An Odd Day
I sat at the living room table Friday evening and gazed out at an absolute monsoon: layers of rain, pounding on the window, then stopping, then pounding again as another sheet swept past. I watched the curtains of rain snake their way down the street as fast as cars driving. The gale was the remnant of a former hurricane that stalked the eastern seaboard all the way up to Boston. The weatherman said a hurricane last hit Boston fifty years ago. Everybody foraged out and raided the store shelves of supplies; people placed diagonal stripes of duct tape across their windows. Aside from the river of water the street was absolutely vacant, with maybe just one undaunted car every few minutes.
The rain was phenomenal: storm drains were inadequate and the streets had been flooded for the last twelve hours straight. The people driving were fools, to be sure. A passing car was followed by giant rooster-tails of water splashing up and out to all sides. No work today, of course. So I took out an old bag of weed, covered the table top with a page from last week's newspaper, and dumped the whole bag out. It was just something to do on a rainy day. I started to hand sift, removing the twigs, banking all the leaves off to a side pile, finding an occasional bud that made me half smile, and rolling the seeds carefully into a little pile of their own.
Oh, it must have been a quarter ounce or so; after about half an hour I was pretty much done. I rolled the seeds around for a while: as they rolled under my finger the pointy ends would occasionally almost tickle. I rolled the stems around too, just to free any last remnants of clinging leaves. Not much. I swept the twigs and seeds into my hand, got up to carry them to the kitchen, and dropped them into the trashcan underneath the sink. When I returned to the living room Jim was sitting at the table, fingering some of the buds and staring out of the window. "Some rain, huh?" he asked.
I had trouble telling if he was being rhetorical or if he was just rather stoned (as he tended to be around half of the time). "Do you wanna smoke?" I asked, although naturally I knew his answer as soon as I started. "Sure," he said, his face lighting up. "Nothing to do today anyway." "Yeah," I replied, "the rain is ridiculous". "Look at those schmucks out there driving," Jim remarked, removing a beat-up package of rolling papers from his pants pocket. I shuffled over a joint's worth of leaves; he nodded, and raised his eyebrows for permission to add a couple of buds. I nodded. "Jerks," I said, referring to the outside drivers.
Jim furled the dope with a few quick ratchets and a single roll, sealed the paper with one lick, and carefully twisted both ends. He must have practiced this several dozen times a day just to show off. He placed the joint on the table and let out a deep psychic sigh. I raised my eyebrows, and he shrugged. As we waited a few moments for the joint to dry, I pondered a bit about Jim... an interesting fellow - a lot like me and at the same time completely different. Obviously a brilliant guy, he was as jaded about the world and people around him as I was. Life just didn't present much of a challenge. At the same time though, he was as back-woods and rednecked as anyone that I had ever met. I was a solid city boy; he would reminisce on skinning coon or shooting at squirrels.
Jim picked up the joint and raised it to his lips... I raised my eyebrows, feeling slighted: hey, this was my pot. He hesitated, noticed my consternation, and handed the joint to me. I smiled as I struck up a match and took a nice hefty inhale. I passed it to Jim. "Thanks," he said, nodded, inhaled deeply, and held his breath. Jim could hold the smoke in from a joint longer than anyone I knew - he must have been a whale in a previous life. I exhaled, took the joint back, and sucked another toke. I offered it back to him, but he was still relaxing the pressure of his lungs against his previous inhale and he waved me off. I gave a half shrug. Another squall of rain suddenly pounded on the window.
A thought popped into my head about Gilligan's Island. I must have once seen a hurricane on the show: trees swaying, palm fronds flying, waves crashing, with Gilligan and MaryAnn lost and cold and out in the rain. Mr. Howell was calculating how to make money out of the storm; the professor was rigging up some contraption to track the storm or generate electricity from the wind. I would have thought about Ginger, but having Jim sitting nearby made me shy to be imagining a gal with charm. I sighed. My mind shifted to an image of Dorothy during the Wizard of Oz storm with flying barns and witches. Oh yeah - Dorothy's was a tornado, not a hurricane. Jim harrumphed, having just shared my thoughts.
