Yes, I received your letter yesterday
about the time the doorknob broke.
When you asked me how I was doing
was that some kind of joke?

Late afternoon rushing down the steps for the train whose destination I can only see upon turning the corner of the bottom of the staircase and left for the doors that will still be open hopefully if I can get there in time see this is why I didn’t take the escalator because you can’t control your own destiny in case someone fails to follow the rule of standing on the right and walking on the left no running on the left because I am running seeing the train and hoping it’s not too late and I have a split-second to read it to decide whether to dive between closing doors or make that little stutter-step hold-up motion that means I’m not going in here’s the last step…

The morning walks toward work lately have been graced by a blood-orange sky since Tuesday. By which I mean that an actual orb, hovering eastward, has been the picture of a blood-orange against a sky somewhere between charcoal and ash. Walking in its pursuit, ever in the direction of the sun and the train, has felt like an epic effort at some Old Testament mission. On Tuesday I thought it was just an omen, but have since learned that fires in the outlying areas are blowing particulate matter into the atmosphere, leaving us in permanent twilight. A co-workers eyes burn each morning as he disembarks his bike or motorcycle. Mornings and evenings are the worst; there’s something about the sun’s rise and fall that brings out the eeriest. Yea though I walk through the valley of.

…and now I can slow down just a hair as I have seen both RICHMOND and been able to jump aboard ahead of the closing doors, but here’s another split-second decision because people are ever at my back, more flooding throngs of people in the momentary chaos of train-boarding fight-or-flight, where is the nearest best seat? And I spy there, ever in motion and just catching my breath, it’s right there, there is a four-plex of seats two-on-two facing each other, and three of them are open and now I have the classic prisoner’s dilemma of whether it’s safer to take the outside corner spot so as not to invade this person’s space and seem too close to them even though the next station will clearly fill the next two seats and everyone will be close and personal or whether to just fill in and take the slightly favorable inside seat because after all it’s easier not to feel guilty about de facto displacing someone who technically might make better marginal use of the seat if one’s on the inside and couldn’t possibly get up to offer one’s seat because one’s trapped and the massive disruption and inconvenience for everyone of offering an inside seat just undoes any chivalric or actual value in offering one’s seat anyway. And besides which taking the outside corner inconveniences anyone who might have to get diagonally between the two sitters of which you would become the more difficult one, trying to get the inside seat which you just moments ago rejected because of the illusion of some sort of momentary fleeting personal space or becoming too personal with someone who after all you’ve never met because you’re just sharing a train and the mutual desire to be home and done with this already and my goodness just take the inside seat already even though this whole musing has been automatic, the actual thinking done long before, and taken about fourteen nanoseconds…

I have had so little to do at work these days that I have taken to keeping an eye on the financial markets very closely in the west-coast mornings when they are open. For one, I’ve begun a little gambling in “the market” and for two, it’s an interesting time to watch such things. And no doubt, the way things are going, the direction of everything surely impacts my work after all. Would not the soup kitchens of 1929 been well-served by keeping an eye on the ticker? And today was remarkable, a dive to those dreaded words: 52-week low. And indeed it was 21 months’ worth of low, something closer to 90 weeks, something incomprehensible to those who remind us that, in the long-term the stock market cannot decline any more than could Rome fall, the Titanic sink, or the US military lose a war. And yet, somehow, no one ever calls a market gain a “correction”. Corrections are only down.

…and so I slide in to claim the seat across from yes, another fellow human being and a stranger, just as the train is moving and the chaos has settled and for one brief stop at least we will be the only two in this group of four, just like people who know each other. My movements are reflexive, automatic, as I settle and start to reach to unzip my backpack to remove the book when she speaks to me. “Hel-lo,” in a friendly, sing-songy, familiar voice. And by “familiar”: there is no recognition on my part, but she speaks as she would to a familiar. A friend, a colleague, a long-lost comrade. I look up. Who is this person? My age? Younger? Slightly younger. School? Work? An intern met in a fleeting moment; the batch of anonymous looking wide-eyed kids that gets younger every year? A former college debater who saw me debate in outrounds? One by one, the possibilities recede. I just don’t know this person. But does she know me, or think she does? I am wearing sunglasses, after all, though also a coat that no one else in the world may own, a bright threading of orange, red, and brown picked up in Nepal. But I am left with no civil recourse but an equal rejoinder: “Hello,” with less sing-song and less familiarity, but not so little as to rule out that I have clean forgotten this person instead of had nothing to recall…

