Train Sense

Looking out the train window.

As the sun crossed the sky from noon to dusk, the train hurdled and then shuffled and lagged then hurdled again. Heading north.

I understand why there are two ga-zillion songs about trains.

First, there is the sound of the train. It’s rhythmic chug, chug chugging at its low register. It is a growling beast, and then a purring one. It touches your insides via quakes delivered from the soles of your feet. It adds the high tones from the clang of the cars as they pass over the tracks, an underloved but meaningful timbre of the orchestra–more cowbell like. And intermittently the low deep whistle sings it’s lonely tune as the train passes by. It’s warning you that it won’t stop, that it will just break your heart as it powers by.

Then, there is the feel of the train. The jostle back and forth along the tracks. Where walking the aisle of the train is akin to passing an unpasssable sobriety test. It sings songs the rails, leaning ever so slightly to the left and then rolling a bit to the right. The rocking lulls many passengers to dream of adventures to come.

Looking out the window, the world rushes past. The portal is big, but squared off. The edge creating an illusion of a ribbon of film passing through at speeds fast and slow. At first, it seems like the outside is moving, but as the speed picks up you realize that you are the one that’s moving–you just didn’t feel it. Yet, it moves you. Like a song, sung via tons of metal gliding over the tracks heading somewhere else.

Bus Sketch III

An empty bus, from the inside, sketched in black and white.

“Hey! Hey! Hey!” the woman shouted from the front of the bus. She was almost backed up against the massive windshield, pushed and pushing as four more people got on a bus that was overcrowded when the two got on the last stop and the family of four and a guy got on at the stop before that. 

The bus driver was impassive and neutral. She was not interested in refereeing the soon to be melee. She was driving. She was not enforcing the “stand behind the yellow line” rule. She wasn’t asking passengers to make room. She was simply pulling up at the bus stop, pressing the gear to open the door and then shutting it when people stopped forcing their way on. She also did some high quality glaring until people paid their fares. That’s what she came to do. No more. 

“HeyHeyHey, HEY-yay! Can someone give me their seat?”

There was that brief almost exchange among the other riders. In the mid-morning there’d be a discussion. The mid-morning bus passengers were a different group. They interacted. They told each other to sit down. They helped guy who was confused, one said he was a junkie, the other said you just didn’t know and couldn’t he use a hand?

The evening rush riders? Not so interactive. If you looked at someone you might be compelled to give up your seat and join the other bodies lurching fore and aft. Or maybe you’d make eye contact with that woman who was talking a stranger’s ear off. You just pushed your speakers into your ear canal, closer to your brain.

“I got a card that says I’m disabled. Somebody give me a seat?” She couldn’t see past the people in front of her so she couldn’t bore a guilt stare at those seated. Some seats were taken by parents with young kids. You definitely did not want the munchkins to be tossed around like doll babies. People sitting without kids looked around to see if they were in a more protected class than their seat mates. 

“Is there not a GENTLEman on this bus?” The people standing between her and the seats were feeling a little salty. She seemed tired, sure, but they were, too. And they were cued for a seat via the universal maxim of “First come, first served.” 

There was some shuffling on the benches. Space was being made. The law of firsts was getting upended. The woman with the disability card squeezed her way past the standing mom with her standing three kids, bulldozing the smallest of the them into other riders. The riders were close to falling into each other like toppling dominoes. All the movement compressed the commuting horde impossibly tighter. 

“I’m sorry,” a short standing rider hidden by a hood directed her apology to the rider seated in front of her. They had inadvertently knocked knees. The seated rider was just below her eye level. Looking up she saw a pair of large brown eyes framed with long black lashes and a shy smile that barely contained her joy.

It was curious that on a bus packed with tired, cold commuters this one girl–maybe she was eleven or twelve–couldn’t help herself. She was simply happy. The knee-knocked rider smiled back and heard her sniffle. It was from the cold. 

“Are you cold enough?” The girl smiled less shyly and bounced her head up and down in agreement. She held eye contact as they debriefed on the new cold weather. They decided it was colder because it came out of nowhere. 

The bus turned another corner and started to empty. The woman who made the fuss to gain her rightful seat only sat in it for two stops. She pushed her way out as the girl with the warm smile disappeared into the humanity. 


Fall evening with a streetlight illuminating a tree and a grey and blue sky.

November had been pleasant, so far. The leaves had been doing their job since October, turning gold and orange and bright red until they fell to the ground and transmuted to brown and tan and crunchy. 

