Life’s Little Mysteries

The L train wasn’t running today between Lorimer and Myrtle-Wyckoff. This means shuttle buses, always a nightmare of overcrowding, jarring rides, and lengthy trips between even the shortest of stops. It means frustration and bristling tempers, curses at the MTA, and general misery all around. This happens a lot on the L. From Lorimer to Myrtle-Wyckoff, or Broadway Junction to Canarsie, the line finds itself shut down for maintenance, and the lack of express tracks means nothing moves. No way, no how, and it’s on up to the streets for the straphangers.

I was on one of the shuttle buses today, coming home from Manhattan. I stood at the corner of Union and Metropolitan and watched three buses fill up, all the way, packed like sardines, before I was able to hop aboard the fourth. And it filled up, as well. All the way, packed like sardines, and then it crawled away from the curb. No seat this day. There was no surprise in that. After seven and a half years of riding the L shuttle I can’t ever recall getting a seat on the outbound buses. Inbound sometimes. Earlier today, in fact, I crammed into the last seat on the left side, one of those right up against the engine, with no room for a person’s feet. I had to pull my knees up to my chest, the balls of my feet pressed on the wheel well. My knees were protesting, my Achilles tendons were in agony. It was still better than standing.

So this afternoon there was no seat. Who are these people who actually get seats on the shuttle buses? It’s empty when it shows up at Lorimer, so obviously they’re all around, waiting for the bus right beside me. I don’t know how they do it, but they do. They get to sit, and the rest of us get packed in like tiny, dead canned fish.

I had one hand raised above my head, holding onto the bar, the other was at my side, holding a plastic bag stuffed with crap I bought at a store. To my left a woman was crammed in so close her head was in my armpit. To my right another woman, a tiny one, was also close in. The way we were jammed together, with her sort of under me, my upraised arm arced right over her shoulder, it sort of looked like we were a couple. Such is the intimacy of the city. Normal rules about personal space don’t apply. Sometimes the body language gets twisted around. We were just trying to carve out a little room for ourselves but our postures told a different story to anyone not familiar with something like the L shuttle.

Graham Ave., Grand St., Montrose Ave., Morgan Ave., Jefferson St., then DeKalb Ave. If only the trip had been as quick and painless as that sentence, but of course it wasn’t. A large chunk of the passengers squirted out the doors at DeKalb, myself included. I crossed the street and caught notice of something on my shopping bag. It was a piece of blue masking tape. I pulled it off the bag, then I noticed my name had been written on it with a sharpie. My first name. What the hell? Who could have done this? I stopped right in the middle of the sidewalk and went back in time in my head.

I got on the train at Union Square. It was crowded. No seat there, either. There were three people sitting in the seats in front of me. Did I know any of them? No. What about the people to my right and left? I could recall their faces. I knew neither on them. Everyone spilled out of the train at Lorimer. Anyone on the platform or the tunnel I knew? Not that I recall. Could someone have slapped a piece of tape on my bag there? I don’t know. Everyone was moving fast. I was walking next to the wall, the bag between me and it. It would have been tough doing it there. What about outside, waiting for the bus? No familiar faces again, and I was holding the bag in front of me. I’m pretty sure it happened on the bus. So I went back to just a few minutes ago, back aboard the bus. Who was there? In front of me on a seat facing me, an Hispanic woman. Her hair was pulled tight in a ponytail. Her skin was dark and she wore rouge on her face. She had both an engagement and a wedding ring on her finger. I didn’t know her. The woman to my left, the one unfortunately crammed into my left armpit? I didn’t know her, or her boyfriend with the American flag bandanna and the vintage 80s metal band t-shirt. What was the band? Doesn’t matter. The tiny woman on the other side? I didn’t know her either. In front of her, sitting down, was a young woman, a bit of a hipster. I’d look over at her occasionally. She was cute. Long hair with bangs. It was either a dark brown or a really deep red. Hard to tell, it kept changing color depending on the light. She was looking ahead and occasionally giggling to herself. Could it have been her? Was she laughing at the little prank she’d just played on me? I could swear I have never met her. I must have checked her out five times during the trip. If I knew her, I think I’d remember. I may be horrible remembering a person’s name — I’ll forget seconds after I’m told — but faces stick with me, even after long periods between meetings. No, I don’t think it was her. Someone behind me, then. Someone I didn’t see. Maybe even someone who had been trying to get my attention, but I was ear-deep into my iPod. Nothing was getting through that. No, I wasn’t going to figure out who did it from my memory.

Deduction was next, but came up empty rather quickly. None of my friends live on the L line. There’s only one casual acquaintance, friend of a friend’s wife, and she knows me by a nickname, so she’s out. There’s a former roommate from further out on the L, off the Halsey stop, in the infamous 345 Eldert building. I don’t think she lives in the city anymore, though. Not her. What about her ex-boyfriend? I have no idea if he still lives in the neighborhood, and he never had a mischievous streak to him, so I don’t think it was him, either. No, deduction was no help. And all the people I know from around there are exhausted. Only speculation remains.

Friend? Acquaintance? Past co-worker? An ex-girlfriend? A psychic-savant with OCD, some supernatural talent with a yen to label everything they see? Maybe they carry a roll of tape and a marker with them everywhere they go and obsessively affix titles to all within reach. And the psychic part? Because they’re always correct.

Coincidence? Maybe I brushed my bag against something that was labeled with a person’s name, a name identical to mine. It’s possible. There are stranger coincidences in everyday life on a regular basis, and there have been stranger coincidences in my life, so I can’t discount the possibility that the only prank played on me was one of chance. How disappointing.

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