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06 May 2006

Get on the Bus

(© 2006, Scott A. Josephson. All rights reserved.)

I have been sick the past few days, taken ill by what did not strike me for the past year a half. For three days, I was nearly out of commission courtesy of the common cold.

Colds never came easy to me -- they usually required two full days without contact from the outside world. The biggest blow wasn't the mountain of Kleenex overflowing from shopping bags or minute garbage cans. It was the loss of my sense of smell. Food became so much less enjoyable and the task of consuming a meal, on top of a smoldering headache, aching body, constantly runny nose.

There is always the solace of Bob Barker -- The Price is Right remains the last vestige of the sick day. The 1980s are now retro relics, an almost unbelievable decade in light of the past 5 years. Just today, I still thought it was 2005. Blame it on the fog of medicine, our current administration, my inability to read a newspaper or tear myself away from being plugged-in.

Even on a personal day off from work, I couldn't help but check -- and even respond to -- a number of emails of seeming little importance. I can't seem to tear myself away from the sheltered reality of my office, several days of the week of which now exist in my bedroom.

Leaving work early on Wednesday, I continued my duties late that afternoon from home, and the entire next day. For the past month, each weekend has been extended by telecommuting. And we just hired a new member of our department who will perform his duties from California. Perhaps my dream of leaving the Northeast can soon become a reality.

Until then, my new aspiration is to finally board the bus.

Port Authority is one of the most unromantic destinations of Manhattan -- and why shouldn't it be? Lacking the grace of Penn Station and the austerity of Grand Central, it's a 1970s fast food joint of a bus depot, gargantuan and connected to the subway system -- teeming with homeless residents and various derelicts from all continents of filth and debauchery. The commuters aren't the problem; it's the more permanent fixtures that create an ambiance of despair, poverty, and an environment bleaker than the Stalinist architecture of my alma mater.

If anything, it can't possibly be the location of a first kiss.

How I clapsed to loneliness as Bianca ascended narrow escalator, Hoboken-bound to miniscule studio apartment to not some sad little life, but an existence well beyond this suburban pauper's meager imagination -- lingering in the same home, 27 years, knowing only the mittens of Boston for the smidge of a second, not tasting the tongue of a real relationship, feeling somehow stunted and saddened by a girl three years my senior headed home alone. Hands in pockets, head lowered, the moonlight of 8th Avenue descending on his back, stumbles a young man captivated still by the notion that this is somehow going somewhere.

All those endless, countless hours slumped not in front of computer, but grey bricken wall, racing through a dizzyingly short list of cell phone numbers to dial in despair -- just to hear a voice, shed a scrap of attention, avoiding eye contact with every other member of my generation. Trying not to stare or be considered part of any demographic, longingly envying inebriated teenagers, college students, twenty-somethings clearly on unsuccessful paths. Wandering across empty corridorss, devoid passageways, blinking through failed evenings. New Jersey Transit departures dwindling as another revolution makes me realize technology may have not changed us for the better; it is another distraction, ever increasing, to poison us darkly in hospitals of our future decay.

Then the locomotion, rarely drunk, and worse in its scarcity. Piercing volume, jealous in its joy, shrieking the rejection not of poor decisions made in high school or wiser choices in college years -- but not knowing friendship with women, or the healthy balance that brings us closer to understanding friends that are closer to siblings. The darkness -- no, the bleakness -- of those nights come screaming forward within me, hiding in the back of the caboose, hopelessly hoping never to be discovered. It is not to die, not to be forgotten, but to know remorse in one's self, for that shameful stroll in the bitter freeze, bleeding under streetlights, walking past that same depressing mailbox. Knowing the final destination, the end result, the path at journey's end, leads back to that same cavern where the earliest memories began.

One cannot help but weep at this, keys jingling in hand, outdoor light shining as a taunting, yet comforting, beacon -- blinding me as the sprinklers engage. No other sounds, just crickets and few stars, the erstwhile white taxi whizzing by, or the headlights of an endeavor that can never be mine. This has always been my town, it is the sum of my experience, the total wealth and richness of this existence -- dazzling in liquor stores, banks, and groceries, diners and fast food and Chinese takeout. It is where we have spent thousands of our dollars on taxes and forgotten suppers and parking meters, commuter tickets, baby food, and abortions.

It is not where I will let myself die, but it is certainly nowhere I shall be reborn.