Thursday, May 27, 2010

Commuting

If this was a short story, it would matter who I was or why I was on the train; where I was coming from and going to and what was in my bag; what was playing in my headphones; whether I was a little cold or a little hot and what I was wearing and how the weather was above ground at that moment. The difference between doing what I'm doing and telling a story is purpose. There's recording, which is selfish at its heart, and then there's communicating, which is selfishness with at least a varnish of altruism about making someone else in the world feel understood.

I was on the train just now. I took two; I was on the second but still less than halfway home. A kid got on a few stops after me with an African drum tied around his chest. When I say kid, I mean that he was sixteen or seventeen years old. When the doors closed he began to drum, and then by the time we were completely in the tunnel he started to sing, or shout, or kind of holler along with his drumming.

Three hours outside of work and having left pizza with friends because I was feeling too tired to manage the even the eating of pizza in a way that could convince people I wanted to be with them, the drum was loud. It was really loud. The hollering was louder. First I turned up the music in my headphones until it was distorted. Then I turned it down entirely because the drummer couldn't be drowned out. The sighs exhaled throughout the car could’ve inflated a Thanksgiving Parade balloon. A girl across the aisle was eager to make WTF-amiright eye contact and I couldn’t decide whether or not to engage in it because as much as I hated the presumption of this guy and his drum and his hollering at a time of the day when quiet is one of those gifts we all give a stranger, I didn’t actually hate the drumming. The way the low hits felt like someone dragging a thumbnail along the inside of my spine was nice.

But I did kind of end up giving in, at least a little, because I wouldn’t look at the girl directly but I closed my eyes in a way that might make her think we were partners in hate. The kid eventually stopped drumming. The girl across the way, she gave him a dollar.

And this is the kind of familiar tension that I both know and can’t stand—this drummer, he might be sincere but he is in the business of making himself look even more so for money, and I pretend to hate what he’s doing to avoid giving him any, even though in all honesty I am moved against my will and don’t have anything to give him anyway because it’s the day before payday and my checking account is in the single digits checking, and in the middle of it all there's the jaded one-upmanship with the girl across the way.

What I actually hate, the thing that sits right at the heart of it, is that I can’t even tell what I like and don’t like anymore because I’m so used to thinking about what I can have and what I can’t.

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