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Time Out Of Mind

The days are rocketing through November and I’m in the wine shop next door, radio starting to play Blue Christmas and announcer commenting on Elvis leading holiday sales again this year. “Jesus,” says the attractive thirty-something woman pricing Port beside me, recognizing neither King – Memphis nor Bethlehem – but the fact that it’s here again and she hasn’t even thought about Thanksgiving dinner.  I put my eight dollar bottle of Pucela red on the counter and the register jockey takes note in his thick Brooklynese: “We’re halfway through November, you’re wearin’ shorts, an they’re playin’ Christmas songs on da radio.” Try as I might, I couldn’t sum it up any better. I’ve just returned from a run up Henry, across Atlantic, down the Promenade and back up Court, and forty degrees doesn’t feel all that cold anymore. But time is passing and I’m admittedly struggling to get my head around the rest of it.

Jumping back a month, it’s a Tuesday morning in October and a classic example of one of those “why the hell did I move here?” days. Horizontal sheets of rain slap my front windows and my water-logged trek to the corner bakery produces only a soggy hoodie, lukewarm coffee and stale muffin.  Returning home I sip, chew, ponder, then make my break for the door and the station.  The train comes immediately and I find a seat and start scribbling on a yellow legal pad with an old Waterson fountain pen, like some kind of authentic scribe and poseur relic.  Soon I’m deep in, breaking only on occasion to note lack of connection and my soaked, tattered jeans hems. I push on about Charlie Brown, brown puddles of rain outside my second grade classroom window, and my mother’s warm kitchen back home. I look up once at the pierced lip girl observing and then again a moment later to note the station: Fifty-Seventh. I’ve overshot my stop by two. I put my earphones in and cross the platform to wait again.

This time it’s late and halfway through my wait I see the outline of a figure coming down the track from inside the tunnel. As he approaches I realize he isn’t an MTA employee but a homeless man, possibly one of those “mole people” I’ve read about. He makes his way off the track and is preoccupied with tearing the pages from a large, soiled fashion magazine he’s been carrying under one arm. His pants ride well below waist, revealing more crack than all that moved through Miami in the late 80’s. I’m listening to Dylan – Not Dark Yet – and along with a nattily dressed business dude am the only person observing this man. He hikes his pants to a more reasonable level and I refocus on a mariachi trio, also waiting for the train. It comes. Doors shut. They begin to play.

There is no less welcome train entertainment than mariachi, particularly on a day as rainy and downcast as this. Their unintelligible hi-yeeee’s, straight legged slacks with snakeskin boots, and loud slapping stand-up bass technique is unavoidable and inescapable. On the floor by the foot of the accordian player is half of a ripped dollar bill, lending itself in some inexplicably appropriate way to the scene. Passengers separate rain-glued pages of their dripping Posts, note their dampened attire, and generally do anything but make eye contact with the jubilant three whose music better reflects a far drier, sunnier Mexican day. Doors open. Music stops. Nobody tips.

Forward again to the present as I sip my surprisingly decent eight dollar Pucela and watch YouTube clips of the ’78 assassination of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk. Sean Penn has a film coming out next week based on the events, but I have strong childhood memories. As I watch the small pop-up box on my laptop, the news footage is all in film and possesses a surreal, distant quality, almost as if it’s been dragged from someone’s memory and reorientated for the current era. They’ll probably figure that trick soon too, and I’ll take it for granted. Diane Feinstein announces the murders and suspect while hand held lights bounce around the dark interior of City Hall, allowing for passably reasonable exposure. Thirty years ago, the week after Thanksgiving.  Jesus Christ.

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