I used to spend everyday commuting into the city on the Long Island Rail Road. While I don’t miss it 99% of the time (I’ve since become an auto commuter) – there’s tiny part of me that enjoyed the time I had to put pen to paper and get lost in my own imagination. Since I’m taking the holiday weekend off from the Jobacle thingy, I figured I’d post a short story I scribed on a train ride last year. While it’s technically not work related, I figured a little fiction never killed anybody. Hope you enjoy…
Riding the Train to Nowhere
by Andrew G.R.
Most of the time, naked windows have little to offer; vacant rooms, silent dwellers, and other boring nouns that sadly, make my life seem exciting. Of course, there is the occasional fight or fleeting nipple, each pumping my adrenaline into a cyclonic fervor.
But this alone is not why I choose to ride the train.
I take it to find out what pictures you have hanging on your walls. I take it to see if you have plastic shoe racks hanging from closet doors. Do you dine alone? Scrub the kitchen floors? These are things I like to know about, because the more I know you, the more I learn about myself.
For as long as I can remember, the train has always been there. My childhood was spent struggling over homework under the symmetrical shadows of the tracks.
“According to the story, the protagonist is —
The train would fill a mostly empty house with sound and take the correct answers with it. Being brought up this way, makes my commitment to the train, that much easier to understand. As long as there are windows revealing life, I’ll ride, hoping to regain a little more of myself than I had before.
The greatest city in the world lies ahead as we fly past Chinese store fronts and a slumbering Shea Stadium. Big buildings across the horizon climb into the heavens, creating the illusion of the accessibility of opportunity and wealth. There was a time in my life, before this cold listlessness washed over me, that I actually though I could be an angel in the penthouse, making decisions that really mattered. That was until the unforeseen surfaced in a whisper.
My eyes bounce off the walls, zigzagging from window to window. I peer, glance, inspect – hoping that today will be the day I find something to hold onto. The small houses of Corona have nothing to offer, at least not tonight. A well-lit billboard for a major financial institution is the only thing that reaches out to shake me.
“When you drink from the cup of life, chug”
It takes every ounce of restraint coursing through my veins to resist screaming back,
“What if life’s cup has been drained as I die of thirst and gasp for air, you f**kers”
Recently, when I breathe, I feel as if I’m reaching for butterflies. They circle over my head and fly in front of my face, but slip through my fingers like sand. When air enters your body both short and shallow, you wish you could hold it, if just for the moment, and celebrate. I scan the packed train for other butterfly hunters. Seemingly, there are none, and I feel more alone than ever, a lone rider on a crowded train. Destination, nowhere.
We make our way through Woodside, which tonight, is bustling. A large flannelled man eats a bucket of fried chicken with zeal. An elderly couple clings to each other as the ever-knowing and self-important Alex Trebek drones on and on about “true daily doubles”. A little Asian boy sits at a desk and foils away at his geometry homework. A man is hulked over a refrigerator, the little light bulb offering just enough radiance to display his dissatisfaction with the offerings.
The street lights line the tracks, bee lining by in uniform succession. We’re between stops —
The equilibrium of existence is beautiful, with squares of life delivering my sanity.
We pass over the Grand Central Parkway. Tail lights and headlights swirl together, creating a candy cane road. A nondescript warehouse reveals dozens of workers standing patiently as a conveyer belt moves life past their very eyes. I’ve seen this place hundreds of times, but could never get a handle on what was going on inside. I imagined some sort of button factory, or a place that puts the knobby things on top of baseball hats, but had no reason to believe either. Some women wearing long aprons sit on a stoop at the side of a building, smoking their cigarettes and staring up at the sky. I look down at them through a cloud of smoke and suddenly realize that I have no choice but to find out exactly what they are manufacturing.
On the way home I didn’t even have the desire to watch. My head stayed low as the possibilities of the factory rattled around my brain, quickly putting me down. The next time I opened my eyes we were at he last stop. I shuffled off the train, went straight home and proceeded right to bed.
