Jon calls me on the phone. He’s giggling and still drunk from last night. I express frustration that I might not be able to find my camera in time so I can document our trip to the Dia Beacon museum today. He makes a joke about how it might be under my entertainment center. I counter, assuring him that it isn’t, but that I wish something else was. I don’t think he gets my joke, but whatever he uses as filler in his head is funny enough: he erupts into peals of laughter. “See you at eleven.”
I take the subway to Grand Central Station and walk through the main concourse to purchase a ticket to Beacon, ignoring the teal fresco ceiling and the plaster relief sculptures, walking between people staring thoughtfully at train schedules or taking ill-composed photographs of their children.
One ticket to Beacon, please.
Jon arrives with Tommy and his sister in tow. Tommy’s got a nice tan from his short-lived migration to Florida. I haven’t seen him since 2007 and his hair has grown. “I’m starving,” Jon growls like a hungry bear. We walk down to Eata Pita and I note that their couscous looks like enriched uranium and not at all like couscous. Their “Shawafel” – a clever combo of shawarma and falafel – does not appeal and I am feeling finicky. I buy a pack of gum and eat a Lara bar because I have assumed the sad and harmless life of a hunter-gatherer.
Without cause to sit down with a knife and fork to eat my “food”, I set off in search of the perfect train car. This proves to be quite difficult. The first one I walk into smells distinctly of a battle between bacteria and an anti-septic spray. There must be a bathroom here, I think. Car after car after car is filled with this same nausea-inducing smell. After nine cars, I stumble upon an ideal setup: chairs facing the direction we are headed so that no one gets sick, minimal smell, and few passengers. Jackpot. My neuroses prove useful once again.
The four of us sit down, each opting to lounge on our own private vinyl bench. In the darkness of the station few redeeming features are illuminated under the artificial and harsh fluorescents lining the ceiling. I look around. “Who ever thought this color scheme was a good idea?” I say, referring to the dried-blood-red and ocean blue of the seats combined with the faux-wood laminate side panels and sour cream plastic. “American Airlines,” offers Tommy. Touché.
Within minutes I am already in stitches. Between Jon’s drunk/hung-over statements about not talking to him “in his condition” and Tommy’s dry humor relayed with the hint of a Louisiana drawl, I’m nearly on the grime-laden floor laughing.
A girl walks past. “She looks smelly…” Tommy muses, “… a smell that is not easily identifiable… She probably has dandruff. Dermatitis. Halitosis.” The statement is made with no invitation for commentary; it just sits there, hanging in the air like the anti-septic spray until something else comes along.
Jon looks at me, holding a small plastic container filled with giant slices of raw red onions, soggy parsley flakes, and seven garbanzo beans. “Why did I get two sides?” he moans. I feel as though he should be more concerned he just paid four dollars for a portable onion and not something more substantial. Another row of florescent lights turns on and Jon groans about it being too bright inside and lies down on his bench, disappearing from view.
“He’s not coming back up,” says Tommy, shaking his head and taking bites of a sandwich on whole wheat bread.
The train moves and Jon gets back up, smelling his plaid shirt that reminds me of summer. Something provokes a bad “That’s what she said!” joke, which Jon quickly follows with “I’m going to shut up right now.”
A man comes through wearing a light blue button-up with white pinstripes that is similar to the one my dad wears at his machine shop. On his head is a conductor’s cap; something I didn’t even know was still in production these days. But that’s what’s so nice about trains: the time warp. As the man walks around, collecting and stamping our tickets by hand, I feel like I’m a part of something old and real.
Jon turns around. Behind his glasses, his eyes twinkle with excitement and a smile presses his cheeks north bound. “His name is Giuseppe! Giuseppe S.!”