A front came in yesterday, swapping out a sunny warm day to an afternoon that had us scrambling for Toto. There wasn’t a twister, but the clouds were dark and heavy and the wind pushed the shopping carts across the parking lot, launched the plastic grocery bags into the air and chased the people into their cars. That great idea to grab a Novemberfest at the pop up biergarten was blown away. 

Tonight the sky was blotchy with more dark, heavy clouds. Night hadn’t forced out day. The sky to the north east was still robin eggs blue. The sun was almost dropped to the west. 

I zipped my jacket up to my chin and arranged my cabled infinity scarf closer. I had warn gloves one day last week, but it was almost for show. Tonight it was for necessity. I tucked the cuffs into the sleeves of my coat to protect my wrists from the elements.

The wind went from a low moan to an angry growl and back to the moan. It lifted my hair and whipped it around in front of my eyes, trying to blind me. I should have grabbed a cap before I left.

While this town cycles through weather patterns and we can expect another set of warm days, the season has definitely flipped. Winter is coming. 

I fished my gloved fingers into my pocket. I flipped a treat into the air. The Beast captured it before the wind could change its trajectory. He wasn’t crazy about the cold either. We hustled around the corner as the blue seeped out of the sky. It was warm in the house. I had a turkey in the oven. The Boys were both home. I left the chill outside as I closed the door behind me. 

Dust to Dust

Three adorbs baby bunnies, brown, white and gray. They look very soft. And not dusty at all. Did you get that they are DUST BUNNIES? Alt text humor.

The light spills into the dining room from the middle window. It hits long and low at this time of year. It has an orange tint. And it’s moving.

The light isn’t solid, but it is full of tiny bits of dust that boil around in the stream. There isn’t actually a rhythm to the movement, but there is flow. The specks float in the sunlight. They come together and then, seemingly, repel each other. They float away to meet and then be repelled by a different, nearby dust speck.

An air current criss crosses the do-si-dos inside the beam. The draft air is cooler. Some of the dust tries to drop, but on the way down hits a hot spot and bounces back and rejoins the sun dance.

The strips of light have a terminal point at the opposite wall where another batch of dust lies. This dust is much more obvious than its hidden, moving in the light, cousins. The dust on the floor simply sits next to the wall, snuggled into a weave of dog hairs and punctuated by the crunch of some crumbs that were brushed off the table at breakfast.

A passerby disturbs the air, creating a breeze that makes the wall dust roll a little. Just a little. It mostly sits and waits to be joined by the dust that falls as the morning sun that held it up moves across the room and disappears. Some may join the dance if it’s sunny again tomorrow.

Dub Squad

Empty swings in the schoolyard. At least it's a sunny morning.

Zoe had been hoping that her orthodontist appointment would last longer. Or that it would start late. Or that the dentist office would catch fire. Anything to delay or, even better, avoid going to school. Mom wasn’t having any of it.

But Mom was being selfish. Said she had to get back to work. Zoe felt very strongly that it would be better if they had lunch together, then maybe go shopping. She made her case smartly and forcefully. Mom was having none of it. Stupid office.

Things didn’t go so well at the end of yesterday. Somehow the day got out of hand. It was that idiot project. She was working with Emily and Emma, like they almost always did. They were all in the gifted and talented program. They were all in the orchestra. She and Emily played flute. Emma played the violin. They were all on the same soccer team. Emily’s dad coached. They were called the Purple Reign because their uniforms were violet and they loved to sing “Let’s Go Crazy” on the sidelines. It psyched them up. They all had iPhones and sent each other the most hysterical emoji messages ever. Their moms couldn’t decipher their code.

They stopped singing the songs from Frozen this year. They switched over to binge watching The Hunger Games trilogy. Katniss was more relatable than the cartoon Elsa. The archer’s moodiness was more like they sometimes felt. Alone together. They were growing up.

Yesterday was ridiculous, though. They were close to being finished with their presentation. They worked in Justin Bieber’s Sorry from YouTube. The project was on language and the concept just worked. They agreed that the dancing would be a great way to finish off. Creativity points and maybe some cool points, too. Somehow, though, everything went south.

Emily started by saying that she didn’t think they should spend so much time with a dance video. It made them seem less serious. Zoe felt stung. She was working on their choreography. It was actually her major contribution. She made different signs for them to hold and swap as they were dancing. Using the classroom speakers and a YouTube video was uncharted for the students. She had to get Ms. Waldorf’s permission. Zoe explained how they were integrating a pop video into their research. She was pretty proud of her negotiating.

