an Indian man in a yellow polo shirt.  With his earphones attached, he was having telephone conversation and held the mic directly at his lips.  Had had a dab of shaving cream remaining at the back of his neck.


At Belmont a tall young man boarded the train.  His dirty blonde hair tussled atop his face which was still prone to acne.  It looked as if he had slept in the red t-shirt he was wearing.   His khaki cargo shorts were held up with a belt of the same color.  He carried with him a book from the library, which he opened and continued reading once seated.


When we entered the tunnel and began our decent under the city, the stoic woman moved her sunglasses from atop her head to over her eyes despite the fact that we were now moving underground and in the absence of sunlight.  The man in the suit had shut his eyes.


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There were seats available when I boarded the train this morning.  It was one of the new cars with inward facing seats – and there are fewer of them than on the older trains.  I sat facing east, though not ideal during a ride in to work on a sunny morning.

Across from me sat a young woman rummaging through her purse and upon locating her brush, she moved it through her hair.  First on one side, then the other, and then from underneath on both sides.  Black women spend so much time on their hair.  Also across from me was a thin man who I think was Chilean.  Narrow face.  Dark hair.  Brown eyes.  Olive complected though more pale from the European influences.    Navy blue slacks and a white shirt with an open collar.  That is the urban uniform of every Chilean man I’ve ever met.

At the next stop a tall young man boarded and I watched as the Chilean man looked him up and down.  Men in this city check each other out constantly.  Not out of sexual desire but because this is a city where the men are the peacocks and each of us is continually trying to determine our rank among one another.  The tall young man was in clothing that wasn’t tailored to his lean frame.  His close-cropped hair appeared overly neat compared to the two-day scruff on his face.  I imagined him being an officer in the Army having entered it from the ROTC.  His clothing had been predetermined for so long that he has lost the ability to choose it properly.  Still, he was handsome and sat rather unassumingly.

At the Berwyn stop – and by now the seats were filled and the people boarding now must stand, a man carrying a child entered the train.  This is unusual at this hour.  The child hung in front of him in an apparatus sleeping soundly, as any child would with the rocking motion of a train.  The father was disheveled but calm.  He was not making a stop at day care before work.   He was perhaps going home but from where?

Whenever a single man walks on to a train with a child two things happen.  The women first look at the man and then turn their gaze upon the child and smile.  The men glance with no expression but every one of them is thinking, “thank god that is not me” and the man with the child knows this.  He makes an effort to take up as little space as possible and does his best to remain unseen.   The Chilean man offers his seat – men always offer their seat to other men with children.  More often than they do to women with children.  It is the man code to help another man end his misery.  The father refused the seat.

I can see the ROTC man looking across the car at the man with the child.  He is looking at his future and I can tell by the look on his face that he knows this is inevitable.  He seems resigned to this fact.  Sitting next to the Chilean man is a woman with large Jackie-O sunglasses and I notice her watching me watch the others.  The sun is behind her and illuminates her eyes from behind the dark lenses.

Within a couple more stops the aisles fill with standees.  At Sheridan several more men board and the man with the child is surrounded by men dressed for work.  One of them is standing directly in front of me.  I first notice that he has a Coach messenger bag.  All men carry bags now but I had no idea that Coach was producing a line for men. His slacks were by Hugo Boss and although they were likely expensive one of the belt loops was sewn improperly, leaving an extra amount of fabric that should not be visible on slacks of that price.  His shoes were blue suede.

This man is a product.  Despite the money he has spent to look this way he is out of place.  Not because he does not look nice but because he is trying too hard.  One or two nice items make a man’s outfit.  He would have appeared more authentic if he had had a worn pair of Levi’s.

The young woman who had been brushing her hair was still across from me.  We caught each other’s eye through the bodies that stood between us.  I smiled and she smiled back.  Her smile so natural.  Her eyes glistened.  She looked so beautiful.

At Belmont she exited as a slew of new passengers boarded. Now more crowded than before, a woman who looked as if she was Thai stood in the aisle near  me.  Two bags strapped over her shoulder as she reached up to hold on to the strap.  She balanced on wedge-heeled sandals and held a paper cup of coffee precariously above the person who was seated in front of her.  The worst possible scenario on a crowded train –  oblivious to a potential disaster.

Like most days, this is my first interaction with humanity and I find it fascinating.

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