The last train to Philadelphia is preceded by endless Penn Station corridors
and waiting spaces, the exile of the early passenger. Two in the morning is
no different from two in the afternoon here, just the faces change. A man
in a tan suit and gold cufflinks is sprawled on the station floor, next to
a map of the Long Island Railroad system. His head is folded into his chest
in such a way that looking from the front he appears to have no neck.
His shoes look expensive, but surely real gold would have long since been
surreptitiously freed from his person while he slept so maybe the shoes are
fakes also. Maura and I walk past to the bakery nearby, which happens to be
open, so I buy a cup of coffee and a muffin. We talk about nothing and she
puts her head on my shoulder, after asking first if that was OK.
The city above is equally as complex as the corridors below, particularly
the ones lining Penn Station now that construction is underway and half of
everything is either walled in with giant plywood barriers covered in "PARDON
OUR DUST" signage, or closed outright, a small note neatly tacked up explaining
in simple terms how much better things will be when it's all complete. "This
will only sting for a little bit," the doctor says, except in this case the
little bit has dragged on to many months with no end in sight.
Somewhere in the city, in a Village bar, there are people enjoying shots
of a more pleasant nature, their sting hardly noticed. Before I left the party
for the train station, the room was full of revelers, merry-makers, smoking,
drinking, laughing, talking. By one of the pinball machines - Mediaeval Madness
- one of the players takes his cigarette out of his mouth and sets it above
and between the flipper fingers, in the cradle made by the incline of the
glass covering the field of play and the metal rim that holds the glass onto
He leans back so that the small of his back is the peak of an obtuse triangle,
his hands and his feet forming two vertices, and begins to play, rocking the
table from side to side when it is advantageous to his game. Only now does
it strike me how vicious a stance that was for such a simple game. Later,
as the train rolls through the night, I will write in my notebook that I came
to new York City today and am now leaving, changed perhaps slightly in a way
even I can't know about.