Thursday, June 19, 2008
I've never worked a 9 to 5 job before. This summer, for 10 weeks, I get up early and lurch off to the train, always late, to try to make it to work before 930. It takes me 18 minutes to walk to the train--an unusually long walk to public transportation, but then that's where I happen to live right now. I don't mind the walk--I could take a bus to the train but I enjoy the mornings in this weather--but I'm usually running late, and I usually end up running, sort of, in my sandals and office casual clothes. Running and puffing gets me there in closer to 15 minutes. I don't run, really--more like a run-walk shuffle glide. Even that sounds more graceful than it is. I arrive at the train stop with a glistening forehead. I swipe my card and take the stairs in twos, trying to shave just one more minute.
I stand on the platform and the wind cools my skin. The morning sun is warm, but not yet hot. Other passengers space themselves on the platform. The boards under our feet rumble as the train approaches us.
I look at my phone when the train comes to estimate when I'll get downtown. The doors open and I push into a free seat, sitting closest to the window. The seats are contoured, with a raised lip that divides them. I am a wide person with big shoulders that feel smashed against the cool metal of the train wall. Still, the cool metal feels nice against my shirt. I take out whichever book I'm into this week and read.
Sometimes someone will come through the car, asking for money. A couple of days a go a wild-eyed woman screaming expletives in a rapid narrative stream came through the car yelling at people to give her money. Everyone who could looked down to stay out of her way. She ranted and raged, then eventually moved on. Today a well-spoken man came through politely inquiring whether anyone had spare change. Some people gave him money, which I haven't seen happen often. Apparently if you ask nicely, people are more receptive.
The train clatters along the elevated tracks, then dives underground into dark, urine-smelling tunnels as it nears the center of the city. I am no longer confused when I get off at my stop; now i know which way to turn and which escalator to take to my street. The first escalator leads to a station with ticket machines and gates. There is a Dunkin' Doughnuts stand there, and every morning I think about going to it. But I go on to the second escalator, which rises up from the darkness towards a glass canopy on the street, and the morning breaks open upon my head as I emerge in the center of town. I think about Eliot's Unreal City, but this doesn't feel menacing, or sad, to me. Just busy, and scheduled.
There is a newspaper man on the corner named John I say hello to every morning. He always asks me how I am. John has an ex-wife and three children living in another state, and he says he'll go be with them some day if he can get his ex-wife to take him back.
The morning doorman in my building is quirky. I try to catch his eye and greet him, but sometimes he just pointedly stares, or looks away, or pretends to be doing something else. Sometimes he responds to my good morning with a good morning of his own. You never can tell what he will do, and I steel myself when i enter the building. I'm always relieved if he is busy. The other interns at my job say he treats them the same way.
My elevator goes to the tenth floor. I step off down a hall of windowless doors, like the corridor in the Beatles' Yellow Submarine. Our offices are at the end of the hall. I go in, sit down at my desk, which faces a wall in the middle of the room, and say hello to the person who sits next to me. He and I are the only people in the entire office without a cubicle or a semblance of privacy, but we don't mind. I check my email, log onto Westlaw, and spend the next 7 1/2 hours looking up cases, reading them, and entering them into a database or annotating them for a project. It is extremely boring work, but at least it's gay. If I was looking up, say, contracts or something, I can't imagine how i would survive.
Some days we have meetings. One morning a week I work at the Help Desk, taking calls from people with problems looking for information.
We are expected to stay till 5 every day, including Fridays. Technically we have an hour for lunch, but only the paid staff take an hour. We generally bring something back and eat at our desks, even though we aren't getting paid. It's not as if it is relaxing to sit in a crowded Subway or Chipolte alone anyway.
At 4:55 I run to the bathroom, bring the key back, pack up my stuff, and get on the elevator. i get on the train before it gets crowded, so I usually have a seat, but I always have to make room for someone, and end up smashed against the wall for the 35-minute ride back.
Sometimes I go to the gym when i get back, but that means not getting home until 730 or 830. I can run on the beach a little in the evening while it is still cool outside. It feels nice to see the sun, even for the last minutes of the day.
At work we have interesting discussions about advancing the cause of gay marriage, or gay custody, or employment anti-discrimination, and all of that is really important and really interesting. Mostly, though, it's a routine. When I get on the train, I open my book for 30 minutes of narrative, and for a while I am not on the train at all, but somewhere else, in a realm of dreams, and stories, and plots that turn on hidden motivations, and characters with unknown powers that will eventually emerge. When the train gets near my stop I blink, sometimes dazed, and can't remember where I am, just for a minute, before the afternoon falls gently on my head again, and I feel the time of day and the time of my life, and the sensation of something carrying me in its arms to a place I don't yet know.