I took the empty baggie, grasped a pinch of weed, and dropped it into the bag to give it some bottom. I scooped the rest of the weed into an arc, then into a little pile by the edge of the table, and then scooted it into the bag that I placed just below the lip of the table. Most of it made it in. Shit, I said, noticing the patter of leaves on the floor, then sighing, then laughing.
As I got out of my chair Jim arose, nodded, and said thanks. I nodded, but I was already down on my knees, shepherding the stray leaves into a little pile. Hmm, my mind wandered... do we have a dustpan or something that I can use to scoop this up? Probably not. I tried to remember the last time I saw anyone here sweeping. Ah - an idea - I got up and went into my room to search for a piece of scrap paper lying around, but since I couldn't find one I tore the back page off of a porno magazine. It was advertising something like a pump to make your penis larger. Okay. I carried the paper back to the living room and placed it next to the little floor pile. I cupped the back of the pile and gently slid the paper underneath. Perfect. I lifted the leading edge of the paper a bit, carefully folded the paper, and then gently tilted it toward the bag. Ah, a pro. I swiped the floor with my shoe, just to disperse the remaining dust, folded and rolled the plastic baggie in upon itself, and placed it into my shirt pocket.
I crumpled up the magazine page and made a bathroom stop to throw it away. Back into my bedroom, I closed the door, took the weed baggie out of my pocket and put it in my top dresser drawer. I went back to look at that magazine again and thumbed through it a little bit. Boy, this one is a sweetheart. I stopped and let my imagination lick over the breasts of an absolute darling, my penis getting hard and erect. "Make love to me", I thought.
Afterwards I went to sleep.
I awoke the next morning to resounding quiet. The stillness scared me, shocked me, something must be wrong. I know what it was: the rain had stopped. I had become so accustomed to the downpour that it's absence now seemed like the oddity. It was like noticing the silence after a noisy radio gets turned off, or like standing in the kitchen when the refrigerator compressor goes quiet. I pursed my lips and arose, a magazine slid off the bed onto the floor. I went into the bathroom, did my business, and gazed at myself in the mirror. Saturday. I stripped down and got in the shower, turning it up full hot. As I showered I glanced up and out the window: beyond the exiting steam the sky was still completely overcast. The humidity outside combined with the hot shower to make a cool steam sauna. My skin felt cold freshness and prickles of hot drops simultaneously. How odd. I broke out in goose bumps.
I dried off and went to put on some old clothes and a jacket. It would be interesting to go out and scout around to see what the storm had wrought. I figured there'd be tree limbs scattered about and mountains of washed-down litter. Passing my dresser, I opened the top drawer and pulled out the baggie of weed. I put my other hand in my left jacket pocket to check, yes, the small package of wrapping paper was still there. I smiled, closed the dresser, and headed out.
As I walked down the front stairs a full Hawaiian-quality sunrise arrested me: the clouds filled the whole sky with a brilliant orange, red, and magenta. And then the humidity hit me, ouch, like being slapped with a hundred wet washcloths. I coughed, partly out of surprise, but mostly as a physical reflex. I started to walk toward the trolley stop... most of the place was quiet; a couple of cars went by, looking exceptionally clean. I stood by the subway stop and waited for the trolley. I wasn't sure that the sun was going to make it through; I should have brought an umbrella. What was I thinking? I had assumed that the storm had completely blown over, but what if it still had some torrential arms? As the trolley pulled up beside me and whooshed open its doors, I realized that I had already committed to a path, it was too late now, and so I got on. Shit. Well, if it rains again then I'll just have to find something to do indoors.
