Do you mind if I sit here? I know it is unusual for one to ask permission to occupy a seat on the Metro train, but I believe it is called for in these times of bad manners and worse intentions. You're sure you don't mind? Worry not, I am an excellent seatmate. Note the impeccable suit I am wearing, the tasteful speckles on my tie. Feel the material. Rub the smooth silk against your shaved cheek. I want you to trust me. We have many partners in this world. Some for the length of a subway ride, others for a lifetime. It is important to have confidence in your partner, to trust him. Or her. Especially her, am I right? We're slowing down. Why are we stopping?
Attention, passengers. Due to an unauthorized person on the tracks, we will be halted momentarily. We regret the inconvenience and thank you for riding Metrorail.
Do you know what that means, Andrew Baker? Is that your name, typed at the top of that piece of paper you're reading? Are you Andy Baker? Et tu, Andy? Rhetorical question. You don't have to answer.
We're going to be sitting here for a while, Andy. We're under the river--you realize--covered by metal, cement, rock, dirt, silt, muck, and water. I hope nobody on this train has claustrophobia. I hope nobody on this train tends to wig out if they get stranded in an elevator or locked in a closet or stuck in a chimney. Public displays of mental instability can be very unsettling, don't you agree?
Unauthorized person on the tracks. I don't have to tell you what that means, Andy. We're both men of the world, am I right? It just makes me very angry when people don't say exactly what they mean.
Let me give you an example.
This is not going to be pleasant. That was Helen's way of telling me she was leaving me. Helen was my girlfriend, Andy, for seventy-seven glorious sun-drenched days in the summer of 1991. We met at a conference on industrial competitiveness and no, we never consummated our relationship sexually. Funny how those two particulars are forever con-
nected in my mind. I know what you're thinking. A girl who happened to be a friend, or a friend who happened to be a girl?
Neither, Andy. I remember precisely where I was when those awful words came out of her mouth. I was sitting on her bed, anxious, hopeful, leaning against the wall and feeling its coolness against the back of my head like a cold compress. Attention, attention: this is not going to be pleasant. Why couldn't she say exactly what she meant? This is going to be horrible, a nightmare, your life is about to be changed forever, your happiness is about to be extinguished. There are three things a fire needs to keep going: heat, oxygen, and fuel. She took away all three. Prefaced by that word: pleasant. So whenever I hear the word pleasant--like on the weather report?--I get this pang, this sadness.
There are other words that give me pangs. Third rail, for example. We all know, Andy, what they say about the third rail. How they use that word. We're all political animals here in Washington, D.C., the most important city in the most important country in the world. Social Security is the third rail of American politics, they say. Touch it, Senator, and you die. But a senator touched me, Andy, and I died.
Did I mention that Helen worked for a very powerful senator? It was day seventy-five of our courtship, at her office barbecue. Picture hot dogs and softball, splintery picnic tables, beer cans cocked at jaunty angles of good cheer. We were introduced, me and the senator. The Boss and the Boyfriend, a historic meeting. Stalin and Roosevelt at Yalta. Hitler and Chamberlain at Munich. He looked me in the eye, called me by my first name. Choked with emotion, I knelt before him. "You are a great patriot," I said. "I hope and pray that you become president one day, to lead this nation to a higher destiny."
"Get up, son," he said, clapping me on the back. I can still feel that back clap, Andy. It rattles in my bones.
"Get up, son," he said. "I ain't the Pope. Yet." They all laughed. The senator, the press secretary, the legislative director. The caseworker, the scheduler. The tinker, the tailor. But not Helen, Andy. Not Helen.
Attention, passengers. We will be holding momentarily at this location. At this time, there is a disturbance at the Foggy Bottom station. Be advised that Metro personnel are on the scene attempting to rectify the situation. We regret the inconvenience and thank you for riding Metrorail.
No, thank you! Thank you for thanking me. Why, no inconvenience at all. Because you know, Andy, some time today, some day this week, some week this year, we will emerge from this majestic hole and walk erect in the sunshine. That's what I like about this Metro system, the inevitability. That escalator inexorably raising you up, or lowering you down. Those blinking lights on the granite platform--hey, it's coming, get ready--a helpful tap on the shoulder, a gentle snapping in your ears. The announcements promising stations just around the bend. Metro Center. Capitol South. Friendship Heights. Last station stop in the District of Columbia. First station stop in the State of Maryland. The promise is fulfilled, always. At the sound of the door chimes, the doors will close.
You might say I'm a student of this Metro system. I take it all in. I never walk or run, up or down the escalator. I let it sweep me toward my fate, motionless, lingering, until the soles of my shoes slide over the end plate, smooth like a slow stream creeping over a rock bed. Look around, Andy. The tiles on the station floors are a series of hexagons, like the cells in a beehive. Know anything about bees, Andy? The queen bee is serviced by her male drones, and then she kills them off one by one. I don't have to tell you what that means.
That's my favorite shape, the hexagon. I like the way they all fit together, reinforcing each other, forming a solid wall without any gaps or wasted space. My favorite color is blue. My favorite candy bar is Three Musketeers. My favorite disaster is the Hindenberg. My favorite President is Lincoln. My favorite number is seven. I like how it has a handle, and a hook on the end, handy for dislodging blockages, deep inside.
Did I mention my favorite candy bar? Did you ever notice that the walls of the Metro station are light brown and porous? Like nougat! Like a Three Musketeers bar, frozen and snapped in two. What is nougat? I've memorized the definition in the dictionary: a confection of nuts or fruit pieces in a sugar paste. When I'm sitting where you're sitting, Andy, and the train is speeding through the station, those nut or fruit pieces all blur together, and it's like staring down at the highway pavement, out the side window of a speeding car. I'd like to stick my tongue out that window, lap up that fine sugar paste, taste the sweetness, savor the juiciness of those nut or fruit pieces. You know what I mean. I spend all my time in passenger seats. In my relationships, the women always drive.
But enough already about the Metro walls. The stains on the walls are much more interesting, Andy. Have you ever noticed that there are water stains throughout the walls of the stations of the Metrorail system? A discoloring, an accident, a spill. No fixed boundaries, a spatter, a splash. I don't have to tell you what those stains remind me of, more than anything else. A dastardly crime, clumsily concealed, bodies entombed underneath, and despite the best efforts of the perpetrator, the blood seeps out, makes intriguing patterns that provide vital clues about the crime. Let me tell you about some of the stains I've seen on the Metro station walls. A balloon rising, the string hanging limp. A solar eruption, spike of fire arcing out of celestial ball. Ghostly figures hovering. A dog howling, its jaw a right angle. Silhouette of Abraham Lincoln, chin jutting.
Attention, passengers. Because of the disturbance at the Foggy Bottom Metro station, all trains on the Blue Line are not moving at this time. We apologize for the inconvenience. The Metropolitan Police Department and emergency response personnel are currently on the scene rectifying the situation, at which point this train will resume its journey. Remember, it is unlawful to eat, drink, or play audio equipment while in the Metrorail system. Please enjoy your ride and thank you for riding Metrorail.
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