Another day on the train, another eastward eve with a view by the window of all the fun I’m not having, all the spring I’m not enjoying. Skrkl-skrkl.
I’m tired of the day, tired of the job and tired of trying to stare at Virgil’s Georgics until the words make even the slightest bit of sense. Skrkl-skrkl. What made me think this was a train book? It’s a book for reading in an Italian villa while wearing a flowing, unbuttoned skrkl white man-blouse like Percy Bysshe AND WHAT IS THAT GODDAMNED SKRKL-SKRKL SOUND?
I turn around to see a woman half-buried in a bag full of balloon animals. Sock monkeys and bright blue supernovas and Spongebobs galore. As she digs through the balloon-box for her coat, the latex shrieks “skrkl-skrkl.” Turtles, pandas and a Hello Kitty glare at me accusingly.
“You got a problem?” Hello Kitty seems to say.
“No, sir,” I think, turning back forward. No problem here.
The woman herself is nondescript and middle-aged. Short hair and a body turned into that limpen taut women get when they jog too much. Sun-baked skin.
Her phone rings. Digging past the skrkling latex menagerie, she pulls it out, flips it open and says, “Hello… Yes… Yes, this is The Mom.”
Over the next 10 minutes of listening to her close a balloon animal deal for a corporate event, I learn, well, not much. A commuter train is a terrible place to eavesdrop.
The following is a verbatim transcript of what I could hear:
“We lived next to a magician — that’s how this whole thing started. My son (various chugging, shrieking, huffing and puffing of a multi-ton train pulling out of a suburban station) Then, after September 11th happened (voice from loudspeaker saying ATTENTION METRA CUSTOMERS: THIS TRAIN IS RUNNING APPROXIMATELY 11 MINUTES BEHIND SCHEDULE) It all depends on how fast you want it done. If he whips out Spider-Man, they all whip out Spider-Man.”
It’s my stop next, not Chicago, but to another suburban town where a girl waits for me with an SUV and kisses. I get up, gently pushing my way through the monkey-clogged, upper-level Metra aisle. The woman laughs nervously as she moves monkeys, a panda and some mild geometric shapes to let me by. I smile and ask for a card.
She’s from the Bay Area, she says. That’s San Francisco, for my international readers. Half a continent away. I mention my newspaper and mumble something non-committal about “light features.”
She doesn’t have a card, but signs one of mine with “Tama (The Mom) Matthew.”
As I try to move balloons and backpack to get downstairs to the exit and kisses, The Mom says, “I worked at Morgan Stanley Dean Witter and I took a buyout and I thought my life was going to be a lot different than this.”
Damn poorly timed arrival. How could you not want to ask more?
I still have The Mom’s number, a 415 affair I know I’m never going to call. I mean, I want to know. I want to know why living next to a magician started a story that involves September 11th. I want to know why she calls herself “The Mom” and what it means to “whip out Spider-Man.”
But I also know no explanation will be as hysterical as the ones whack-a-moling up in my head. No transitions will be as good as the ones that pop up in my brain just to get smacked down again by logic.
And now they’re popping in your brain. You’re wondering who “The Son” might be and what exactly went down at Morgan Stanley. Idea pops up, whack whack down. Pop pop pop. Skrkl-skrkl.
Written in spring 2010