Before Zoe could respond, Emma piped in her agreement. She said it in a thoughtful way, like, “I hear what you’re saying, Emily. That makes sense.” But she said it as soon as Emily finished her sentence. As if they had discussed it before. Zoe felt a bitter taste in her mouth. She took a big breath through her nose. She blinked her eyes quickly to quell the rising salt water. She exhaled and then took another deep breath.

Emma’s left eye narrowed just a bit and the one side of her mouth turned down. She was thinking for real this time. “But maybe we can keep it and just only do it for half of the time.” It was Emily’s turn to stiffen a little.

“If you don’t want to do it, that’s fine,” Zoe said with a bit more force on the fine than she was intending.

“No, no, no. I’m okay with Emma’s idea. Let’s just cut the dancing short.”

There was a bit of shortness in Emily’s response. All three girls were feeling edgy. Zoe quickly packed her notebook and markers in her backpack. She put her half-eaten Lara Bar that fell out of it’s wrapper in there, too. She didn’t care that it would be gross. She was ready to go. She needed to go.

“Okay. I just remembered I needed to see Mr. Ripley. See you guys tomorrow.” She stood up and shook her stuff to the bottom of her bag, awkwardly zipping it as she walked away. She hoped that they didn’t see the back of her hand run across her eyes. Her last few steps out the door were a sprint.

She was quiet at dinner. She couldn’t stop replaying the conspiracy in her head. Why were they ganging up on her? They had been working on this plan for weeks and this was the first she heard about “too much music.” When she thought the words “too much music” she thought them in a sarcastic baby voice.

And this was after she cleared it with the teacher. After she made the signs. After she figured out how they would use them to “convey their educational messages in an authentic fashion to their peers.” Those words got her the approval. A flare of pride pushed away her gloom.

Were Emily and Emma mad at her? Did she do something to make them mad? Why were they rejecting her? She started to feel a tennis ball sized mass in the middle of her chest rise to the back of her throat. She swallowed it back down before it reached her eyes. Mom started to ask her something but her brother and his friend came home and the dog went off.

Zoe put her plate and silverware in the dishwasher and decided to call it a night. She walked upstairs. She stared at the foam from the toothpaste leaking from the edges of her mouth. Like a sad clown face. She felt a little sorry for the girl in the mirror. She downed a glass of water and watched a little water drip down her chin. It spotted her t-shirt. She pulled on her favorite nightshirt and curled in bed with an unopened book. She gazed absently at the ceiling, her hand resting on the cover of her book, her mind spinning through the end of the school day and cycling through emotions of confusion, anger, sadness and doubt.

Now she had to go back to school and she didn’t know if her friends were her friends. She made herself stop. Mom pulled in front of the school. If Zoe looked at her, she would have seen her mother’s head tilted to one side, studying her daughter with pronounced lines on her forehead. But Zoe had the car door slammed behind her–not slammed hard but with a little extra force–before her mother could finish her assessment.

Crap. It was lunchtime. Everyone would be in the cafeteria. She didn’t want to go in there, but after she checked in with the school secretary, she had no where else to go. She grabbed a tray and kept her head down as she approached the food kiosk.

She put her tray down on a table and felt someone sticking an earphone in her ear. She heard the tinny sound of a song. Emily was attached to the end of the white wire and held the other bud next to her own ear. She looked at Zoe all wild-eyed and crooned, “Is it too late now to say sorry?” Emma was horse stomping her right foot in rhythm to the song. She finished with her best Michael Jackson flourish, which meant she lost her balance. While she did stagger, she stayed standing. The three of them doubled over. Zoe’s snort was followed by another round of shrieks.

Those two Ems knew her well. And, they were exactly right about cutting some of the music at the end. In fact, all was right.

Bus Sketch II

Little girl looking out the bus window. She's wearing a leopard print coat.

“I gotta pee!”

Eleven heads bobbed up in unison, leaving posts unliked, candies uncrushed and videos advancing unwatched. The heads then turned to the front of the bus. Synchronized.

The toddler had been chirping away unnoticed for blocks and blocks. She was fascinated by everything rushing by, her nose pressed against the big window, her little feet hanging over the bench, her shoulders enclosed by an animal print.

She was full of style from toe to top. Starting from her black punk boots that were laced up half-way and working up to the most amazing glasses with a huge square white frame scattered with scores of little flowers, pink, orange, red, yellow, blue on stems of green. She moved with the comfort of a near two-year old who knew in her heart of hearts that she was amazing and fabulous.

