The International Writers Magazine: F-Train

Admiring and Attempting
Matthew Coulter Allison

Similar to the memorable first line of Richard Wright’s Native Son an alarm clock loud and proud awakens our hero, Mike Young. His eyes bolt open remembering today is Monday, and glances at the big easy to read digital letters stating ten in the morning. In the opening of the above mentioned book an intense, and symbolic scene involving a rat proceeds. In this story, our hero’s mind and thoughts rage. Jumping out of his bed, he paces three quick strides in his studio apartment ending the movement with a spastic punch to the bathroom door.

After collecting himself he picks his cell phone up and calls work. In less than two rings Deborah, his boss answers, “This is Mike, my alarm went off late. I can get there by 11:10. I’m sorry, it won’t happen…”
“Okay, it’s your first lateness.  We got proofs to do, be here soon.”
“I just need to shower, and I’ll leave right away.”
“Okay, bye.”

Closing his phone he throws it on the table, strips neglecting the open blind to the window and hop steps into the bathroom. Turning the water on he decides to step right in instead of waiting for it to warm up and the jolt of cold water slaps the remaining sleep out of him. Yesterday a picnic with some friends in central park at noon forced the ten o’ clock wake up time.  After that he shot down to the Strand without buying anything. Then Mike took the subways back to Queens. The rest of the day he read about seventy pages in the middle of Midnight’s Children by Rushdie. A perfectly fine way to spend a Sunday, but he neglected setting his alarm to 6:30 for his work time of 8:30. Now the shower warmed up, and the slow stream slowly rinses his hair while he reasons he never wanted to be a copy-editor.

Hair rinsed he jumps out the shower, and with his towel sloppily dries himself. Out of the bathroom he dresses quickly realizing how small his living space actually is. When he first saw it Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment came to mind with a literary statement of a cramped quarter. Like that character, our hero formulates illusions of his own greatness but without the criminal intent.  Putting on his tie in the mirror, Mike sees bags under his twenty-something eyes.

Out the door and down the steps he enters the street for his short walk to the local subway. His commute consists of a few local stops to the Roosevelt Jackson Heights stop and a transfer there to the F express exiting at the 50th street stop, roughly a thirty minute commute when they run on time. He enjoys the diversity yet more like real America of Queens, and an easy commute to Manhattan, a piece of land will documented in literature.  Recently Mike Young read Invisible Man by Ellison and visualized where one of the characters died near Bryant Park. He nears the subway but decides to get a coffee at a Dunkin Donuts.

After that five minute error for someone concerned with time he reached into his pocket for cigarettes noticing just keys. So with another delay he walks to the corner store wondering how smoking used to be New York. This includes Henry Miller on his escapades before becoming an expatriate, and the downright illegal lifestyles of Hubert Selby Jr. characters.

On the steps of the convenient store an Asian child plays with a slinky. Mike Young’s memory flashes of his own slinky years ago far from an urban landscape, but thinking activity may captivate a child’s mind more here.  New York City contains buildings, amusement Parks, and the comic book lure which influenced The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.  A character in that hides out in the Empire State building to create a comic masterpiece. “Excuse me,” and the little slinky princess moves out of Mike’s way and he goes in and buys a pack of cigarettes. Outside he lights a cigarette, sips on coffee, and contemplates another contemporary book he read recently, Specimen Days by Michael Cunningham and the scene where a fictitious Walt Whitman commands his child fan character to keep walking north to Central Park to view the sight of nature. Our hero starts to reason with all the potential to do in this city, the idea of work today nauseates him.

With the last puff from his cigarette he enters the subway.  After sliding his card he walks down the steps and waits for the local. Up or down steps, walking to subways, and walking as a form of commuting. Mike Young lost ten pounds since his move, and perhaps does not walk as much as a character in a Thomas Hardy novel, but his walking surpasses people in car culture cities.  The R train bullets to the station and on entering seats are open. He feels less troubled by his lateness to work, instead he continues with the great literary daydreams with the little time he has, roughly forty minutes.

Five minutes of noisy yet melodic movement for this segment of the commute, and Mike churns the idea of himself writing something, but when and how with a copy-editing job draining the creative force out of him. All ideas in Mike’s mind enter into his cognition from work and reading, nothing original ever comes out of his brain. Our hero lacks creative abilities with his current job, and with that thought he steps off the R after an abrupt stop. Jackson Heights is an ethnically unique section of Queens. About a year ago Mike read The Namesake that mentioned the Jackson Diner and enjoyed the Indian food there a couple of times since that reading.

The F train rumbles to the platform, he enters and sits down, with a twenty-five minute transit segment to midtown. Mike Young dreaded the office, the people, and the philosophy of his work. Each day there a grueling ten hours feeling like fourteen hours giving him a definite feeling of entrapment. Like a Kafka character seeking to leave a situation, but in the same room twenty odd pages later.  And the numbing monotony of looking at proofs all day irritates him.  The ethics are analogous to the hero in Dead Souls scamming for status and notoriety by a deceased paper trail. Mike Young feels like that about his work, and also without receiving the monetary reward of careers such as stock brokers.  Our hero starts to ask himself why. Why do it? He should do things for himself or contribute to mankind.

As the F train apparently passes hundreds of miles underneath the East River, Mike nears his work destination.  The door leading to another car opens and a man walks in with a box of toys shaking a bell stumbling a little with the underground turbulence. The subway car is nearly empty so the street seller rushes to the next car. Instead of contemplating his luckiness to work for a living his daydreaming meanders into childhood. When a plastic toy can make your day, when a story read on a fire escape like in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn can tell you of the world, the future however uncertain is reveled with anticipation.  He felt if somehow he could take his current life back to childhood without a scripted daily life then his creativity may flourish.  The train halts at Lexington Ave then starts again, and Mike feels the possibility of writing.

To think four hundred years later people read Shakespeare meaning he influenced everyone.  The writers following added their various stamps to the ongoing dialogue of the human condition. The F train drops people off and takes them in at 57th street, one more stop. Mike Young could contribute he thought with effort and experiencing enough stimuli. To pull his story out of him, Mike needs the correct environment. The F train slows down breaking to a stand still and the doors open at 50th street where Mike usually gets off for work, but he remains seated. Seeing the Asian girl with a slinky then the street seller and his box of toys within an hour, our hero concludes that his writing destiny involves childhood reminisces, so he will ride the F train all the way to its end, down to Coney Island.
©  Matt Allison November 2006

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