Saturday, April 17, 2010

Role playing on the 194

I was sitting on the bus minding my own business, staring out the window at the incessant traffic on Route 3 in Secaucus, where, after a hard rain on a hot day, you can smell that there were abattoirs out here once, dozens of them, and beyond them a swamp. Jersey sent steaks and chops and roasts to the city and kept the offal. These days the city-dressed hogs are what's riding in the shiny black Beemers and Benzes, crawling toward the Lincoln Tunnel, contemplating what kind of damage they can do to the economy. Not only are they vicious, but they're stubborn too, and exceedingly clever when trying to escape their pens. They say the pig's heart is just like a human's but I don't believe it. I've heard a pig squeal when caught, and yowl like a banshee at slaughter, but I've never seen one cry over the suffering of another pig. Same with these city-dressed CEOs, always looking straight ahead, so as not to see the shite they leave behind.

CEOs don't ride the bus. The bus is for working men and women, having at most achieved middle management, with maybe a few VPs among them -- in some outfits there are more VPs than there are workers -- burning the candle at both ends, the same ends they've tried to make meet, desperately clinging to the hope that thirty, forty years of this commute will add up to something more than an early grave. Nowadays some of them even wear knapsacks, just like their sons and daughters, filled with dreams and worries, going to school. On a gray day, in rumpled raincoats, my heart reaches out to them. Lambs.

I was sitting there overwhelmed by a feeling of tenderness toward my fellow commuters, all of them, even the arseholes chattering away on their cells like macaques, another generation swimming bravely against the tide of history. The system squashes middling drones, but not before dangling sweetmeats before them. New York City lay before us. Oz. If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. Yeah, right. I imagined riding the ferry with Whitman, sensing the great democratic enterprise all around me, the kinship with all creation, the potential locked away in each individual ready to burst out, though attired in the usual attire. I wanted to celebrate the human project, the subjection of the earth and nature, the brotherhood of man, the raising up of the body, the joy in fellow feeling. Whitman you poet I think I understand you.

It wasn't easy to feel all these things and remain seated. I wanted to get up and dance, and twirl the lapels on the man's suit across the aisle, and dandle the locks on the lady up front, I wanted to embrace them all and tell them that each one of them mattered: the young man in torn jeans, the blonde girl with the pink iPod, the seƱora sleeping with her mouth open, the black guy in the camo jacket with huge calloused hands -- every one of us carrying our dreams into the city, searching for an identity that should be of our body. Bit players heading toward the big show. You see that sweetheart over there? She looks like Ruby Keeler before her big break. Go ahead, poot, and act the poet. Furnish your part toward eternity, furnish your part toward the soul.

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