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Saturday, January 16, 1999
By Paul Ford
Trying to get your life together when your life is not together
I had no clean socks and I would be late for work in seven more minutes. I began to go through the pile of dirty laundry hidden in my closet. On my knees, I tore through the item after item and began to pass socks in front of my nose, hoping for a clean pair. I whined, "why is my life like this? Why don't I have clean socks?"
Finally, I put on a clean red sock and a somewhat clean black one and ran out the door.
Downstairs, I realized I had left the iron on. I ran back upstairs and unplugged it. I never cook, but I checked the stove for good measure. I was now 20 minutes late.
Last night, when I had came out of the station, a man was urinating in a wide-mouthed beer bottle. He finished, then threw the bottle onto the ground, where it smashed. It was a cold night, so his urine steamed.
I walked past that bottle this morning, then stopped for a Daily News, squeezing past other customers in the bodega. Out of the bodega, into the station, I swiped my card, and took the escalators to the platform.
A woman was crying on the subway platform. She was trying not to cry, so she was shaking. A man with a moustache was rubbing her back softly, in circles. He looked embarassed.
In the harbor, the Staten Island ferry gave of a whistle, then stopped. It was cold. The wind blew my newspaper around. The G came, and no one got on or off. The G is useless. Then the F, and a few dozen straphangers went on.
"This is a G train," said the F train announcer. We all got off.
"What the fuck," said a man to me, "What the fuck is that? That's an F train."
There was no obvious answer. "They take your money and then they fuck you. Why? Because they can."
I nodded. He let me go back to my paper, and another F train came. It was also announced as a G.
"That's--goddamn it--that's an F," said the same man. "They fucker you. They fucker you, over and over."
I thought about a conversation with a guy at work whose cousin is a train conductor. He told me his cousin has the second-most confirmed kills in the MTA. 16 people dead on the tracks to his credit. Conductors are no longer allowed to notch their steering handles for each kill, or their belts, but the tally is still kept by word-of-mouth.
I looked down at the tracks and faced mortality for a minute. There was a lot of trash. Pill bottles, potato chip bags between the ties. Mortality stared back, bored.
The F train came and it actually was an F train. We piled on; the delay had doubled the number of people riding and I had to push in to grab a hold. I noticed that something smelled awful.
"God, let it not be me," I thought. I planned how I could go home and find new clothes if it was me. What if I had put on the wrong sock, if I had somehow found a terrible sock? I looked around and saw a very dirty man, in a grey jacket smudged into near-black, sitting close. He was bundled up sleeping with his mouth open. The stench wasn't me.
I spread out my legs a few inches, fumbled in my bag, and pulled out a sheaf of paper, proposals and copy samples to edit. From my pocket I fished out a red pen. I held the pen in my mouth and the newspaper under my arm, and with my other hand gripped the stainless steel bar above my head, and began working.