Towards the end of the month, Frank phoned Brian at his place
of business to find out what is the best weekend for a visit in
"I'm glad you called, Frank. I'm somewhat swamped right
now. Hold on while I check my calendar. Looks like the third weekend
is best, I believe. How does that work for you?"
"The twenty-fifth? Is that correct," inquired Frank.
"Ah, yes," confirmed Brian, double-checking.
"Works for me; I've jotted the weekend."
"I'll take the train in the morning. I should arrive at
Penn Station around one o'clock."
"Sounds fine. Here's my cell number. And let me give you
my apartment address. Take down my home phone number just in case
you can't get me on the cell."
Frank asked Brian to repeat , then he read the information back.
"Call me as soon as you arrive. Okay?"
"Okay, no problem."
Brian began to get a bit frustrated with the conversation.
"Look. Things are really busy around here. I have some fires
I have to put out, you know? In this business, you can't get to
frazzled--even with 'Or else' deadlines."
Brian paused for a few seconds to let Frank respond. He continued.
"I could really use an assistant. I mean really.
We'll talk later."
"Right, okay," Frank replied cautiously, noting to
himself the number of times Brian said the word 'really'. "Catch
up with you later, Brian."
"The twenty-fifth," pondered Brian out loud to himself
trying to remember something.
Frank disconnected the call. He forgot to give Brian his cell
number because his Caller ID was blocked.
The Friday night before he was to travel to Manhattan, Frank
packed for the weekend. He thought to be more fashion conscious
this time round given what Brian wore to the gallery reception:
a navy suit, a pale blue shirt (open collar), and a pair of cognac
Frank thought business casual would be appropriate. He would
not base his attire on what he wore to the gallery reception:
frayed jeans, faded hoodie, a down vest, and a pair of well-worn
walking shoes. He did not want to make another understated appearance
again. He put into a small duffle bag a pair of navy loose-fitting
twill jeans, a button collar sky-blue shirt, a gray Shetland crewneck
pullover, toiletries, extra socks and underwear. He would travel
wearing a new pair of denims and a maroon long sleeve polo shirt
beneath a dark gray half-zip sweatshirt.
Frank thought his black rubber-soled chukka boots would be best
given the transitioning Spring weather. Given the uncertainty,
he thought to bring his brown waxed cotton jacket. The jacket
was light enough to carry around with him if the temperature rose
above sixty-five degrees.
Frank was glad he purchased his New Jersey Transit ticket to
New York Penn Station in advance when he heard the announcement
from the Regional Rail train conductor that there would be a slight
delay before arriving to the Trenton terminus because of track
maintenance. The train was routed to platform five instead of
What that meant for the passengers making a connection to New
York was that they would have to scramble up the escalator and
take the overpass to the track three stairway. The glass double
doors to the platform opened inwards. Once down on the platform,
passengers would then have to get to the sixth train car because
the preceding ones were closed for future use. This scramble to
get on the train had to occur within five minutes, not enough
time to make pit stop, if anyone needed. If the connection was
missed, passengers would have to wait in the small but crowded
terminal for an hour and a half before the next departure.
Frank tried not to nudge his way up the escalator, nor throw
an elbow while being shoved at the top before making a sharp right
towards the track three stairway as he had witnessed a couple
of aggressive passengers do. Someone stepped on the heel of his
chukka. Frank was glad the high-top boot protected his achilles,
else the tendon might have been torn by the force of the other
Directly in front of Frank was this dude who seemed hopeless
without his bros. The dude lost control of his wheeled suitcase
trying to make the second right to get through the door to the
platform. As he pulled the handle to the closest door, the suitcase
swung wide. The far left door had not closed all of the way. Frank
was able to scoot past before the luggage spinners spun out, twisting
around the hapless bro, the jackknife causing a bottleneck at
the top of the stairs.