The line is getting longer, of course. By leaps and bounds. I’ve been charting the trends, adding up the food bills, trying to peer into the void and project the curvature of the next spike and up-tilting angle, really putting the analysis into my Analyst title. I could use a wizard hat and spectacles, and maybe a glass orb to refract the blood-orange light that is often already past my window by the time I take my 8:30 seat. The news is all bad: floods in Iowa, threats in Israel, defiance in Iran, idiocy in Washington, panic in New York. It’s speculators or it’s not; no one can tell. It’s the oil companies or it’s not; no one can say. It’s inflation or it’s not; no one wants to admit. Houses sold in a fire-sale. The job lines longer too. I look out my window to see our own line. New faces or old? Who can tell? Everyone looks old in line for free food.

…she is now looking half-expectantly, half-normally. She is not looking away after the requisite time of casual observance. She is utterly unrecognizable, still. I am reading a book, the one I now start to pull out of my backpack, that includes a subplot (or maybe the main plot – who knows at this point?) about mind-control tests done on one particular subject who thinks he’s just another one of the testers but he’s being altered. Messed with. One might argue, given my history, that this is a terrible book for me to be reading. Or perhaps the best. But pull it I do, and she makes this overt, awkward show (she must be younger than I am) of trying to look at the cover, trying to parse out the low-contrast words of the title, presumably in hope that she has something to say about it, or ask, or, but she must not know Pynchon, or like him, or be able to quite make out the cover which I do nothing to exactly thrust in her face (nor to really obscure; I’m just trying to be normal here in this suddenly very self-conscious reality) because she mumbles something that sounds from my seat like “Rhurbook?”…

Eventually I need my own food and stumble downstairs toward the door, thinking perhaps I will spend some time away from the building for awhile because it’s just not been a good morning. And I’m half-hoping to find a place with a TV to watch the Euro Cup semifinals that Russia has somehow surprised their way into and it would really just be too overt to watch on the streaming video at my own desk in my shared office. And I’m not quite dizzy with hunger yet, but getting close, as I play the constant game of dodgeball with all the inhabitants of the Ellis Street Tenderloin; our usual crew accustomed to taking time that even when bored I never seem to have. Or feel to have. And it’s all strangely quiet, even the guy who shouts random numbers and city names and facts a high volume is somehow muted and the glower of blood-orange stands much more blatant above even though it’s just a bit past midday and the uneasiness they’re writing about in New York seems somehow manifest here in San Francisco while I’m hoping to get to images of the anxious situation developing in Vienna (the first half was scoreless, I’d already periodically checked online) and all I can really see is people in a haze of uncertainty. Even the tourists look vaguely a step behind. By the time I get away from desolation row and down to the cable cars, I’m just in time to catch some Russian from a cable car, a big burly bear of a classic Russian voice, and I think if this man can skip his homeland’s biggest soccer match in 20 years, maybe I can too. I find a chile relleno burrito in a nearby taqueria which somehow doesn’t have a TV anyway and return to my room on the row.

…”What?”
“I said ‘Oh. A book.'”
“Oh.”…

Russia lost, three-nil.

…and I have literally nothing else to say, not a damn thing that won’t make this already extremely awkward situation more awkward and I have to wonder: is this awkward for her? Is she paling in frustration over the fact that I can’t remember who she is? Or that I somehow am coming across as standoffish and east-coasty to her simple friendliness? Or is she – oh God – is she somehow hitting on me? Play with my wedding ring. Try to half-smile so as not to appear to be a total jerk. But there’s nothing to say. It’s one of those situations where I often yearn to say something that completely exposes the weirdness of the situation to turn it on it’s head and say something akin to were you just being friendly or should I know you from somewhere or who do you think I am or what?, but of course I almost never say those things in better situations; certainly better situations than now on the train, waiting for the miles to fly by under the tunnel and up the gut of the East Bay. Where – I am literally sweating now – I will be captive, captured, hemmed in by my own deliberate guilt-assuaging seat-clinching strategy, forced to sit through the ratcheted awkwardness that would be created by any sort of risky comment taken poorly. And so I stare, through sunglasses now actually fogging from the sweat of my literal brow as I grow red-faced and thankful that at least if I start to tear up slightly, the sunglasses will conceal, stare at the page without really being able to read or concentrate or focus. It’s hard enough to concentrate on this book as it is, especially on the afternoon side of the train when my mind is weary from too much time in the seat. Just staring at the page, wondering if she’ll say something, if I should, if she’s getting off at the next stop? Ha. She’s almost guaranteed to get off at mine…

