I am the bottom feeder hollowed out by worms and full of holes. This is the subtle, vacant vibration of an early-morning rude to the past night of liquor and molly and remarkably personal conversations with acquaintances. This is me finding my way home from a downtown flat.
Rush hour. The morning is still gray and I am lost. This is a part of the city strange and disorienting, the sidewalk rush of suits and hipster office packs, harried cellphone calls while hailing cabs and the slaughter house of an over-packed bus stop.
I am sure of where I was: I am not sure how I got there, or how I will get back, back to the old duplex with the rotten-wood front porch and the Craigslist furniture. I am seated on a low brick wall along the sidewalk, watching the buses come and go, wondering if the 16-bus or the 9-bus goes up Fourth Avenue.
And what I’m wondering is who these people are. Why the mirror-glass high-rise offices and the pretentious houses in sub-divisions – who has the estates, who’s stuck in the Home Owners’ Associations? Who has a wife that drives a Porsche minivan, who has a clunker hoping a promotion to a higher floor comes with the net-gain of buying a Jetta? Who has four bosses? Who has a dozen people working beneath them?
Yet there is a brightness summoning.
The man leaning against my brick wall has his briefcase beside his feet, shiny black pointy-toe shoes. He’s eating a cream-cheese bagel still half-wrapped in foil, and he uses both hands to hold it, bringing it to his mouth using both hands as though it were a prized possession that must be so carefully taken care of and admired lest he lose this gift.
There is a woman on the bench seated back but with her hands on the edge of the seat, fingers curled under. Her open-toed heels are knocking discordantly against the sidewalk beneath her and her face is chewing her cheeks, eyes lost somewhere inside of herself. She sticks her legs out, and it becomes so apparent that she is looking at her painted toenails to try to take her mind off of whatever it is she feels so irresponsible for.
The man beside her has earbuds in, a neat gray suit with silver hints and a face you can place on a moody teenager waiting for the school bus.
A bus pulls in and the waiting crowd as a unit clusters and moves to where the bus will come to its final halt. The doors open and the business ladder-climbers move up the steps, the line moving. There are some sharp words from the waiting mass, looks of annoyance – they will be scolded for being late. Someone is talking to the bus driver, trying his best to get on the bus but I’m Sorry Sir This Pass Has Expired. He is digging through his pockets, saying I’m Sorry I Have To Have To Some Change In Here, looking through his wallet apologizing to everyone in tardy-limbo. His look coming back down the steps trying to squeeze past everyone, it’s embarrassment and worry and the tangle in the lower-intestine that you are going to be late. The feeling doesn’t change with age.
There is a brightness here, in the confused face of the corporate accountant trying to make sense of the bus-route map. He has the same stomach-pit of helplessness he felt at his locker in middle school.
I think of my parents, for the first time since abandoning the college they were helping pay for. They’re no different, just children trying to raise children. Of all their perceived abuses, injustices, I’m aware of their breakdowns, panic-attacks; parents at 45 still feeling helpless, unsure, and themselves in need of a parent (but my grandparents have been dead).
The brightness is the child still buried in every suit, in every beggar, in every golfer and every dead-beat; in the drunk and the executive – it comes through in everyday moments of fear, unsure of the outcomes of a decision, worrying what the next days will bring.
There are uncertainties feared in all of us, and this is what is beautiful:
The wonder of childhood is the not-knowing, the wonder, the unformed lump of clay still sought as an answer, every impression an indentation savored as something miraculous in need of understanding: this still comes through, no matter the outfit.