Train Catalogue #9

Or, readers managing the despair of distraction.

It’s back to the grind, and for the morning, at least, that meant a carriage full of people too preemptively down about the work week to do anything other than blast upbeat decibels through their earbuds, hence providing yours truly with a whispered cacophony of dance thumps and disembodied voices, and visions of the near future involving deaf hordes of fifty-year-olds, wondering what they’d done to themselves.

But on the afternoon train, a man who’d escaped that imagined fate by a probable ten years was doing his best to read the business section, stretching his newsprint end to vertical end before him, as if holding a scroll and preparing to declaim. If his awkward posture was meant to give his seatmate a hint that he was trying to read, the message went unheeded; the co-ed next to him was treating us all to a cell-phone recapitulation of the calamities of young adulthood, checking in with her listener via the frequent refrain, “Lindsay, I was like,…” At some point, I looked over to find our newsreader leaning for support against the window, back of his hand against his head in an immediately recognizable posture of woe.

Marcus Stone, via Wikimedia Commons.

Marcus Stone, via Wikimedia Commons.

By that time, a bookworm had positioned herself a few seats down, chin on top of the stuffed backpack in her lap, arms wrapped around its bulk with an open, uncovered hardback copy of Erik Larson’s Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania in her hands. But a frazzled dad with two boisterous boys around the age of five soon jumped into the seats immediately across from our history-lover, and the unnoticed look she gave the trio was worthy of even the most child-hating cadre of old-school librarians. No fretful hand to brow for this trooper, who kept to her text in the face of that auditory onslaught while the skinny philosopher-type next to her alternated a thoughtful placement of hand over mouth with a more meditative pose of hand on chin.

Just before getting off at my stop, I noticed that the newspaper reader had renewed his attempt to take in a few words, and had switched to a magazine. Lindsay, though, was still listening to her friend’s tribulations being broadcast over the telephonic ether.



  1. birds fly

    This is a great series– I’m thoroughly enjoying it. Makes me sort of miss my days of commuting by rail. :Like you, I also enjoyed clandestinely observing my fellow reader-riders. My most productive day for a single one-way trip included a woman reading Rumi, two people reading the Bible in languages other than English, and a man reading a book called Ontologies in Medicine. I never did top that..


    • Special K

      Thank you! Although I miss walking to work, it’s just as good– tho’ in a different way– for people-watching. What I’m going to call your ride involving a metaphysical grand slam of words is pretty awesome (and I’m incredibly intrigued by that final item, which I may have to investigate).


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