I arrive at my usual spot on the subway platform at Union Station this morning at the same time as a woman and man who are having a good natured argument about where along the platform they should board. She wins.
We get on the car and she sits in the one available seat near me and he stands in front of her. I don’t really notice them again until a few stops later when I see her stroking the top of his hand which is holding on to the rail beside him, and she’s looking up at him, issuing a private communiqué by way of a smile that is content and adoring. It must have also said “bye honey, have a good day” because without a word he then moves across the car to the door and waits there, looking out, until we arrive at Dundas Station.
She has gone back to her Metro Times, but as the train screeches into the station, she looks up to watch him walk off the train. As he moves amongst the people on the platform, she leans around other passengers to keep him in her sight, as if wanting to capture him in his aloneness; that bit of time – not hers – when he has separated from their coupledom and morphed into an autonomous worker walking about the city with thousands of others on a Monday morning. It’s like she’s keen to see him outside of her, from a different perspective, perhaps imagining him a stranger.
It’s an interminable ride. A rainy day slows down commuting everywhere. Don’t ask me why the subway slows down too; it’s as if the underground is in symphony with the city's surface. Like they're locked in a dance, the subway keeping time with its partner in the world above it.
A few stops from the end of my ride, I look up from my book, feeling mildly annoyed, sensing I’d been on that train far too long. I notice a lady a little way down from me writing in a notebook. She looks to be in her early forties, with a long, groovy(ish) green skirt, taupe hose, navy walking shoes and a small square of lace pinned to the top of her head.
I always notice fellow writers with interest, wondering what sort of writing is going on. Is she journaling? Has she come to a fabulous kernel of an idea sitting there? What kind of story is unfolding in her mind? Is it fiction? Poetry? Memoir? Is she taking a writing class, perhaps like the ones I teach? Or maybe she's a reporter for a small community paper…
But then I notice she’s writing about me. Or seems to be anyway, as she keeps looking up at me then back down at her notebook to add further scribbles. Maybe I’m just her visual touch point, where her eyes wander to as she pauses to think. But I’m not in her obvious line of sight, and when she catches me watching her watching me, she diverts her eyes to the panel of ads above my head for a moment, then glazing over me again before getting on with her writing.
I’m mildly amused at the possibility that the tables have been turned on me, and I wonder what it is this writer finds in me to write about. It has never occurred to me that my public demeanour might be the least bit interesting, but then I imagine the people I find profoundly interesting wouldn’t see themselves as interesting either, like that husband and wife I’d seen earlier going about, what was to them, a routine morning commute.
If she was reading something in my face, I hope it wasn’t tragedy. I’d hate that.
This morning I’m watching a young guy sketch people on the subway. I’m an observer of an observer. I’m captivated by his surreptitious search for detail and the subsequent concentration in getting what he sees onto the page of his sketchbook.
I get to imagining what the young man’s eyes are seeing in the short amount of time he has to create the images. Line? Space? Plane? Perspective? Or is he, like I so often am, imagining what lies beneath the surface – what is it about that changing furrow in a brow, that curl of a lip, what thoughts are washing over that face looking at itself in a window’s reflection?
The artist is young enough that I can guess he is still at the point of the former, working to strengthen his skill before attempting to convey the layers of his subjects’ humanity into his drawings. But then I also expect that the more an artist becomes accustomed to seeing, the more evident those layers become. So what is going on under those lines and planes must be evident at some level of his consciousness.
As I watch him, aspects of tunnel walls and station platforms move in shifting formations in the window behind him, and people move in and out of his space with that air of muted resignation that morning commuters always have. What I see is a young man in a bubble; a bubble in the middle of a busy transit system, in the middle of rush hour, in the middle of a big city, amongst thousands of people, most of whom are working very hard with various means to ignore and avoid the unpleasantness of experiencing each other. And I feel grateful to have encountered this one person who is striving to do the opposite – to see them.
And for that, the young man seeing is beautiful thing number 27 of 101.
It’s cold again this morning, but not as cold as the past couple of days. When it’s above 0° C, it’s tolerable. Nevertheless, when I get to Don Mills station this morning, I wait inside for the shuttle to my office. As I’m standing there looking out, a young couple walks up to the door on the other side. The mom is pushing a child, under two, in a stroller. I know it’s a part of growing and aging and every year the phenomenon gets more remarkable, but I’m stunned at how young this mommy and daddy look. They're teenagers.
The mom is small and round – little more than five feet tall. She’s fair, childlike and pretty. And smoking a butt. She stands for a minute outside with the child to smoke it while the dad walks inside to play with his phone. Eventually she pushes the stroller inside, instructing the dad to take him while she finishes her smoke.
The dad is a little taller and slight, of mixed race, with cafe au lait skin and long, relaxed curls pulled into a sloppy pony tail. He continues playing with his phone, occasionally talking to the child: “it’s cold out there huh?”
The child is a darling combination of the parents: cherubic face of his mother, crowned by his father’s chocolaty curls. He’s a picture of patience. He acknowledges his dad’s occasional dragging himself away from his cell phone to speak to him, but doesn’t seem to require it.
He spots me and gives me a grin. It’s the grin of a self-assured old soul. He’s not playing coy with me, or making shy aversions with his eyes like so many little kids do. He seems to just like my face, and gives me another closed mouth grin – not looking away but just grinning a little more when I smile back and give him a little wave.
That grin has me thinking that this tiny boy seems much older than his teenage parents. As I’m considering that, the mom comes in and they whisk him off toward the elevator which will take them down to the subway.
At the other end of the work day, I’m sitting in a subway car, heading down to meet up with my sister who is working near Union Station. I see a woman come on. She’s cute, artsy looking with that marvellous look of having thrown a random collection of clothing on her body and it just working. She’s smiling to herself. The smile doesn’t wear off – in fact it undergoes a number of variations as her thoughts carry out. Her eyes meet mine and the smile is erased for a moment, but after a few seconds it’s back. I bandy about a number of reasons for the smile. I hope it’s because she’s in love.
I turn from the woman and down the way I see a man. In a suit. Not her age. Not with her or like her in any way.
But he’s smiling to himself.
Amongst the jumble of people getting off the train at Sheppard Station this morning some of us practically trip over a young lady who pulls a full stop in front of the stairs when she finds they’re not an escalator. She’s turning around to gauge where the escalator is. I’m already up the stairs when I wonder if she’s counting the approximate steps to the escalator and measuring that number against the 25 or so steps to the upper platform.
Later, at my office I go downstairs to get a coffee at a coffee shop on the second floor. There are two windowed doors leading to the atrium/cafe area, and there is a woman standing on the other side of the door on the right, so I go through the door on the left. She’s standing with another woman, each with a coffee in hand and the other hand free. The other woman is waving her arm in a “what the hell?” gesture because she’s hitting the disabled person’s door opener which doesn’t seem to be opening the door.
I always wonder if these people really have such an aversion to moving their bodies, or if maybe they feel entitled to use all available technology. Even when that technology is not intended for them.
As I walk away I imagine in my head a droll voice coming out of the disabled person's door opener (like Carleton the Doorman on the old Rhoda show) saying “Hey – ABLE person! If you don’t use those muscles they will stop working.”