The babies came right off the assembly line – shiny, perfect, and new. Wrapped tightly in innocence, each was individually packaged and prepared for final inspection. Most make the cut, others do not. What the inspectors were specifically looking for, I have no idea, but when a bad baby came along, they knew immediately. There was a special red conveyor belt for these babies that led to a gray square in the wall covered by thick opaque plastic. I went to find out what happened to the babies once they entered this room. Quicker than I thought my frame would allow, I stealthily jumped onto the belt for the ride, and hoped I would clear the window and make it to the other side.
The phone sent me upright and cost me the opportunity to find out where the bad babies go. The factory continued to manufacture thoughts. Rather then waste the day wondering, I decided to hop into my car and find out. Taking the train during these daylight hours was out of the question.
After making a right at Northern Boulevard, I quickly realize that I’m in uncharted territory. There are many factories. Warehouses. Graffiti ridden garage doors. And a serious litter problem. I entered a world that knew no garbage cans.
Rusty fire escapes suffered paint loss. Rooftops sprung unsightly steel from all directions. Ducts, vents and chimneys collaborated. Windows wore wrought iron, as if they had something to hide. Antennas and satellite dishes connected a fragmented world. Barbed wire protected all. Ivy shrouded dark brick walls. Blue tarps corked backyard pools. Sheds melted into the ground. Telephone wires contained unruly trees.
From the train trestle I knew exactly where to begin; now, thrown into the mix, I had no idea where the factory stood. Combing the oddly wide streets led nowhere and inquiries of a foreign population were sure to be fruitless. Discouraged, hungry and more infatuated than ever, the only option was to return home and ride the train again tonight.
Practically every apartment on the sixth floor was illuminated. A woman in a pink housecoat tended to the dirty dishes. A shirtless man in shiny Adidas pants drank some OJ right out of the paper carton. His younger brother knelt in the foreground, tapping his hamster’s plastic cage repeatedly. A stove stood wide open. Button down shirts hung off plastic hangers. Window fan. Bronze teapot. A couple eating at a small round table.
It’s a feeling that is difficult to articulate. Somewhere between carsickness and Attention Deficit Disorder is where it is. With eyes working overtime to capture every detail of the consecutively lit apartments, my body began to reject my body. A stabbing pain developed over my left eye, made tolerable only when I cradled my head in cold hands. There was nothing left to do but shut eyes and wait for the stretch of land that held the factory of dre
ams, thoughts, and hope.
< p>Finally, we approached the warehouse. It’s amazing how darkness not only hides the world away but shifts everything into the unforeseen. The train was more crowded than usual and all the window seats were taken, leaving me no choice but to stand by the doors and glare from there. Interior train lighting is quickly becoming Public Enemy No. 1 and when presented with the opportunity, I have been removing the bulbs from their sockets, creating a more conducive environment for sight. It’s a maneuver that can only work in the still of the night. In this age of terror, a dozen people will bring you down before you can touch the ceiling. Being such a flat, non-descript area, I needed to find a visible marker to track the factory during daylight hours.
Wow, what a big television you have.
Your kids work well together in the kitchen.
How many apples do you really need?
It struck me odd that a mirror hung over the microwave. Or that you seemed to collect large paper cups from fast food restaurants and stack them next to the sink. Bright red flowers crept out of the flowerpot and hung for dear life.
A beautiful obstruction.
Trickling down the glass panes, a window that once stood starkly revealed was now conflicted by botany.
The houses ended and that’s where I began to count lamposts. 15, 16, 17…
And the factory was there in all its glory.
A concrete smokestack worked the whitest smoke I’d ever seen into the air. Maybe it’s a cloud factory. Hundreds of windows that had earlier revealed much of the room’s composition now appeared shut. No one took a cigarette break and the train passed by faster than ever. I wondered if the factory even existed. The people, the cigarette breaks, maybe they just dwell in my mind. Maybe they help me to believe that such places exist.
Places of wonder.
Places other than my own.
I think I’ll let the factory remain a mystery, I won’t pursue it any longer. I’ll gaze at it every night and I’ll see the women on their smoke breaks looking to the sky, looking to something other, maybe even looking at me, wondering about the man on the train who looks tired.
I won’t crack the mystery. Not today.