Underground Analysis

by

02/08/2016

Neighborhood: All Over

On the subway Thursday morning, a man sat beside me, with his wife or girlfriend (no ring) standing over him. He was about 35, with long wavy hair pulled into pony tail, and a scraggly beard — kind of a 21st-century beatnik look. She was done up like a character from My Cousin Vinny — jet black hair in a flip, heavy makeup, eyelashes like scimitars, and a great cloven shelf of jiggling flesh thrust up beneath her chin. She was lovingly stroking the top of his head. He noticed me watching, flicked his eyebrows, and said, “She’s being very nice.”

“Which do you think it is?” I asked. “She wants something, or she’s done something she hasn’t yet told you about that’s going to make you furious?”

“Ha,” she said, smiling.

“What could she possibly want?” he asked me.

“If you have to ask,” I said, “it’s too late.”

“Lemme guess,” he said. “You’re married.”

“Twenty-eight years.”

“When she does something like this,” he said, lofting his eyes at her stroking hand, “what does it mean?”

“Hard to say,” I said. “Margaret is generous with signs of affection.”

“Oh, Margaret,” he said. “Affectionate, yes, but with very clear ideas about how you should behave and no compunctions at all about punishing you severely if you transgress.”

“Exactly.”

“Pretends to be laid back, and out of nowhere can go all warrior-woman on you.”

“It’s like you read my mail,” I said.

The train slowed to a stop at 42nd Street. He stood to go.

“You’re pretty good,” I said. He shrugged.

“I work for the NSA; it’s my job to be good,” he said, making for the door. Then he paused and turned back to me. “By the way. That carton of cottage cheese in your fridge? It’s starting to spoil.”

And he was gone.

After work, Margaret and I had a beer with an optimistic young writer who once ordered me to stop being a pessimistic old writer, and got home around 10:30. First thing I did was open the fridge and stick my nose in the container of Breakstone cottage cheese.

Good news. It smelled perfectly fresh. The NSA is losing its mojo.

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