I fished out some change and counted it into the till, the impatient driver closed the doors and started going while I grasped the cashbox for balance. Apparently he wasn't too pleased to be driving on the Green Line this early on a Saturday. I took a seat halfway back; besides the driver and me, one other fellow, a black kid with headphones on, sat toward the back. We screeched and turned, and then just before entering the tunnel I glanced out the window to see some sunrays breaking through to strike a patch of grass, where steam was rising. We were inside the tunnel.
As the subway clanked along my mind drifted through the ghosts of the tunnel, people at school, and some vague connections to future lovers. The walls passed by bumpily, the rolling of the subway car almost rhythmic, but with an occasional change of pattern - a jazz subway car. We slowed and then stopped at the first station, the doors opened, but nobody came in or left: the station was dead quiet. The driver kept the doors open for several minutes... he must have some schedule that he was minding, trying to avoid the train becoming too far ahead. He finally closed the doors and we were bumping along again.
I was just wandering the line without a destination: I would just randomly go somewhere new, maybe try a new stop that I'd never visited before, and get off to look around. Maybe someplace on the Orange Line - I hadn't traveled there much. I changed trains at Park Street, went about three stops, and then got off.
As I climbed the stairs my heart rose into my throat - when you're exiting a station you never know what you'll find. It's almost like opening up a Christmas present... you have some anticipation for enjoyment: after all, they only build a station if something significant draws them there. You also briefly feel dropped into the middle of a foreign country: everything is different, things look offbeat, the vegetation and architecture is distinctive, and the culture's not the same. I could sense the air changing from subway grit to storm-cleaned freshness. Light and blue sky up ahead, and then I arose from the ground! A sidewalk. Small houses and apartments. I was in a suburb. Okay. I walked down the street. The neighborhood was decidedly working class - tidy and conservative but very inexpensive. Probably places where schoolteachers and accountants lived. The streets were clean and still very quiet, it being a bit early for kids to be clambering around, I suppose. I thought of folks cooking eggs for breakfast or gazing at some morning TV. The apartments and small houses were mostly wood siding, or aluminum siding made to look like wood. No porches - just stairs to the street. Kind of like an Andy Griffith neighborhood.
The neighborhood had a certain uniformity and plainness - it was low key and wanted to stay that way. No stores, no dogs outside, just places to live. No trees along the sidewalk. Very strange - almost like a Hollywood set. I walked three more blocks and then the street came to an abrupt end: the sidewalk looped around with a wood bench at the end of the cul-de-sac. After sitting on the bench for a few minutes in the deserted quiet I rolled a joint, lit it, and smoked it discreetly, as if I were smoking a regular cigarette. I crossed my legs and rested my arms splayed up with my elbows on the backrest. After the roach I did take out a regular cigarette, but instead of lighting it I just placed it in my mouth for effect, to give my fingers something to do.
My mind drifted. What if that's all there is to life, after we're done with all our struggles and reckoning, wars and peacemaking. What if it all comes down to planned little neighborhoods and quiet cul-de-sacs on a Saturday morning. I pulled the cigarette out of my mouth and pretended to flick off ashes, then replaced the cigarette. What if I had been transported through some time warp and had actually exited the subway into some suburb in Omaha in the middle of the 1950s. I cleared my throat and pulled out some loose change to make sure it had dates from 1983. It did seem a bit strange: for one thing the sky was clear. Yeah, it was 1983. The weather front must just have passed all the way through already. I laughed to myself as I put my cigarette back into its carton - it was still good and I could smoke it later. I sat on the bench and recrossed my legs. What if I just sat here the rest of my life, I thought. Why do anything else. Here and now is good enough.
After a half hour my bones got tired of sitting. Okay, so maybe life is just doing different things to please the mind and body. I had nowhere to go, and nothing was happening here. Two small kids were now playing down the street with a skateboard and a wagon. I reluctantly rose from the bench, sighed, took a look at my wristwatch as if the time mattered, and headed back to the subway sign four blocks up ahead.