The Subway Diary: 07-Jan-98

Narrative surrealism at its worst.

Handsome and frustrated, Craig Roberts grinned into the mirror. He wanted a marbled, knotted, photogenic face, but imported blood from Sicily colored his hair black, and darkened his eyes. He tensed his arm, elevating veins from wrist to elbow, comparing them to snaking Indian burial mounds. "Good definition," he thought, unenthusiastic.

He looked back to the reflection. No hope or application of paint could eliminate the large acne scar between lip and chin. "By this scar I'm doomed to a career on the stage," he thought. He pronounced his thoughts in a Shakespearean inner voice, then laughed at himself.

"Why do I trap myself inside these things?" he thought, out loud.

I don't know if he spoke then about the mirror, or his nascent career as an actor, or his relationship with Nancy, a French NYU exchange student with a toothy smile and a chest like a cathedral. I can't keep track of it all.

That night he dreamt about a white dog. A film projected onto his naked flesh from the dog's mouth. Rapturous women with antarctic skin tugged at his projected body. The dog drooled. Craig saw that he wore a T-shirt, and on it, in black magic marker, someone had written "Giant Vegetable."

"What was that about?" I asked myself this morning, drinking coffee. These things are complicated. Was I asking him to abandon his vanity? To give up hopes for film acting? Or was it more him than me? I cheated with "Giant Vegetable." I actually own such a shirt. It's hard not to leave clues.

I've never met him, but I manage his dreams. I once saw a turbaned Theosophist for advice, and she told me I had a gift, then made an excuse for leaving. She didn't want me to peel away her secret skin like I do with Craig.

I find some people in bookstores, or on the train, and their histories go off like old powder flashbulbs. I hear and smell it all: the first beer in high school, or the childhood fear of tomcats. An upset when a mother worked late. Their father wiping the iron brack of blood from their faces. The brassy taste in the mouth when they first drove the station wagon alone. Sometimes I see their dreams as my own, sometimes I have to rush into the bathroom at work, because I suddenly begin to see through their own eyes and can't type. But with Craig, I'm in more control. What I dream ties into what he dreams. Sometimes we dream about women, but thankfully, that's rare. It's strange to share someone else's erotic images.

For Craig, I usually appear as that white dog, because I know an uncle gave him a white dog when he turned seven and a car killed it the next week. He doesn't remember, but I do. His nights are such an open canvas. I first saw him on 23rd St, at Barnes and Noble. I like him, too.

I knew him on the train, tonight. He sat across from me on the F, reading Amadeus. He looked up.

"Where did you get that shirt?" he asked. It read, in black magic marker, "Giant Vegetable."

"I made it myself," I said.

"I, uh, had a dream about that shirt last night."

I nodded, looking at him as if he was a freak. This was too good, really, not to play with. "Sure. Interesting."

"No, really, I did. I saw a white dog and that shirt, I was wearing it."

"It's my shirt, man," I said.

"I don't want it. Really. How come it says 'Giant Vegetable'?"

"Look, this is my stop. Sorry, okay?"

He looked at me.

"Craig, thousands of televisions cry for you. Go home." I said. And walked off the train, leaving him staring after me at the memory of that last dream we'd had together, about a television giving birth. I saw him pressing his face to the door, looking out after me on the Smith and 9th platform. In any case, if he can sleep tonight, we'll talk some more.




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About the author: I've been running this website from 1997. For a living I write stories and essays, program computers, edit things, and help people launch online publications. (LinkedIn). I wrote a novel. I was an editor at Harper's Magazine for five years; then I was a Contributing Editor; now I am a free agent. I was also on NPR's All Things Considered for a while. I still write for The Morning News, and some other places.

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