On the subway this morning I sported wet hair, taped-together headphones and a truly embarrassing pair of sandals, the others having been ripped seam to seam in Costa Rica after the ATV incident where I smashed against a cliff rock, and I was a few minutes off my normal schedule and fumbling more than usual when I entered the F train.
One stop and a seat opened up near two guys and I sat down between them, trying not to drop my bag, trying to keep open my eyes, adjusting my falling iPod and various other balancing acts and the guy to my left looked at me and so, I looked at him. His eyes were sad or confused, or maybe it was just me, but it struck me that he looked kind of familiar in the way that I had seen him around, in my neighborhood or in my office building or something, except he didn’t look like he normally did, he didn’t have a hat, bright sneakers. He was wearing something marginally office appropriate the way certain people under a certain age do, slightly off, still with that rebel shaggy hair or a skirt that is a little too downtown, uneven bangs, the posture still swaggering, the shoes flagrantly anti-establishment, anti-loafers. The way one shows the rest of the office that one still doesn’t belong on one's own volition, that this is all just eating time before that artistic endeavor pans out. And it didn’t fit him, maybe precisely because he didn’t want it to, maybe because he just didn’t look like he’d ever be right at home in a button-down, no matter what he did, because it wasn’t who he was underneath it, in the way you wonder if people become exactly what their genetics predispose—a skinny-pale misfit must then become a punk, a blonde boy from California, a surfer.
And he was reading a battered copy of Ulysses, one from the 70s with a hideous black font on the cover, yellowed pages, a broken spine. My own novel just got handed over for a pre-read, and when I started it I had nothing but Ulysses on the brain, I had wandering ideas about the entire thing, I had just gotten back from a journey of epic proportions myself and had all these new ideas about it and I thought, now is the time to say something, to reach out and connect with a stranger, because it would be the right thing to do, because this sort of thing doesn’t happen too often, and we all only intersect with about 20 people on a regular basis and how are we ever to meet anyone new unless we make an effort, without a beer in our hands, without wanting to make out, get a job, get directions.
Because in Nicaragua I made friends at the drop of a hat, wouldn’t hesitate to let whomever sit down next to me or comment about someone’s book on a bus, especially if I had been sure then, as I was at this moment, that I had seen this person before. That he had seen me. But now, on Wednesday morning in New York City, on the F train, even though I had something to say, even though it would have been too personal and maybe then it would have been memorable just because of that, I did absolutely nothing.
I didn’t even look back.
I turned my iPod up.
And then I got off the subway and while I was walking off, I knew that I had given up a small opportunity that would affect me for some reason, because it wasn’t just this kid, this moment, it was a symptom of an overlying disease of staid standards I just fell back into without even pursuing. It was natural to act this way, and because of that, it was wholly unnatural. I stole a glance as I got off, and the kid was staring at me, like he knew, I could have talked to him and didn’t. I just didn't.
It was all out of context—the situation, what we were wearing to go to work, the time of day, the day of week, it just didn’t make any sense. It was just another casualty of the city day, a million chances we have to make nice, to make friends, to make a connection and we just don’t.
I will figure out how to do this in NY, without alcohol, without sexuality, without an ulterior motive, I promise I will learn how to do this someday.