She must have asked her dad for a car, because he said that he wasn’t buying her one. His response was like a scripted response that was a part of their private joke. A little bit like call and response. She babbled some sweet sounds, one of which resembled the word car. Or maybe cow. Or curl. Or cat. Or yard. But her dad knew. He delivered his line.

Nothing she said, however, was as clear as when she presented her pressing need. A cold blast of worry chilled the bus. Passengers wondered to themselves, “Will she make it?”

The mom asked her the unnecessary question that everyone wanted to know, “Do you have to go to the bathroom?”

The little diva nodded vigorously. Her father looked concerned that she might nod the tinkle out. The mom worked the magic of distraction, suggesting the girl sit down and asking a few unrelated questions about school. It seemed to work, or at least the tot stopped talking about needing to go.

The dad pulled the cord for the next stop, and the girl leaned over to pull it, too. The mom was on the far side of the bench and shook her head. “Just let her pull it, okay?” She was working hard to avoid a morning meltdown. The dad leaned forward to make room for the girl to grab the yellow plastic coated wire behind him. The bus lurched and the girl held on tight. Since he had already called for a stop, there wasn’t a beep when she pulled. He adroitly pointed to the Stop Requested light above her head. She was convinced that she had effected that.

Her dad picked up her and his backpacks then took her by the hand. Her mom told her she loved her and would see her soon. The girl parroted back the words–or her interpretation and execution of those words–in her little squeaky sing song.

Kisses were exchanged and there was no peeing on the bus. Ten heads returned to the phones in their hands. One followed the pair off the bus and watched them approach the daycare. That one decided to enjoy the bus like a two year old and left her phone in her bag. She turned her head to the window to watch the cars and look for cows.

Giddy Up

A bunch of empty--and temporary--stalls.

Her fingers wrapped around the cold metal separating her from her quarry. Her breath was a cloud in front of her tiny nose. She waited. She was soon rewarded.

She heard a hollow clippity-clop of horseshoe on concrete. The percussive rolling four/four  was the back beat to her fantasy. She pushed her face closer to the diamond grid of the fence. The better to see.

A young woman, maybe her in eight or ten years, loosely held the reins of a great steed. The girl at the fence drank in the close black breeches capped by shiny black boots. The boots had a block heel, rounded toe and a seam circling the leather at the top third of the shaft. They were finished with a brass button at the very top. A long braid trailed from the round black helmet and down the back of a velvet coat.

But it was the horse that took her breath. He wasn’t the biggest horse she saw, but he was certainly big. He was an almost white gray with definite white spots on his back haunches. His arched neck was topped by the knobs of tight braids. His dark eyes wereXxx  unfocused. She tried to catch his attention by clicking her tongue. He didn’t respond. Rider and horse walked past to their quarters. 

Her mother was hanging just a few steps behind the girl. She walked ahead and tugged the imaginary line between her and her daughter. It worked and the girl moved a along the sidewalk. She stopped again, in front of a chamber full of four horses. There were two bays, a chestnut and a gray. The gray had the biggest head, but the chestnut was the biggest horse of the four. She tried to get them to see her, but two of the horses were flirting with each other and one had her head in her feed.

For a second, the girl made contact with one of the horses. He looked right into her and the girl felt like he touched the inside of her chest. She caught her breath and looked straight back at him, holding her breath. His  gaze went through and then beyond her.

But for that second, he was in her. She ran up to her mother to tell her how she felt the horse. She put her hand in the one automatically offered. Her mother’s eyes were fixed on the next pod, where she made a connect with a chestnut flipping his head and snorting. 

She crouched next to her daughter and pointed a long finger as he tossed his mane their way. The girl and her mother held his gaze and each other on that cool fall night under the stars and on their way into the arena where they would see the horses and riders compete. 

“Mommy, can I be a rider for Halloween?” The woman smiled and wondered if her old helmet would be too big for her. 

“Sure. You can wear your rain boots…”

“No I can’t. They’re yellow. Riders don’t wear yellow. Can I get new boots?”

Her mother looked down at her own tall boots and thought about budgeting for riding lessons. “We’ll see.”

Ma-ma-ma-ma-ma My Verona!

Dirty sneakers, an eviscerated pig photo bombs.

Oh, most arrogant wretch.

Fie. Fie. Fie. Why do I deign to write? What conceit have I, that to put my counterfeit words next to royal scribes before and near me? Whose language I share, but in comparative use, I despair?

