For some reason, traveling home

For some reason, traveling home on the train — Septa to 30th street, Amtrak to Penn Station, the 1 train to 23rd street, the walk to my office — was filled with a jumble of strange images. I saw a man scuffling with a plainclothes police officer, breaking away and running to crouch, half hidden, behind a turnstile. When the plainclothes officer rounded the corner, he jumped the turnstile and ran off into the crowd in Penn Station, totally silent, with a look of abject fear in his eyes. The officer, trailing handcuffs, was silent too. I saw a homeless man throw half a loaf of bread over the steel barrier that kept him off the subway platform — it was wadded up in two large balls and landed with a muffled “plop.” The man looked right through me, turned around, and climbed up the stairs to 34th street. I saw a woman begging on the train; she said that she had been laid off, that she needed money to support her child, that her husband had fled the country. She was in her early 20s, white, well-fed, and clean with new clothes. I looked through her as she walked past, then realized that Phyllis Trible, my Old Testament professor at Union Theological seminary and a Biblical scholar of note, was sitting on the car as well. Had she given the woman money? It made me very aware that I had chosen not to believe the beggar’s story. I saw a huge conical vat of cement come plummeting hundreds of feet through the air, to slow and stop neatly behind a cement mixer truck, get filled, and hoisted up again at the same dizzying speed. I had a headache by this time, and I stopped at the drugstore to buy aspirin — packets of Bayer were sixty-five cents. I asked for two packets and pulled two dollars from my wallet, but fished for change to see if I had it. The man behind the counter helpfully suggested that I buy three packets for two dollars, which I did, not catching on that I was losing five cents in the bargain.

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