And there was more to do, as there always is of late, in the afternoon, with a meeting approaching and late calls from outside sources. And I was thanked for one of my finer works, again and again, this one about it all – about food and prices and projections and where it’s all going. If one more person tells me how much easier I make their job when I’m about to stop I’ll. But what can I do? One cannot just slowly slide into shoddier and shoddier work if one ever hopes to be employed again (I don’t, but may have to, y’know). One cannot especially if one actually still believes in the work being done by the whole operation to begin with (I do, oh ever how I do). And, perhaps most key, one cannot slide simply because it is what has angered one so about certain others who almost forced this issue coming up nigh on a year prior. But the days one wishes that issue had been forced after all? Those are bad.

…and we sit and sit and sit. Sit there. Stop after stop. I, very occasionally risking a glance without head motion, through the sunglasses at her demeanor as it – does it? – descends into more and more grumpy, less and less sing-song cheery. Silence reigns. I am able to focus on my book for periods, but always with a lingering malignance in the back of my brain. The sweating fades, some of it still cold on my forehead, but the redness tilts back to a normal shade (this I can only technically imagine, though one can surely feel redness, no?), and I start to anticipate how this will end. My co-worker was spat on today, with an ambiguous level of deliberateness. A subtle kick? I’ve had those on the train before, someone obliquely making one lose one’s footing as a personal victory snicker. But now she’s staring out the window into the black tunnel, looking the picture of depression and surely it’s just because I can’t see her face but – oh God – (and here the fiction-writer takes off in his fancies and imaginations and storyline plot futures) what if she is recovering from x trauma or y experience or z deep-seeded fear and this was some sort of test or guidance from Mr. Therapist or Ms. Spiritual Advisor or Miss Friend and surely just saying hello on the train with a cheery tone and a Broadway smile will make it all better, restore Faith, demonstrate that there Is Some Hope and Goodness in the World. And I’ve dashed it somehow, or squandered it, and maybe it ends up being about her personal appearance or her ability to speak or just even what it all matters for anymore and can I even give a crap about this sham life that we all seem to be going through? And suddenly I have stomped on whatever flickering coal was left of that, something that had to be heartily coaxed with much log-shifting and blowing by Mr.T/Ms.SA/MissF at personal exertion and energy, knowing they were taking a small but potentially perilous risk in saying “just start saying hi to people with that winning voice and smile and you just see if things don’t improve” and I am the agent of destruction. What if she does something terrible? But of course I know deep down that I’m exaggerating and running away and way overblowing my role in any particular strangers life. Aren’t I? Though isn’t it sometimes strangers who seem more objective than friends, therapists, advisors? But surely, I have nothing to do with this right? I mean, maybe I really did meet her for five seconds and I’m just amnesiac. Although then this reinforces all the previous concerns – she’s forgettable and oh God we’re off to the races again…

But today is not a bad day, except for this little internal tiff. This sinking feeling of everyone being all smiles and hope and somehow, no matter how one plays one’s cards, one knows one to be Judas. This is surely exaggeration, but perhaps it only seems so because this is not my world. I do not belong where words like “career” and “empowerment” are bandied about. But they cannot see this, and this fact feels like a knife or 25 pieces in my hand.

…I get off the train at my stop, perhaps a shade early so if it’s hers as well I can’t be following her. All three remain seated besides me. There are no words, no look, no kick, no event. I proceed out of the train and out of the station, briefly glancing to see she’s not behind me…

I walk again downstairs, out toward the train, ‘neath a blood-orange sky.

…I walk upstairs and homeward, ‘neath a blood-orange sky…