by Nathan Deardorff
Sean is sitting in the corner on a baby-blue bench made for two, alone. He sees that every other bench is full, with some of the average uptown F-train cargo standing. He divides the patrons into categories: tourists headed to midtown (count 10); practically identical Jewish women (6); zoned out twenty-somethings on their serviceless-smartphones (27); older men checking out girls sporting yoga pants (3); group girls chatting and toting yoga mats (and sporting yoga pants) (6); practically identical Jewish children belonging to said Jewish women (~11); Chinese absentmindedly covering the Do Not Lean door signage with their back-pockets pressed up against exits (13). He counts the groups simultaneously by assigning each to a finger and taps the respective finger with his thumb for each time he sees a person in one of the eight categories. It looks like typing, but with only two keys, his thumbs. He can’t remember why he is counting like that, as always, but the way he was taught never worked as well for him, so he isn’t bothered and he continues to stare at the crowd. Sean thinks about the fact that no one on the train will ever remember anyone. The funny thing is, everyone gets off the train and never gives a second thought about the person who sat across from us for twenty minutes. He hates and loves riding on the train. Today it was just hate though. What would it take to be missed by any of these lowlifes? Closeness, probably. But not simply in proximity. He starts to think about what he would want at a funeral. No one would give Sean a proper burial, but if they were to, he wants it to be all formal like they are in movies and end with a potluck. Yeah, one with casseroles and loads of mashed potatoes and pork-loins and that red fruity sauce and green beans. He’d leave a sad letter to his black-clad, weepy-eyed friends about how he didn’t expect to live on in their memories, and even if he did, that it’d be only temporarily because they’d all forget and then die. And at dinner they’d all laugh at stories about him and stories at him expense which would make them feel better for the simple reason that when a person laughs or cries their brain bumps around chemicals in the exact same fashion as when it is jumbled by heroin. Exact same chemicals or synapses or whatever. The friends would go home and keep living, that’s the part movies never show (which are really the only point of reference for Sean because he had never been to a funeral). They would go home day after day and eventually forget to be sad. They’d forget the shirt color and the jokes and after decades of this all that would be left would be his name. Sean Stoller carved by some tombstone engraver man, giant on a pillar of granite the size of an automated MTA Metro Card dispenser:
Here lies Sean Stoller
The man who was never known
After he thought the last line Sean knew that his imagination had run out, that wasn’t the sort of thing people put on graves, it was too depressing—maybe too truthful too. He thinks about reimagining it in his head for a few minutes while the train jostles from side to side then takes another step back from his invented world into the world where it wouldn’t matter what he wanted his epitaph to be because he wouldn’t be getting an epitaph or funeral or black-clad, weepy-eyed friends. He won’t even have memory of the imagined epitaph or funeral he conjured, and it won’t even be the fault of the drugs. He realizes he forgot to include himself in the final count of the train-car. Seventy-two, including this self-fulfilling prophecy of a man, a smelly drunk who all that others expect of is what they see, and all they see is what they expect: a cliché to project their ideas city life’s lowest class (count 1). He looks up and realizes the count has already changed due to stops on the train that he had forgotten to pay attention to. People’s efforts to organize themselves by emotional stability and social class is amplified on subways due to the ridiculously extreme proximity of diverse housing, mandatory commuting, and the Anything& Everything which happens to be a non-negotiable term in the contract of New York City life.
As a side note, future anthropologists will create charts with curves to illustrate how the inverse relation of open space and economic success in the biggest cities of the 2000s was in fact a mathematical constant of which, could be plugged into the computers that perform city planning programs to compute a dire combination that provided utility but impeded happiness. The first continent that this specific formula/program mash-up would be used in is South America. Authorities, wanting to reform the reputation of their specific country, would try to show the world that imported steel and numbers could create as much wealth as their drug-running ancestors. This was unfortunate for the officials on two counts: one, the rest of the world had already forgotten about their ancestors for the simple fact that they weren’t their ancestors (meaning “the rest of the world’s”); two, the number-crunched cities were not more profitable, which planted seeds of doubt in contemporary science in the hearts of the younger generation of said South American country. Ironically, if they had plugged the future (or “contemporary” at this point) anthropologists’ numbers on recreational drug use in their formula they could have raised their net happiness at the expense of utility.
But here and now, happiness is neither here nor now. Here, happiness exists in the Hampton's. Here, every walk on the street is the most urgent thing in life and how dare you for getting in my way; if you have time to stroll along, your time must not be worth as much as mine, or much at all really.
Sean blinks. He notices the horizontal bars of florescent light that lit the train-car are caught in the black space created by his eyelids. Sean himself could be considered an after-image, like the one of the TV channel’s icon burned into the bottom right hand corner in the plasma-screen at the deli off of 10th Ave. Yeah, he was like that. Never fully looked at or seen, he may make a flash on a stranger’s mind’s eye, but he himself has never made an imprint on anyone’s mind. He knew he was expected to be slumped in the corner of a train car. He was there, but not there, forgotten but expected, like person’s nose. Sean had never heard the expression Eyes are windows to the soul. Sean blinked a dozen more times, playing with the lights burned onto his retina. Out of the thousands of people he saw a day, not a soul saw his.
Tired of the scenery Sean exits the train car and sits on a wooden bench with a missing armrest. He puts his baseball hat on the ground and reaches for his cardboard. It isn’t there; it must be on the train or where he woke up this morning. Damn. Why couldn’t this be the same bench he was at. He’d found a quiet, warm station to get a change of scenery and slept there the past few days, but he couldn’t make much money due to the quietness. Pros and cons. Sean laughs to himself, which again, had nothing to do with the drugs, but a pun that always played out in his head. He wishes he was a pro and a con. He laughs again. That’d be the life, a professional con-artist. He wonders what his father did. He wonders what life was like back then. His mother always called him a miracle. She was a good mother, but he stop believing her when she stopped saying it. He knew it couldn’t be true because there were 4.5 billion other miracles walking around when he was born. If life was so miraculous, it wouldn’t happen so much. She would always tell him that she didn’t know how to raise him right, but in this day and age there were more good things out there for him than he could count. If you can’t count variables, you can’t know them, if you can’t know something you can’t achieve it, and what you can’t achieve shouldn’t matter. So he doesn’t let it matter. He knew he currently felt better than anyone he saw around him. It was obvious. Nearly all of them were checking their watches or craning their necks to peer down the tunnel. Convinced by their restlessness, Sean gets a weird twinge of pride and tells himself that he is better off because he thinks about the concrete things like death and doesn’t let the stupid fluid things like life bother him unlike all the people around him who never think about anything but their own life yet are miserable because they will be never satisfied with what they have. It’s much easier to live while having nothing. Perhaps not better, but that’s all in how you look at it. Certainly lack of possessions does not perfectly correlate to happiness and a content life. Sean reassures himself the he isn’t that naïve and wonders why that word has an extra dot above the i. His eyes roll back and his chest arches forward in a wave of drug-induced euphoria. Maybe he isn’t coming down as quickly as he’d thought. Maybe he is just tired. A brave rat scurries past him on the lego-studded cautionary floor tiles that line the edge of the tracks. It doesn’t bother Sean. He smiles as his head leans back on the glossy white wall. Not much bothers me, that’s another one of his strong-suits. This causes another twinge of pride. Sean pictures a nice suit, but instead of regular sleeves the pinstriped fabric was puffed up and muscular like Spiderman costumes that eight-year-old boys wear. Sean laughs and falls asleep. Sean is sitting in the station on a wooden seat made for six, alone.
Photo by Evelyn Stetzer