My memories don’t exist for you. When I look out of my head through my eyes, I see the now. All that ever happens in front of my eyes is the now. I figured that out a few minutes ago.
If there is such a thing as a collective memory in this country, it must include trains. No matter how often I ride on a train, when I get on the train my now that’s in front of my eyes starts to mix with my memories behind my field of vision.
I’m riding the Now and Then Line from New York City to points north. Fascists, like Rudy Giuliani, generally rail against the Now and Then Line in their stump speeches and campaign ads. They attack this venerable, historical railway as, "not on time," "neither here nor there," and perhaps most damning, "Now and Then but Never on Time." True, when the Now Local arrives, it most often was scheduled to arrive then, and is therefore late. And in an odd synchronicity that proves Amtrak does have a sense of humor, the Then Express generally arrives now.
On the Now local, the woman sitting in front of me is always a fat blond woman eating potato chips. I can see her playing a game on her cell phone reflected in the window.
The guy sitting behind me always likes to call people at regular intervals during the ride to ask annoying questions. He says, “Hello!” in a way that completely captures the essence of Now. His singsong repetition of that most basic of words is an eerie simulacrum. He means it to be a imitation of a cartoon character, but there is no cartoon character that sounds like that.
By now, the fat blond lady is crinkling the empty bag of Frito-Lays and has taken her Blackberry out of her purse. Double fisting her phones, a flip-style one in the left and a PDA in the right, she clears her throat as if to say, "this train is just so now right now."
Sometimes this train is more then than now. Those are the rides I like the best. The people stay off of their – excuse my French – motherfucking cell phones, unless they are speaking in hushed tones. On the then train, the golden glow of reading lights falls on clean, wide seats. The train speeds along the Hudson River. During the day, the Then Express passes sailboats, and at night, the opposite bank of the river offers a never-ending string of twinkling lights. On the Then Express, my steel cocoon rumbles through deserted stations where white lamps splash pools of light down onto solitary train platforms. In the summer, there are moths gathered around the lights.
Every now and then, I catch a whiff of the Jim Beam sour mash whiskey that someone in my general vicinity is furtively sipping. Although, I have never had the good fortune of sitting across the isle from this whiskey sipper, I know his name. He’s the Gambler from the old Kenny Rogers song. He knows when to hold ‘em, he knows when to fold ‘em, he knows when to lay down, he knows when to run.
I’m not sure if it would even be possible for the Gambler to ride on the Now train. I mean, he’s been riding the Then train since it was the Now train. I’m like the Gambler in that way.
My memories don’t exist for you. They exist for me, though – all of the time. My life is looking out of my head via my eyes and seeing about 150 degrees of now. The other 210 degrees are on the Then Express, 24/7. In front of me are the bright fluorescent lights and high-speed data connections of Now. The Now Local stops in grimy subway stations and navigates 6th Avenue in the rain. The pavement is slippery, the wind is cold, but that’s only now. Behind my eyes, wrapped around my shoulders, and trailing behind me, just my memories.
Memories of the caress of an ex-girlfriend co-mingle with memories of the wind on my face in the evening as I was getting home to my seaside apartment in Cancun. Memories of the gently swaying palms of Cancun brush shoulders with memories of walking down the tree-lined streets of Vedado in the springtime.
I don’t know this for a fact, but I do not believe that most people live as surrounded by their memories as I do. Maybe old people do. My two living grandparents are probably on this Then Train Express somewhere also. I guess I’ll go find them now then.
BSM lives in Brooklyn. He writes at night and reads on the subway.