Down in the Depths, the Very Very Depths


Sitting on the subway train thinking about rain Damon watched the man trying trying trying to touch a young woman. The train lurched, the woman leaned, then the man lunged. Paw. Breast. Contact.

When he’d awoken that cold windswept snowsleet Sunday afternoon, his apartment felt claustrophobic, a cluster-wart. Crust everywhere. He’d gone out out, into the air, the dim winter light but oh the cold. He needed to examine the city like an etherized patient, poke and prod its under-bits – how else could he experience it? and yet it was too cold and he was too hungover/dessicated/frailsick to do it aboveground.

You learn a city from its subways – he coined the aphorism as he bumped down the first flight of stairs, his body bumping down like a dragged suitcase. As he bought a fare card he decided he liked the idea – nearly everyone congregates here, and you can get a good look at them in a way you can’t when passing on a street.

He’d once thought of writing on the subway but he was too hungover. All he could come up with were titles.

My second novel will be called ‘Dark Star: a Memoir of Addiction.’ It will be about a nine-year old girl and her very happy childhood. It’s like, something something something about how that happy childhood feeling won’t last, it’s transitory, just like addiction? Or drugs. Something like that.

The subway squealed to a stop: eeeesh, his cotton candy brain. His brainbox felt drier than a Kleenex in the desert.

He found a seat; there were many open. Opposite, an older gentleman stood next to a woman who was likely his wife talking – was it racist to say “screeching?” – into her phone. He was wearing a heavy jacket and holding a shopping bag. She was bundled in brown and her hair formed a large maroon curl just above her forehead that seemed to defy physics.

No one else of note in the car – a few young people nodding off, one couple popping each other’s zits, three older women in sweater vests.

Damon’s phone beeped, an incoming message. His dealer, just saying hi. In a country that struggled to understand the “service” portion of “service sector,” it always made him smile that the Nigerians got it. He checked his watch – 5:30 already. Damn. It would be dark when he got out of the subway. Seemed like he just woke up and it could already be time for a few drinks and a re-up. Maybe he’d just have a salad, though. Purify for a while.

He’d been out past dawn the night before, some old friends early, newer friends late. At one point, he’d had an argument about art or literature – no, it was about painting. Also, writing. He’d been adamant that Of course though, what an artist does is fail. The manifestation of the idea always falls short of the conception of the idea. The artistic impulse is therefore… um… Or maybe it hadn’t been an argument, just a rant.

The subway stopped, doors opened, people in and out, doors closed again. It was a little more crowded and a young woman stepped through the car and stood near the older couple.

Title: ‘Down in the Depths, the Very Very Depths: A Subway Memoir.’ Or else maybe just call it ‘The Very Very Depths.’ Putting a word like ‘addiction’ in the title, well that’s just pandering.

From behind, the new girl might have been something but she turned toward Damon and her face: no. The older man with the wife was bending his back, he wanted to take off his heavy jacket because it was getting hotter in the car. But he was holding the shopping bag. So he was bending in sort of exaggerated gestures, probably so that his wife would take the bag and he could get his coat off. She pretended not to notice him as she yelled yelled yelled into her phone.

The train slowed in a tunnel and the man slid toward the young woman, swiped the air near her butt but she turned and he missed. Oh-ho! Damon realized. So that’s it. The old-pretend-to-be-taking-off-a-coat-and-“accidentally”-fondling-a-young-woman-trick. Well played, sir, even if you missed.

I won’t write about drugs, about addiction. Those always have to end with some moist spiritual voyage to recovery and recycled ‘wisdom.’ Title: “I Want More Drugs Please: A Memoir of Fun!” But not tonight. Tonight I’ll have some healing tea or something. Do some writing.

The train slowed again as they neared a stop and this time the old man timed his lunge better. While still struggling with his coat he pretended to slip and his hand landed firmly, precisely, on the young woman’s left breast. Damon’s eyes widened. Wow. A magical confluence of guile and circumstantial physics.

The young woman turned neatly at an angle that used the shoulder strap of her purse to lever his hand away. It fell to his side. Huh, Damon thought. Purse-jitsu. No squeal, no pointing maiden horror, just a neatly executed pivot and that was that. Or, it would have been, but his wife saw.

Yes, the man’s wife saw the whole thing. Damon saw she saw, but she didn’t see he saw she saw. Her reaction – she didn’t whack her husband with her handbag. She didn’t screech at him. She hung up the phone, touched his upper arm, encircled it, and pulled him close. She hugged him.

Whoa. Did not see that coming. What kind of guy is that?

The man turned away from Damon, toward his wife. He hugged her back.

Well. Either he’s a married man who struggles with his lecherous impulses or he’s a lech who struggles to stay married. Wait, that’s the same-same. No, maybe it isn’t. Are you a writer who likes drugs, or an addict who dreams of being a writer? Everyone talks about embracing your true self, but how do you know which it is?

The young woman stood at the subway doors, ready to exit. The subway had stopped while waiting for the traffic at the station ahead to clear. She stood before the reflective glass, but she looked at her shoes. Damon wanted to say to her, “Really, sister? Just like that? That is all?” Because he knew what she knew – that grope, that wasn’t being wanted, not even. That was much less.

He want to go to her, take her hand, say something to make it be okay.

Oh sister, I’ll take you out of here, up and out into the rain with me. You’ll see. When we get out there, it won’t be winter – it’ll be a bright Shanghai summer with a misting summer shower refreshing us all. We’ll hold hands in the rainsong sunshine and marvel at this beautiful city, the beauty of the world around us. You’ll see.

I know, I know it’s January. There’s no way.
But maybe. You have to view the world the way you want it to be.

That’s a foolish idea. You will always fail.

No, not always. Sometimes the world can be what you want.