Riding the Subway in NYC, we had some up-close anthropological observation points. Here are three of my favorites:
A 40-something woman with frizzy hair, wearing jogging shoes, got on the train with three smartly-dressed young women in their twenties, knee-length boots, and smart coats. Blond highlighted hair swung seductively at their jaw lines. They wore make-up; she did not, but her eyes were wide and awed and shiny with adoration as she looked at one of the girls. Her daughter, it came out as they talked about where they were taking her and the delights they would show her, had been in NYC about a year and a half, and established herself in some career that involved fashion and seemed to be going pretty well.
“We’ll get off on 14th and change trains,” she told her mother after checking her iPhone with unselfconscious deftness. Her mother beamed. Her tennis shoe accidentally touched my foot in the crowded car and she immediately apologized. The flock of girls looked on with bemused smiles.
Someone said something about the color of their boots, and they began to compare. Mom said, eyes worshipful on her daughter, “Oh honey, when you were small, you had little brown boots just that color, and your gran made you a brown hat with red flowers to go with them, remember?”
I glanced at the girlfriend posse. They were staring at their friend–probably picturing the hat above that cashmere coat–and the smiles on their faces ranged from shark-esque to sweet. Daughter stared at Mom, smile fixed, expression flitting between not wanting to embarrass and not wanting to be embarrassed. She said, perhaps seeking compromise, “Gotta love Gran. Now, we’re two stations away….”
Gotta love Mom.
I hauled the Korean paperback edition of my book from my backpack and stared at it–probably with an expression similar to the Mama above watching her baby-made-good. Aloud I said, “This is the cutest cover yet. I’m so happy to have gotten this today!” Andrew and Jack said something about when it had been published, and the English version, and the business-suited, bearded man (lawyer, was my guess) traveling across from us looked up. The train wasn’t crowded, so he could see what we were talking about, and put two and two together. His smile resembled one you’ve probably used yourself, when you see a woman at the grocery with a new baby dressed all in pink, big bow over one ear, and people gathered ’round cooing.
By the time he got up at the next stop, I’d put my baby back in the pack, but as he passed me the lawyer-esque man said, softly, “Congratulations.” I looked up in time to see him smile at me before he disembarked.
It felt good.
On the train home to Virginia, a man and his son sat down in front of us. The man said, rather loudly, “We’re gonna sit here, Alex, because that man behind us was talking too loud and never stopped. Remember that. It’s good to take a break every now and then, and listen to other people.” He then proceeded to keep up a running narrative balanced against his son’s constant stream of questions, comments, and movements, which included staring over the seat back at us (me with my yarn, Jack with his computer) and his father’s command to “Stop terrorizing those people. Not everybody likes kids. Kids can be annoying, did you know that?”
Jack and I exchanged glances. As we got out the good cheeses and tomatoes and crusty loaf we’d bought at the Farmer’s Market that morning with Pamela, Dad started reading Alex–loudly, so the whole car could enjoy it–a story about a hero factory that made robots to fight the evil brain that turned people’s eyes a glowing red. As Jack concentrated on breaking the crusty loaf, I tucked two cherry tomatoes behind my glasses and gave him my best evil grin.
He nearly choked to death when he glanced over.
They were just having fun. So were we. It was a nice ride. And in case you were wondering, the hero robots defeated the evil brain, and we ate the cherry tomatoes.