Day 298: Traffic
He sits there stiffly, patience growing slimmer by the second. It’s not moving. It never seems to be moving. It never will be moving. It’s probably construction. Or a broke-down truck. Or maybe the tunnel collapsed. Nah, it’s probably because nobody knows how to zipper merge. The air conditioning causes his windshield to fog. Windshield wipers only make it worse. Everything makes it worse. It’s not moving. He rolls down the window and the dense humidity slaps him in the face. He could walk across the tunnel and get home quicker. Just like that woman. She’s walking at a clip, she’d be in Hoboken by dinner. He doubts that she’s walking to Hoboken. A man on a bench says something to her as she walks by a store.
He stands there stiffly, pacing around, trying to ease his mind. An old man dumbly hands him an apple without saying a word. When he finally does speak, he says, “I don’t work with machines. I work with color, so schlubs like you can have a job”. He doesn’t know what that means, but it takes everything in his soul to not blow up at him. An alarm goes off somewhere else. A lady needs a bag. He goes to grab it for her and another alarm goes off. Something isn’t being weighed properly. He moves onto the new task and his whole world spins.
Suddenly, he has no balance. The big one is coming. His jaw goes numb. His makes a fist to brace himself. He needs to sit down. He can’t sit down. He just has to maintain. Pretend. Wait until the customers clear out. And when they do, he falls into his chair. The world is wobbly for a few seconds more. He breathes in freshly cut grass, blows out a candle. Breathes in grass, blows out a candle. Still nobody around. He is vulnerable, but he is safe. He rips his mask off. He has a good excuse to keep it off tonight. The day is almost over, he just has to focus. He has to go back to where he was before.
But he looks out the window and it’s not there anymore. That world. It’s just an empty street, with cars speeding by. Nobody walking. The bench is empty. He’s going to have to pretend, now. He closes his eyes and imagines it again. He breathes in grass, blows out a candle. And life returns to his body. Now. Where was he? Ah, right, the walking woman.
She walks stiffly, ankles screaming in pain every time they scrape against her sneaker. The sweat only makes it sting more. For being 76° and gloomy, it certainly doesn’t feel like it. She can feel the sweat crawling down her back. It’s only going to get worse. When she gets underground, the temperature will double. The train will be crowded. The other train will be crowded. The other-other train will stall out and then become crowded. It’s only going to get worse. Those honking cars don’t know how good they have it. Sitting in air conditioning, alone, able to sing in the top of the lungs, totally free and untethered from the concrete hellscape that consumes us all. One of the car windows rolls down and she waits for someone to say something. To make a comment about her chest or to call the car in front of them a “fucking shitbag”, or something to that extent. Instead, the voice comes from her left. “How’s it going?”, a young man asks, as she huffs and keeps walking. What nerve. To greet a stranger. It’s only going to get worse. If only a rain would come and wash these people away. She swats a fly away and crosses West Broadway.
He sits on the bench stiffly, then relaxes himself. He can’t seem to get comfortable, but his mind’s at ease. Just taking it all in. How’s it going? Greeting everyone that he sees. These chumps sitting in cars could take a lesson from him. The fast walkers could, too. Sometimes, you just have to sit back and let life happen. How’s it going? He takes a deep sip of his soda and soaks in the flavor. The dark caramel flavor, the little bubbles tickling his tongue, it feels like nothing short of a miracle. How’s it going? He doesn’t have a care in the world. His bills are paid, his shoes are tied, he still has another day off, he’s going to have dinner with his beautiful wife tonight, life is good. A lot of people have it as good as him, but they don’t realize it. How’s it going? They’re fueled by their own misery. They think it builds character, but really, it just causes more misery. And to him, that’s just sad. How’s it going? A guy’s arm hangs out the window of his car. They wave as if they’re friends that never met. How’s it going?
The fly jets down Broome St, trying to get from point A to point B. He has no opinion of his environment. He is a fly.
He laughs to himself and puts down his phone. A regular customer is just standing there, staring at the self-checkout machine. He can tell that the man has no interest in learning how to use it, either. He gets out of his chair, satisfied with how straight his bearings are and motions him over to the counter. His head is fuzzy, but it’s still better than it was before. He is in control. He breathes in grass, blows out a candle and speaks.
“Sorry about that, I got lost in my writing”
“Oh, you’re a writer? Working on The Great American Novel?”
“More like the Terrible American Blog”
“Well, at least it knows what it is. That’s half the struggle. What’s it about?”
“I write something different every day, like on a programming schedule. Today, it’s short fiction”
“Well, that’s something to be proud of!“
“And some of them I’m really proud of. But I always seem to write myself into them somehow…”