Strangeness on a Train
What Is Or Isn’t Collapsing
Four deaf kids are talking shit about me on the other side of the car. I can tell it’s me they’re talking about because every so often they look my way and start in with the hands and fingers. I have in my headphones so they probably think I’m showing off. There are maybe ten people with headphones in so I don’t know why they have singled me out like this. I tried smiling at one of them, the girl, but she took it the wrong way, I think. Something in her face told me I should fuck off because she doesn’t take kindly to older men who try smiling at her on the subway and have only one thing on their mind. I’m not sure why she thinks this about me because I wasn’t thinking about anything specific. I almost want to tell them about my tinnitus, that I have it in both ears now and that it’s awful. I could tell them that I’m losing my hearing, too, particularly in my left ear and then what. I’m probably too old to learn sign language. I could never go on a subway and talk to anyone after I’m deaf, so these kids don’t know how lucky they are. They’re all spread out in the car, occupying different benches and still they can talk to each other and not bother anyone. This is probably the greatest gift but instead they go around in pity for themselves. I don’t talk to anyone on the subway, not if I can help it and I almost never take the subway with someone I know, either. And the girl I smiled at, it had nothing to do with what’s spilling out of the top of her blouse. I can try telling them this, I can try schooling them, but what then. These kids, they don’t want to hear anything from the likes of me and maybe they’re right. The song I’m listening to has somebody asking to borrow lungs because his are collapsing. This is another thing I don’t tell the kids. I can take one look at these kids and know that no one will lend or borrow anything between us and it doesn’t matter what is or isn’t collapsing.
A Better Class of People
They ask a woman with a baby papoosed to her chest if she’d like to sit down. Two or three of them ask at the same time and she says yes to one and sits herself down like she is the queen of Manhattan Island. How come they never ask me if I’d like to sit down is what I ask them after her highness sits down with her baby, the prince or princess, I can’t tell. I was standing right next to this woman and was there when she got on the subway in the first place. I tell them this and then I say you can’t see what I have papoosed to my chest now can you. I tell them if they knew what was wrong with me they would start a fundraiser or candlelight vigil. By this time the people have all gone back to their own lives and the woman has either fallen asleep or is nursing her baby right in front of everyone. I can’t tell what she’s doing because I’m trying not to look at her because I am a gentleman and try hard not to bother anyone. Meanwhile I’m still standing up and trying to balance myself because I don’t want to touch the pole or the bars or the straps. They did a study once on the germs people leave on the subway poles and you wouldn’t believe it. This is only one reason people should offer me a seat on the subway but they never do. I can tell they all think they’re a better class of people and maybe they’re right. The truth is whenever I am sitting down I don’t get up for anyone, not until I arrive at my stop. I don’t care who they are or what they have on their chest I treat them all the same.
Conversation Over Mixed Signals
Be prepared for me to be awful. This is what the woman next to me says out loud to the woman next to her. I don’t know either of these women and I don’t care to. I’m on my way to the doctor because I can’t sleep through the night without waking up ten times to empty my bladder. I’m sure one day I won’t wake up because I will have dehydrated and lapsed into a coma during my sleep. I know there is something wrong with me as I’ve tried everything you could think of like spending a whole day without drinking a single glass of water. I know it isn’t good to go a whole day without water but I don’t care anymore. I’ve seen this show on TV where two idiots get put someplace awful and told they have to stay there for three weeks. They have no food or water or shelter or clothes. Sometimes they go days and days without water and it’s funny to watch them bitch and moan about the heat and the humidity and how they’re starving and thirsty. I don’t feel sorry for these people because they have signed up for this and that’s the difference. Me, I didn’t sign up to go to the bathroom every fifteen minutes. I’m an innocent victim in the blind back-alleys of our city in this regard. But nobody cares and so I keep it to myself. Sometimes I think it’s my diet, which is terrible. I eat only fast food because I don’t have time for anything else. When I say I don’t have time I mean I don’t know how to cook and even if I did I wouldn’t know what to make. This is why I go to one of two fast food restaurants every day. What’s funny is the kids that work there act as if they don’t recognize me in either place, which is fine with me. When I wake up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom I sometimes turn on the light and look in the mirror and I don’t recognize myself, either. I don’t blame the kids for treating me like a stranger and I don’t blame the woman next to me for being awful. I don’t blame anyone for anything, except maybe the doctor later, who I’m sure can’t and won’t help me.
Robert Lopez is the author of three novels and two story collections, of which the most recent are All Back Full and Good People. He teaches at Pratt Institute, The New School, Columbia University, and the Solstice Low-Residency MFA Program of Pine Manor College.