Monday morning on the MAX

CheThere is a beeping as the ramp slides out, then the doors open. He rolls himself in. His legs are covered with a blanket. His dull blondish hair is in a ponytail and he’s got layers of clothing. Behind him is a younger man, no more than five feet six, no hair visible under his billed cap, with red marks on his face shaped like tiny cigars. He’s wearing a flannel shirt and pants torn at the knee.

CheThere is a beeping as the ramp slides out, then the doors open. He rolls himself in. His legs are covered with a blanket. His dull blondish hair is in a ponytail and he’s got layers of clothing. Behind him is a younger man, no more than five feet six, no hair visible under his billed cap, with red marks on his face shaped like tiny cigars. He’s wearing a flannel shirt and pants torn at the knee.

I don’t know how to measure how old these two in the train with me are because life on the streets batters the skin. They are younger than me, I am sure of that, probably 20 years younger. Less than forty would be my guess. Somewhere between thirty and forty-five, no more. And the younger one could be in his twenties.

“It’s not working right. I can’t afford a new one. Something’s wrong with the wheel.” He’s backed himself into the wheelchair space and leans back so that the front wheels come off the floor and balances himself by holding the rail with one hand and putting one foot up on the rail in front of him. “Is it wobbling?”

His friend checks it out. “It’s just the bolt needs tightening.”

The ponytail man says, “I can take care of that. Just tighten the bolt, huh?”

“Yeah, the bolt on the top. How much does a wheelchair like that cost?”

“This chair cost $1800.” The way he says it you know that is an amount of money out of his grasp. However he came by this chair, he doesn’t think he’ll be able to get another if something goes wrong with this one. It isn’t one of those fancy motorized ones. He has to maneuver it himself. I’ve seen this man on the train before with a companion, not this young one. Someone older. Often, he is sitting on a max seat and the chair is in the space in front of him. Whatever makes it difficult for him to get around is not obvious, but something limits him, makes the chair necessary. Most likely it is diabetes.

“You live with that big guy, right? Where you live?” Younger man asks.

“At a motel out on 82nd.”

“How much does that cost?”

“We pay $400 a week.”

“$400. That’s a lot, man. You should move to my motel. It’s a lot less, man.”

“No, wait. Not a week. That’s every two weeks. Costs us about $200 a week. My friend, I live with, he gets $700 every two weeks. He was a logger and got injured. Now he gets $1400 a month. We been together for 7 years. He’s in pain all the time.” If he has any income himself, from Social Security or anything else, he doesn’t say.

I grew up in a mill town. I remember loggers with fingers and arms missing and deaf sawmill workers. I remember the fatherless children of timber fallers who were felled themselves, and never got up from the forest floor, and were laid to final rest in Juniper Cemetery, which was named after a tree no one logged.

The talk turns to heroin and methadone, to nodding off, and cruelty. “I never nodded off,” the young one claims.

The one in the chair says he sometimes still uses, but he gets the methadone. They talk about the clinic where they both get their doses. “That lady who runs the clinic. I knew her when she was using. How did she end up running a clinic?” Wheelchair man wants to know.

“She used to use? Oh, man. You know that bitch cuts people’s doses. Bitch. She’s a user. Bitch.” The younger man’s anger is strong.

I wonder if he will kill her some day. Or if someone else will.

The rain starts coming down in buckets and it’s 122nd Avenue and the man in the wheelchair gets off the train. He doesn’t have an umbrella or a raincoat, “Shit,” he says as he wheels himself away and reaches back to pull the hood of his sweatshirt up over his head.

god & me

Here is the context. It’s early in the 21st century in a slightly larger than midsized city. A pleasant city as they go in these times. We’re a middle-aged couple, low-income, low-need, intellectuals. Around us the world is changing, rapidly becoming hostile to human life, but as yet we are seeing only the merest edge of the darkness that is sliding toward us. There are movies to take our mind off of doom. We sit in the quiet gloom of theatre dark and forget for a couple of hours about hunger and sorrow. We watch the tragedy of history in order to avoid, momentarily, the cataclysm on our threshold.

And walking home afterword we pass by a church and I begin to think about God. Well, why not? The reader board on the lawn of the church invites me to worship. I think about worship and how alien that is to me. I think that God, if there is a god, doesn’t give a damn about worship. If there is a god, then I am God. If there is a god, then everything is God, and I am God. Worship is a veil between god and God.

We walk into the edge of the urban forest, past maple and cherry, into the oaks, elms, horse chestnuts, and the blooming dogwood going deeper and deeper, the trees arching higher and thicker, their trunks massive, ferns sprout out of moss inches thick. The streetlights are obscured, the sidewalk becomes treacherous terrain.

At some point in the last few years I ceased taking for granted that at Winter’s end Spring would take shape and every year I feel a reprieve has been granted. Leaves as small as my little fingernail, yellow-green, eat sunlight and air and announce the postponement of death for another season.

18 months and a leg–NOLA blogger

Website: 18 months and a leg

Some of the best writing is coming out of New Orleans. If you are bored by restaurant reviews and hipster patter, go to this blog and be shaken out of your comfort zone.

Website: 18 months and a leg

Some of the best writing is coming out of New Orleans. If you are bored by restaurant reviews and hipster patter, go to this blog and be shaken out of your comfort zone.