Monday, July 27, 2015

Walking the Line

It's the line we walk in every situation we encounter.

It's the guy on the park bench staring at your five year old daughter and smiling. You watch her play and you watch him. Just an old man who sees innocence and can't stop looking, or that lowest of humans against whom every decent adult must defend every child?

It's the guy standing on the corner of your street, ten feet from your house, with his hands in his pockets after midnight. You keep tabs on him out the corner of your eye as you unlock your front door. A young man out for a late stroll, or the lookout while his friends lurk in the alleyway two terraces down, waiting for the right opportunity to assault and rob?

We hope for the best, but prepare for the worst, working to leave the world a better place than we found it, trying not to run out of time.

Monday, July 13, 2015

A Philadelphian Conversation - Number Four

The 10:42 pm train out of Atlantic City leaves on time, and I'm happy not to be driving back to Philly, for a change, so I can read. Reading is what I'm doing when a man perhaps fifty years breathing stumbles on at Hammonton and stops in the aisle beside my seat. I can smell the booze sweating out of him as I feel his look. My eyes remain fixed on the pages in front of them. The guy sits down and talks to himself. "You ain't gonna rob this train. You ain't gonna start a fight. Gonna get home. Finally gonna get home."


"Ticket." commands the ticket checker.

The man produces a crumpled up, skinny piece of paper anyone would know is not a ticket for this train. "Bus driver told me I could use this to transfer."

The ticket checker hands the man back the wrinkled slip of paper. "This isn't a ticket for this train. You—"

"But the bus driver—"

"I'm trying to tell you—"

"But he said—"

"Doesn't matter what he said and if you'll stop interrupting—"

"Okay."

"—I'll tell you how it is. You need to get off at the next stop."

"You ain't throwing me off now?"

"I can't stop the train now that it's moving again."

The man nods and looks down toward his feet, presumably in acceptance of his fate. "What's the next stop?"

"Atco," answers the ticket checker, and walks on.

A few minutes pass and I read on without looking around. I hear the man say "What you readin'?"

I look up at him and hold the book out so he can see its title, which I'm sure he doesn't compute. He has close cropped whitish grey hair, a gold stud earring in his left ear, and the most crooked nose I've ever seen. He wears a black Harley shirt with orange writing and sleeves cut off, revealing faded, dark green tattoos set on thin, muscular arms.

"Any good?" he asks.

"Yeah," I say, "pretty good."

I go back to reading and hear him start up talking to himself again. His head is lowered toward his lap, shaking back and forth, mumbling. "Not gonna fight. Gotta get home."

I peek over at his hands to see what they're doing. They're by his sides, but in constant motion.

"Hey," he says.

I look up at him again, but this time I think to myself if you fuck with me, I'll kill you and do my best to make him feel that vibe from me, make him hear my thoughts.

"You know if there's a Wawa near the Atco stop?"

I shake my head, still giving him my best don't-fuck-with-me look. "No, dunno."

When the train pulls up to the Atco stop, the man slowly stands and stumbles off the same way he stumbled on. He mutters something like "Gonna get home. Little closer now."

I feel sorry for him, but whatever sequence of events landed him where he is on this Thursday evening, I have a feeling he's no victim.

When the train starts moving, as we pull away from Atco, the ticket checker passes by again.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Children in the Rain

Three happy children walk over fallen leaves. When the rain pours down, they seek shelter. But shelter cannot always be found, so they do not always smile.

They grow into adults with different attitudes about the rain. One stands in a puddle, arms to the sky, and lets her hair and clothes get soaked. Another carries an umbrella and dodges gathering streams. The third stays inside, waiting out the storm.

When they see each other they embrace. They talk about old times and new, other people in their lives. But they do not discuss the rain because it has always fallen, and they suspect it always will.