by James Drennan
I find that I believe in places more than people. As individuals, we all somehow find the time to separate ourselves, a faÁade made to distinguish who we want to be from whom we want others to want. Sometimes, a perfect photograph can be taken of those myriad nothings we admire as people, unguarded, inept, and afraid.
The underground places fiction within easy reach, the turquoise pullovers mix with burgundy silk shirts to make a pastel out of movement, entity moving to and from subjectivity like flies trapped in double-paned glass. Winsome and forgetting myself in indecipherable sound, I reach through the emergency door and smile with my eyes at a brother, a perfect stranger clad from the neck up in a question. Forgetfulness helps me to question back, innately knowing to avoid dichotomy of perception, but feeling somehow empty without this alien creation, a vision in blue sweats, out to do nothing at all but be mine for a second. I ask someone next to me about Steinbeckís The Pearl, which he reads in French, his face mouthing the sentences in palpable silence as we both forget about the tracksí scream of exhaustion.
A thick accent masters the moment, eagerly interrogating me about how much I truly dig the fellow, and I understand how difficult language is around hundreds, thousands, millions. In these situations, nothing is casual but sweat and noise, here the lights are something you hear, breathe, taste, itís a mockery of expedience Ė I donít laugh, I giggle, but I want to giggle about his question, to tell the truth, but truth isnít the proper shape to fit in an underground conversation. I canít tell him the only story I know about Steinbeck, the only story that impresses me, how he wrote for hours in the morning before throwing it away, stretching before taking the position. He ate experience and defecated stories, but it was too easy, something I always found a turn-off.
ďOuai.Ē I pronounce the word nearly perfectly, hoping heíll speak French, and hoping Iíll see little snoopy thought bubbles above his head instead of a reply. The man in blue is gone, and I see his hood do pushups on his back as he minds the gap at Leicester square. Eyes clear with sincerity look two inches in front of me, and he mouths French words in rapid progression. He might as well be barking at me, but my five years nods my head and he smiles. Glad to have a conversation, alone in an ocean of machines.
Everyone we meet is a comparison between that person and those we knew when emotions were dense, oil on canvas; all that remains is power. I see an eyebrow of sarcasm, a mouth of compassion and I wonder how many people that person reminds me of, and whether those people were serial novels or cancelled pilots. But one of the scarecrows in front of me exits two doors down, and I realize that in the leviathan of grey there is an exclamation point of color, here and gone before memory serves what my mind reeled in, not a reason in the world for me to feel any kind of kindred with the darkness. Other times, there is no reason, and itís just inevitability.
I think that those you love have no explanation. They arenít a comic strip, the characters old and well defined. There isnít a story to explain how miraculously they arrived from an exploding planet, only to have thatís planetís radiation be a major cause of geriatric impotence. They canít eat busses in a single sitting, and they donít remind you of every other Stella you might have met. Regardless of color, ethnicity, or other super-powers they are only unique.
I should know. I was in love once. I was lucky enough to see more of her than a blue sweatsuit in a crowded subway too, but in retrospect I donít find this terribly consolatory anymore. That person isnít an analysis, I canít even hear her ever-resonant voice without being absurd and trying to see some demographic in reason. Ten years later, she seems too regal, and carelessly slaps a letter grade on all those relationships that come afterwards, with the names of transients filtered through Kleenex, quickly becoming one in their alacrity.
The guy closes his book and deposits it in his backpack, obvious preparation for Kingís Cross. Amazingly enough, he smiles and gives me a Ďnice to meet youí on his way out the door, neon in importance. I return the smile, and watch him become invisible in the conveyor belt of conformity, the brown suede of his backpack waving at me from the milieu before winking out of existence. Change here for the metropolitan line. Mind the gap.
Facelessness replaces fame replaces power, and comfort is an addictive substance. I have to wonder whether it is also inevitable that I see myself as I want others to see me, but truth isnít the proper shape to fit in an underground conversation. A Muslim turns her head away to prevent eye contact, and I play the game, keep staring. Which of us is weak? Which of us is real? Everything she is defines what Iím not. Iím a boy in blue jeans, a crusher, and a thermal shirt. Iím only human. Iím only unique.
. . . to be continued
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