Thursday, April 14, 2011
A colored boy was shinning my shoes. I looked down at the top-most portion of his inclined, neatly shaved head. His tan colored rag was whipping across the tips of my snazzily pointed patent leather shoes, those black and white wing tipped shoes, recently purchased from Macy’s on 34th Street, shone back to me in a pleasing, yin-yang tension.
The massive wall clock, the guardian of Grand Central Station (the interlocking gear of the pendulum swing, the sand slide of the hourglass, the upright fin of a sun-dial) informed me I had less than fifteen minutes to board my train for Boston.
The crowds, sheets of bustling limbs, bobbing weaving heads, shifting sliding arms, moved from musty tracks to clogged ticket counters, ticket counters to multi-colored magazine stands, magazine stands to the copper plated bar, bar to frothy beer, beer to dark recessed mouth fringed with gleaning white teeth from this welter.
I picked a person at random from the bustle: a fat salesman in a Panama hat, jacket draped over his short sleeved puffy arm. His pleated pants were creased and scored by the friction of rounded thighs colliding from inadequate clearance, from one step to two and then three, I lost him for a moment in a gaggle of nuns in black habits and drooping white head gear, white flaps dangling down over their temples like horse blinders, all but concealing my man, my prosperous salesman.
But spy his tan briefcase: focus in on an embossed design, a fluttering American flag, the stars recessed, the bars protruding… the flag frozen in a moment of animated flutter. What do we see when we peer into his leather case? A book of color photographs of flags, flags on poles, flags dangling from railings, flags form fitted for a coffin? Too late to know for sure. The man descended trackside.
The black board destination sign suspended by two upturned hooks, dangling in the sway of rushing commuters, reads “Philadelphia”, a great American city to hawk flags. Even though the city is smothered with flags, like a piece of the true cross it could always use another, more primal flag --- one to approximate the essence of its mother --- not this rotting remembrance ---- a hollow crashing defeating dud. I take a step after step upon scuffed marble stairs as I descended to my train, as I sat, crossed legged and hollowly confident, in the plush cherry red seat of the chromatic Boston Express.
And the bustle, the track side expansion and contraction, pushing and heaving of baggage, men and women, lean and taut or rounded and sagging, became not a fixed point of observation, not a clinical view of detachment, but a giddily engrossing spectacle as I slide, quite effortlessly, from train cabin to trackside, and plant myself, firmly, rootedly, among that swirl of people.
They revolve around me, they rotate around the globe that is Langley Vandemark, then switch and swing, sway and detach to some other competing orbit. But when they are in my luminious sphere, I do believe that my impact is beneficial. I hold a loose confederation from fraying at the seams. My touch is mild, gentle.
The train swayed, then moved fluidly forward. The train lurched and then glided past the colorful suits and dresses until the dull gray-black wall of the tunnel replaced the animated platform. A jingling blue suited colored conductor was ambling down the center aisle. His moisture filled eyes scanned for tickets.
“You aint foolin no one boy,” he was suddenly upon me.
“What?” I asked, the incredulity palpable in my tone.
“You lucky this ain’t Dixie. In Dixie ain’t no one would put up wid your tom foolery.”
“I have no idea what you are alluding to.”
But he was past. Something, somewhere, sped up the action and the entire episode, already grainy and drained of its surface color, retreated to a cloudy corner – dim, dismal --- then was gone, just as New York was gone, just as we were speeding to the green hills of Connecticut…