Daydreaming on the Q

by

04/11/2008

Manhattan Bridge, 10002

Neighborhood: Lower East Side

On the train on the way home, I scan the occupants of the car, playing Wildly Inappropriate Matchmaker, my favorite daydream. For the purposes of this exercise, I settle on a tall woman with black hair tied back tight, librarian glasses slipping down her nose as she reads a copy of Finnegans Wake. I want to put her with the Jamaican man with the furrowed brow who’s probably coming home from a long day of work. He’s got dreadlocks nearly down to his waist, an impressive indication that he’s able to see things through. I can see the future here.

The train lurches to a stop on the bridge. “There’s a red signal up ahead,” or “There’s another train in front of us,” they always say. These are lies of course, cover stories so the conductor can stop for a smoke, or so they can conduct brief negotiations with the three billy goats gruff.

I look across the car and see a guy I think I know, a guy I hooked up with a few months ago. Problem is, he’s one of those guys who looks like other guys. Like Clark Kent or Frankenstein depending on your angle. Which is to say he had strong, chiseled features, a nice jaw line, but also thick, straight eyebrows; a man who balanced his Neanderthal lineage with a decent haircut. I think that’s why I liked him initially. I found him complex, contradictory. Every time I tried to picture him in my mind he kept changing.

The guy on the train turns away. He could be avoiding me, or he could just be admiring the view. I met him at a New Year’s Party. He was a journalist from Kentucky, and therefore had a bit of the exotic other about him. I gave myself a 9-day waiting period before I called him.

Part of the problem is that this guy on the train looks very sharp, wearing a suit and tie, while my guy was a broke wannabe writer who was smuggling cigarettes up from Virginia. “You want to buy a few packs?” he asked me on our first “date.” Later, I made out with him mostly just to get him to stop talking.

But maybe after our little rendezvous, things started working out for him. Maybe instead of working on his novel, he decided to get a job as a manager of market analysis or mergers and acquisitions, and now was making enough money to buy silver and diamond cufflinks that looked like dice. Maybe he was doing well enough to move out of the sleazy apartment in Washington Heights that he shared with four other guys and buy a brownstone in Cobble Hill. You never know about these things.

It’s possible that people change, I tell myself. After all, I’m sitting there with a secret knowledge that I’m about to turn a corner, or at least throw a crimp into the plans of fate. I’ve got a radiance that’s hard to explain. A very satisfying inner life.

“Imagine what would happen,” I hear a young guy next to me say to his girlfriend. “If this train just suddenly fell off the bridge.”

“That would never happen,” says the girl. “Why would that happen?”

“Dunno–terrorist, earthquakes, whatever. Think about it–the train would probably get stuck somewhere between the beams. The doors would open and everyone would fall out–”

You have to be ready for anything these days. The Manhattan Bridge falling down, the loser you dated a couple months ago suddenly turning into a prince.

The guy in the suit still hasn’t looked my way. What if…he’s that guy, what if he’s changed, what if the train plummets off the track and into the water below?

I feel certain that he’d regret not calling me back.

“You know how to tread water?” says the guy to his girlfriend.

The train lurches forward, and the spell is broken. He is or he isn’t. It’s just one of those things you encounter in passing, a million possibilities constantly branching off in every direction.

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