Once on the platform, Frank counted as he passed each passenger
car to the eighth coach. The eighth coach always stopped at the
stairwell to the upper level of the Penn Station Concourse. He
boarded and found a two-seater. He pulled the seat back to face
the direction the train would be traveling. Frank placed his duffle
bag on the window seat next to him. Sitting along the aisle with
the duffle beside him would hopefully deter anyone from wanting
to sit next to him. The train usually did not start to get full
until Rahway or further. If someone needed to find a seat, he
would have the person take the window seat, which would prove
Settled, Frank heard the final announcement for passengers to
board the "New Jersey Transit, Train #7830 to New York, scheduled
to arrive at 12:44PM. All aboard. Watch you step, please. Watch
the closing doors." Suddenly Frank heard a "Yo, wait
up." A man dashed through the closing doors and quickly took
an available seat without thought of the direction the train would
be going. Headphones were situated around his neck; the cord plugged
into his cellphone. EDM Techno House music began; a treble buzz
pitched similar to a tinnitus hum was accompanied by a synthesized
base drum and cymbal pulsating a repetitive one-two, one-two rhythm
slowly getting faster as the pitch reached higher frequencies
before the arrangement crashed into an undecipherable musicality.
His chin jutted to the rhythm of the music. Frank pulled a paperback
from the side of his bag and tried to read.
The ticket taker entered the coach. "Tickets," he demanded.
When he got to the EDM-Man, the ticket taker gave him three choices:
1) put the headphones over his ears; 2) turn the music off; or,
3) be forced to depart the train at the next stop. He chose the
the first option. Without incident EDM-Man placed the headphones
over his ears, while his ticket got punched by the taker. While
he waited for the authority to exit the coach, EDM-Man put a piece
of bubble gum into his mouth; afterwards he returned to his chin-jutting.
Then he began to smack the gum, somehow mimicking the electronic
dance music. And then he began hamboning.
Frank looked around to see if the ticket taker was coming back
as well as to see if anyone else was becoming irritated by what
he thought to be an impromptu performance. There was another passenger
seated across the aisle and a couple rows back.
"Good thing he didn't bring his air guitar with him this
time. Jeez!" The passenger waved to EDM-Man, who returned
the greeting. "And to think, he doesn't even ask for money!
Practically unheard of these days," he chuckled.
The next stop was Princeton. EDM-Man grabbed his belongings and
exited the train with little fanfare.
Frank had not realized that he dozed off until he heard a cacophony
of female laughter. A group of graying women were seated together
facing each other. Further up, sat a few more women, fully gray.
They were also part of the group. They were as excited as teenagers
who were going to the Big Apple for the first time unsupervised
by an adult. However, unlike anxious coming of age girls, there
was a tone of relief in the women's boisterous voices. Their rowdiness
was celebratory. Frank confirmed this observation when heard the
most senior person in the group shout to her ladies,
"I'm so glad we left our husbands at home. Now we can finally
enjoy dinner and a show!"
Instead sitting proud at the cheer of a masculine 'Hurrah!',
Frank cowered into his seat at the bellow of the feminine 'HOORAY!!!'
They were so raucous that the ticket taker made an entrance to
discern the commotion. Upon doing so, he was immediately browbeaten
by the gang of scowling women. He became courteous instinctively
as he collected their tickets.
The train finally pulled into Penn Station. Frank positioned
himself at the exit in order to be the first person off the car.
As the door began to open, he darted onto the platform, and climbed
the stairs to the upper concourse. He made a beeline for the men's
room. He was cautious in his dash: a civilized pace that would
not draw attention from the security guards roaming around the
immediate area. Frank flexed his core muscles; the tension impeded
the pending flow of water. He swung his arms swiftly to help propel
him forward more efficiently.
Once relieved, Frank walked through the waiting area, walked
past the restaurants and magazine shops--down the hallway towards
the Seventh Avenue taxi stand.
Above ground, Frank tried calling Brian's cellphone, which went
straight to voicemail. He tried calling the apartment. No answer.