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TRAVEL PORTRAIT 59: March 12, 2017

Out of the Wilderness [one | two | part three | four | five | six | seven | eight] [listen]

FICTION

I

"Oh, what the hell. Why not," said Frank aloud to himself.

"Taxi?"

"Sorry. No thank you."

"Move outta the line then."

" Please sir, you're holding up the line," reminded the dispatcher handling the people traffic.

Agitated, Frank stepped out of the line, walked up to the corner of 34th, then crossed the street towards Macy's and the MTA subway to ride the Route 1 uptown. He figured he would go to Brian's apartment building to see if his prospective mentor was at home.

"Why else would he of given to me his address?!"

On second thought, Frank decided to phone again once he was closer to Brian's apartment. If the call went to voicemail, he would get some lunch. Afterwards, he would go to the apartment.

Oddly enough, Frank did not even consider leaving his phone number in Brian's voicemail.

"This already sucks," thought Frank as he waited in the line to purchase a MetroCard from the automated machine. His expectations of being mentored on the ins-and-outs of the New York Art Scene were beginning to diminish.


II

A subway train roared to a halt, while another raced past. Believing that he was about to miss his the uptown, Frank tried to force feed a five dollar bill into the machine. The wrinkled money was rejected and fell onto the dropped beverage, poorly mopped (if at all), soda-tacky concrete. When he picked the money off the ground, he noticed that the Route 3 was heading uptown. He saw the Route 1 pulling away downtown. Relieved, he put the five dollar bill back into his wallet, pulled out a crisp ten, which he inserted successfully into the feeder. He pressed the touchscreen for the full dollar amount, declined the option for a receipt, retrieved his MetroCard from the dispenser.

Ducking the seemingly impatient looks from the people waiting in line to purchase their passes, Frank strode left to the turnstile, swiped his card, entered the walkway to the platform. An irate man was denied access at the next turnstile due to a crimped card as indicated by the MTA attendant who told the man that he had to purchase a new card and call the Customer Service department on Monday to find out how to get a refund for the damaged pass. An f-bomb was dropped. Security was notified.

The uptown arrived to the platform. The closest entrance to board the train had a steady flow of people exiting. Frank had to follow the other passengers who wanted to board, and walked two cars down. People moved quickly, but politely, towards the clear opening.

The train conductor poked his head out a window a few cars further down, and shouted calmly, "Take your time. Let everyone off the train. Take your time, please." Frank caught a glimpse of the conductor positioning a whistle to his lips. A couple seconds later, a high pitch sounded from the metropolitan bobby indicating that the doors were about to slide shut.


III

The last person to board the car, Frank's back was against the door. The energy-efficient fluorescent lights started to make him feel nauseous. Claustrophobic, he tried to distract his attention. He looked at the iconic signage posted next to the plexiglass window opposite him, cautioning passengers not to lean on the sliding doors. Someone stepped in front of him obstructing his view. A crowd was beginning to form in preparation for the next stop: Times Square/Grand Central Station. Frank hugged his duffel bag with one arm as the underground train rattled onwards. Beginning to feel dizzy, he wanted to find a seat. He tried to grab a pole with his free hand to steady himself while he walked. The subway car shook side-to-side. Frank misstepped inadvertently pushing his way through the gathered people, almost tripping on an anonymous foot on which he tromped. With his duffel bag shielding his body, he wedged his way to the center of the car and sat down on the fiberglass bench.

"Totally unnecessary," complained a woman who was waiting in the gaggle for Times Square. She had a hiker backpack hoisted onto her shoulders. She was shoved aside accidentally when Frank's duffel collided with her backpack as he stumbled past to take a seat.

"Is your ankle okay," asked her partner, who was similarly geared.

"Never mind," she said angrily, not to her companion, but to Frank.

Frank tried to pretend not hear the woman, but when he looked at her from the corners of his eyes, he met her accusing hate-face. Her partner, who was struggling with the weight of his backpack, did not (could not) crook his neck to see at whom she had ID'ed. Realizing his presumed negligence, Frank peered back at her and pouted. She sneered, damning his eyes, then averted hers.

When Frank began to look away, he was astonished by an ambiguous person sitting across the aisle. The person, dressed in a full-length winter coat and ski hat, looked askance at him. The shoulders of the winter coat shrugged. Frank heard an unsettled chuckle. The person, staring at him, whimpered and hissed, then got distracted by something at the other end of the car.

Frank wondered what the strange ambiguity meant: empathy for his unintentional accident or disdain for his inconsiderate behavior. He tried to rationalize the dilemma of consequence: the failed attempt to navigate through a crowded subway car, on a roller coaster of a ride, in the midst of a personal crisis--using his duffel bag as a battering ram.

"What's the point," thought Frank, "of the ill-fated?"

The gaggle of people exited the train and scurried through the various paths and corridors. The ambiguous person moved towards and opened the end door to get to the adjacent car. Frank stood up and readied himself for the next stop: Fiftieth and Broadway. One of few, he waited at the doors. He held a vertical pole with his right hand, while hugging his duffel bag with is left arm. To prevent entanglement from a cluster of boarding passengers, he prepared his body for a potential belly-bucking from the bravado of bum rushers.


IV

Having cleared the platform unscathed, Frank climbed the stairs. Daylight. He took a deep breath and got his bearings. He walked to Fifty-sixth Street. Frank found a neighborhood diner nearby. Hungry, he figured he would call Brian from there, invite him to lunch, or at least let him know that he was around the corner from his apartment.

Frank decided, if he finished his lunch before his contact was reciprocated, he would walk to Columbus Circle, sit in Central Park for a while and read. He wondered if his favorite set of benches by the pond were still encrusted with abstract expressionist splotches of bird feces. If that was the case, he would count this venture a loss, take the subway downtown to the bookstore and enter his 'wilderness'; maybe see if there was a room at the hostel. At worst, he would leave with some new books, go home and forget that he ever met this total waste of time mentor.


V

At the diner, Frank was seated in a booth. He placed the call. Brian answered.

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Copyright © 2017 by Edward K. Brown II, All Rights Reserved.