Commuting: the limbo between lives; the bridge between comfortable chairs; the arc of a tennis ball before it is batted one way or another.
I have taken to reading books on the short-term travels to the places that alternately give me money or relieve me of it. When I first commuted, all bright-eyed and bushy-mustached, I would read simply to appear clever and attractive. Since I have never been much of a weight lifter, I figured I could lure the ladies by my highly developed and defined tomes. I never did. But that’s ok, because I never really read the books anyway. Instead of reading, I would practice making interested or amused expressions on my face in case I was being observed.
Now that I am as alluring to the opposite sex as a potted plant, I have taken up reading on the train again. Books are like orphans that need to be picked up, held and understood. The only difference is that you can’t burn orphans afterwards.
But, to be frank, I read to ignore the fact I am commuting – and have become as alluring as a potted plant. I have taken to reading Neil Gaiman (an intentional purchase of his “Neverwhere”) and Sloane Crosley (a spontaneous purchase of her “How Did You Get This Number”). Gaiman’s book is a darker “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, with Arthur Dent replaced by Richard Mayhew, Ford Prefect replaced by a girl named Door, and the comic imagination replaced by a cousin of that same comic imagination, but who had a drinking problem once.
I know nothing of Crosley so I am just getting to know her as I tiptoe through the first few stories. At first blush, she’s quite funny, which impresses me, as I know very few women who can pull off comedy. That is no affront to women. Comedy is all about the banana peel and the fall – men do that naturally. You expect men – idiotic, stupid men – to hit that banana peel every single time. For a woman to do that, it usually feels forced or unnatural. Crosley, however, places and descends on her own banana peels quite fluidly. Her only flaw is that she is seemingly quite aware and proud of this, and so the comedy does not always come across as honest.
But literature aside, I am finding more and more reasons to continue my spate of reading on the Blue Line.
• I can nearly tune out the white guy next to me, who is mouthing the words, and doing what he must think are subtle gestures, to a rap song about smacking bitches and whatnot.
• I can avoid being looked at with a look that says, ‘You should give your seat to me.’ I’m a liberated man. I’m not giving up my seat for anyone. If that sounds a bit cold, then let me point out I am as alluring as a potted plant, and potted plants can’t stand.
• As said potted plant, I am very aware I am no longer being scoped out. As a result, the less I see tons of people looking in all directions but mine, the better I feel when I reach my destination.
• If I see a person who is obviously sad, I get sad. Genuinely sad. And empathetic. I want to look at them until they make eye contact, and then I want to give that nod that says, ‘I get it. It’s fine. Everything is ok, really.’ If I have a book, fuck ‘em.
• And the whole trip seems to take very little time at all when there is no external stimulation or distraction. As they say, time flies when you’re having none.
It’s interesting what we human beings do in order not to feel one things or another. And, with a book, you can feel all sorts of things – while avoiding feeling anything remotely important. Yay, civilization.