Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Travelling by Land

I don't really have much to report. I wish I did, but the truth of the situation is that I wish this election year would hurry up and be over. The evening news terrifies me, partly due to the war, partly due to the Tennessee senatorial race, and partly due to domestic affairs here in the states. Minimum wage has not been increased in about a decade, people work without security of health insurance or retirement, and from what I can tell, few people question it. There is an inner belief that hard work will solve everything and we can all be like the rich guys.

I commute about 3 to 5 days a week to the city, and the thing that is fascinating about the morning commute is the number of people that sleep on the bus. Add to that the fact that there is a certain etiquette that I have not really been able to pick up on, due to the intimate nature of sleep, and I think I have stumbled upon an American cultural trait that is pretty interesting.

I guess I should describe the last two commutes and my sleeping neighbors. First and foremost, when I get on the bus it is already three quarters full, so I have to walk to the back of the bus to sit. On last Thursday there was a guy that smiled at me and said good morning, then he promptly went off to sleep. It was as if we were skydiving, and his nod was an act of kindredness and security in our journey to earth. He slept on the right side of the bus, and I sat in the middle next to a small career woman that looked like she ate and pooped numbers all day. Her wardrobe was completely black, while me and the other guy were more casual.

When we woke up, he did the exact same non-verbal signals, then a set of stretches probably designed to decrease the probability of a blood clot, and we got off the bus.

Then, on Monday I was in the back again. I had noticed this really tall athletic looking guy who must have been in his mid to late fifties. He had a young face, but this weird haircut that either garnished a crappy toupee, or was in need of more off the top. His hair almost looked nappy, but not quiet, just thick and swollen and possibly dyed with some thick agent which made the style look coagulated and lumpy.

I sat to the right this time, and he in the middle. He was professionally dressed and rambled through the morning paper's sport section with such speed and vigor I could hardly do anything but notice. I was busy reading a short story by Alejo Carpentier, as he fidgeted more, folding the paper, adjusting his briefcase and finally sleeping while sitting on his hands. There was something weird about his sleep, as I finally put my book away, it was as if he was awake, staring forward, or meditating. Maybe he was one of those over achievers, soaking up every moment with purpose and focus.

As the bus pulled up through Port Authority, he awoke with an arched back, rubbing his eyes, expressing a limberness of a child and not a middle aged man. It was as if he was ready to go kayaking or rock climbing.

When he was fully awake, he grabbed both hand grips mounted on each chair on either side and pulled himself up in one swing like a muscle man from 1950's Atlantic City, and dashed off the bus.

I started my long walk to work thinking about the moment and thinking about New York. The thing I have become most unaccustomed too is being so close to people and not being involved. I am not sure I can sit on a bus and sleep next to anyone anymore because I don't want to be in total control of my mind and body during that time. I did fall asleep on the bus both Monday and Thursday, but completely aware that some stranger was sleeping not very far from me. I don't want to be seen nor see anyone else doing what I think to be pretty innocent. There is something indecent about it, just like when passing by people with tongues down each other's throats (well, that is not exactly innocent) or smelling a meatloaf sandwich being devoured by a fellow subway rider. Sleeping side by side as I snore, or burp, or fart should be reserved for my significant other. I wonder, is the mundane body for everyone?

I also feel like a voyeur when I notice people so closely, especially during sleep. It seems so impossible to sleep next to someone and not share something . . . even if it is for 45 minutes . . . on your way to work . . . right after daylight savings time . . . noticing the sunrise for the first time in a month of Sundays.

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