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From beneath you it devours

5 Apr

From beneath you it devours

Tonight, down in the bowels of Powell Street station, a very skinny woman with wild hair and wilder eyes was talking with a man. Talking at him, more accurately, because he had that polite but uncomfortable “mm-hmm” face. The thought bubble above his head read “Please, god, get me out of here.”

She wanted money and, as you might guess, he did not want to give any to her. “Give me a dollar and I’ll go away,” she bellowed. She had a voice like a dying bullhorn. He tried to reason with her. “Gimme a dollar!” she continued. His train arrived and he darted away.

The woman slowly spun around on her bird-legs, her glazed eyes scanning the crowd of people. The trains were running late (thanks, MUNI) so the platform was more crowded than usual. As she made her way toward the bench where I was sitting, I stood up real casual-like and quietly walked about 10 feet away. It felt like backing off from a puma while wearing a coat made of filet mignon.

The woman accosted two more people before coming my way. She almost didn’t; she walked past me, then turned back to begin her pitch. She stood maybe 18 inches away from me, a little closer than I like most people to be. Up close, her face was even sadder. It was gaunt, deeply wrinkled, and pained. There was an inch-wide gap where four of her bottom teeth should have been. Even covered with a layer of glassiness, the bright blue of her eyes hinted at past beauty.

Here we go, I thought. (more…)

En train de…

24 Feb

En train de…

It was the commute from hell: nearly an hour to travel three piddly miles from work to home. I knew I was in for it when I saw the train platform stuffed with people, most of whom had a half-hopeless, half-annoyed screen over their eyes. When the trains finally began coming into the station, they were already crowded. But we boarded, and some people even got seats. We tried to make the best of it.

The train crawled about 25 feet, then stopped. We waited. As the train stood still, the air became warm and stuffy. I was wedged into a corner, with only a few inches of space between me and the people around me. The stale air, lack of movement, and sensation of being trapped were highly unpleasant. Nobody looked happy.

Ten years ago, I might have turned to a fellow commuter and shared some sort of sympathetic small talk about the delay. I wanted to do that tonight, but the man next to me was listening to his iPod. The woman in front of me was listening to her iPhone. The long-haired goatee man was playing games on iPhone, the teenage girl was texting on her Sidekick, and over on the other end of the train, a woman had turned up her iPod loud enough that I heard jolene! joLEEN, joLEEN, jo! LEE-EE-EEEEN! through the earphones.

The train eventually shuddered forward, then stopped again, then started up, and so forth. Aside from the two coworkers talking about a new relationship (“She’s great, but I’m waiting to see how she fights”) the train was essentially void of conversation. It was typical of urban life, it was nothing unusual, and it was sad.

I recently got an iPhone through the boss man. Earlier today, I mentioned this, and someone made a comment that stuck: “You get one and it’s like you create a little relationship with it.” That is the problem, isn’t it? We look at phones, not into people.

And yeah, I enjoy all of the things the iPhone can do (Angry Birds and Hipstamatic are so much fun) but I can’t help but feel that we’re losing a lot. Tonight I kept my phone in my bag during the hour-long commute and wondered what might have been.