To spend evening past perched near the world’s stage, soul undone by the Bard’s poetry in the two hours’ traffic rage. I set my trespass on our shared language as I prate on.

Soft, soft. Anon I will publish this hopeless screed, awaiting the black emptiness, the complete loneliness of whispering into a void. And yet, still, I type. Perchance to dream.

Mark. I type for thee, Loyal Reader. Or if I would fain prove true, I, indeed, write for me.

Motion, less

The Beast looks outside through the window with a bouquet and vase next to him.

What is still?

The Beast poked his head out the open window. There was no glass. There was no screen. There was only a frame for him to rest his head and stick his snout out into the world. There was no barrier between him and the outside.

He sniffed left and right without moving his big, block head. He raised his nostrils one and then the other from the tip of his scent-hound muzzle. He investigated that which was happening downwind, but, the concentration of smells rode the jetstream of air from the north. There was some mowed grass and a hint of the shampoo from the damp hair of the mom jogging by and pushing a massive three wheeled stroller. He was able to also pick out her warmed deodorant.

There was the delicious aroma of whatever was happening in the compost bin. There was some funk and some sweet and some sharp and some fire. It had rained most of the weekend and there was some leftover dampness–wet dirt, wet grass and those mushrooms that just appeared out of nowhere.

The rose bush was blooming one more time, but the sweet fresh fragrance was overshadowed by the base muskiness of the mums that were brought home to brighten the front yard. He smelled both, though.

The flies buzzed around his head and out the open window into the cool air. One or two tried to fly back into the warm house, but were caught in the heat-cold exchange and pushed back out.

The Beast’s head rested on the windowsill next to a vase of fading flowers. It was a beautiful still life, colored by the late morning sun streaming into the dining room. But this was no inanimate subject matter. There was hundreds of small movements happening, all at once.

Without Character

A nondescript elevator with two white guys from the 60s madmen era with fedoras with the doors closing.

There isn’t anything authentic about a convention center. It is the Muzak® of buildings. Taking strains of something that had a soul and stripping it of anything that makes it itself.

After lobotomizing originality, next to be removed is anything human. Voice, words, breath, a pause? All excised. Any instrument that conjures an image of fingers racing along keys, pressing a valve, strumming strings, holding a bow or grasping sticks? Also eliminated.

All you have left is a lowest common denominator tempo barely holding up the weakest strains of a strained melody. And when you hear it, the bleached skeleton picked clean of flesh and blood, you get mad. Because it used to be something.

The worst, most generic chain motel gains charm in comparison to the empty cavern of a convention center with its too high ceilings–in case someone booked a boat show and need to showcase a hundred foot yacht, or maybe a grouping of humvees, a tank and a Blackhawk on blocks for a military show of might. People love getting their pics standing near the turret of the tank. But that doesn’t make the convention center any less bland.

The colors in the convention center do not stimulate the rods and cones at the back of your eyes. Even the use of orange, when contrasted with the old wool blue gray in the carpet, doesn’t jiggle your brain. At best, you mark it as something that evokes the color orange and dully move along.

The chairs in the rooms are not camouflaged. Not really, but they could be. They almost always have a gold or silver frame. This is so you can differentiate among the individual units. I was going to say differentiate among them in the dark, but they would all fade together under light, too. The metal does not shine, though. It does not catch your eye. It is matte. Almost a silent signal.

Even the food in the convention center is without taste. Whether it’s a box lunch, purportedly with an Italian sub or a roast beef and horseradish on pretend ciabatta (it’s just the shape of ciabatta), or a sit down meal at an awards dinner, the food tastes like the food in a dream.

You know that dream. The one where you have an ice cream cone in your hand and it’s dripping a bit on the side. It’s piled with two big scoops. And your dream self puts it in your dream mouth and your real brain registers no flavor. I usually wake up then. It’s the equivalent of a nightmare, I guess. Well the food at the convention center is like that. Even the potato chips.

There are windows around the sides of the building. They are huge plates of glass, and yet there are no streams or streaks of light. It just surrounds the building and substitutes glass for walls with no real contrast. Maybe those aren’t windows. Maybe those spans are just a slightly different shade of wall.

Leaving the convention center, there is an exit with a set of stairs. These stairs are dangerous because you can’t tell the steps apart. It’s just that same Muzak® carpeting that leads you out of the Muzak®-filled elevator and out into the noise and the dark or the light of a real street. Look, there’s a pigeon strutting along the sidewalk! Something is alive.