The guy’s thumbs could fit two quarters on them, each. No lie, I’m looking at his thumbs trade the ragged AM New York paper back and forth and wondering how much of my life could fit on one of his thumb nails. I’m wondering if his construction worker’s outfit – paint-dripped boots – gives a clue to some past accident, or if this was nature saying “grab things, my child, and hold them.” I realize the article that he is staring intently at, creased between his galactic thumb nails, is one featuring the picture of a husky officer with a big weapon in front of police tape – and off to the right is an insert of a guy whose name I now know is Aaron. Big-Thumbs has been staring at it from under his hat, backwards and dirty and digging in just above his eyebrows, for at least as long as I’ve been on the train, which is three stops now.
My mind darts back to where I was, and her.
Her eyes were wet (“sweating eyes” as she called it), over her Cabernet, discussing kindness and the universe and human horror.
“I wouldn’t want to jump in front of a stranger. I mean like if I did, I’d want people to know about it,” she eyes me with a smirk over her glass.
“But I mean that time on the subway I thought I was gonna die?”
She nods, swallowing wine, knowing exactly what I’m talking about, because she knows exactly what I talk about.
“I just got off as soon as I could,” I go on, “like I jetted out of there like peace, whatever. But if there had been kids, ya know? Like I think if there were kids, I’d – ”
“Any person, anybody ever would, if it was like five year olds, would like, jump and ya know, try. But I worry, if like. So like I kind of want it to happen?”
She checks me with her eyes and I confirm; I kind of want it to happen to me too. We talk about being heroes for a while and I’ll save you from it. She lands on:
“But I’m fucked either way. If I try to save someone, I’m probably gonna die, and if I try to save myself and run away, and they find me, like, cowering in a corner, then I’m that person, ya know?”
“But if it were your husband. If it was my wife…”
There are images in our heads we don’t have to talk about.
The waiter comes around and asks about the fuckin’ mussels.
Big-Thumbs catches me looking at him. The goose-island and mussels have put me in a place where I’m like, okay, I’m looking at this guy, and I don’t look away.
He smiles, and gestures at the paper, then jerks his head toward the woman seated next to him and smiles at her and gestures to the paper.
The woman next to him is in the middle of saying “she could speak English but she’d get shot if she did so she don’t,” and gives him a sideways glance and then goes on with her conversation.
He looks back at me, some Heineken or Corona in his eyes, and, I don’t know, the look, and maybe the serendipitous clue from the lady next to him, lets me know he doesn’t know what he’s reading.
“Messed up,” I say.
He shrugs. He gestures at the paper again. “What happen?”
“Like the fact that people can still be kind in the face of all this…”
I thought she had asked for the check but another round is in front of us and my vices do a dance in my gut. We had now moved on to kindness being the last resort.
“Yeah,” I say, “like I gotta believe that the goodness in good people is, like, proportionately more than the badness in bad people.”
We go on, and try to scoop out some sauce for the mussels, and find the bathroom, and comment on the music, and drink, and talk.
“That’s a relief, though. Like nothing I could do could be a mistake.”
We’re talking about the billions of galaxies now, and how small we are in all of it.
“Like, when I think of that, I feel this freedom, like nothing I do… means…”
She worries that she’s getting old but I see this woman where a teenager used to be.
So he’s waiting for me to answer and I’m thinking of her comment about kindness, before at the bar.
“Uh. That guy,” I point at Aaron’s picture, “went there,” I point at the picture of the officer, “and… killed a bunch of people.”
He doesn’t understand. The train is rocking us in rhythm, away from each other slightly then away from each other slightly.
I think about trying to explain it in the minuscule Spanish I have and luckily I know that would sound stupid.
So I do the next best thing and mime shooting a bunch of people.
And he gets it. And looks back down at the paper.
Saying goodbye to her, I wished for more. She waved goodbye from halfway down the street, and I waved back, and said something lame, and the sushi joint lights blinked and The Avenue of the Americas jammed up and businessmen dodged around me and some poor kid got out of a 14 hour workday. And I thought, don’t I keep pace with the news? Don’t I reveal my feelings and reference books and shows? Don’t I listen? Don’t I put these horrible things in the context of how they relate to me but also about the social action we need to take and the metaphysical consequences of it all? Isn’t that impressive? Is it that my right nostril hangs over a bit from the time I caught a baseball to the nose? Have I turned down happiness? Am I actually kind or did it seem like a good banner to wave? And suddenly I’m on the subway and there’s a guy with big thumbs.
The guy was embarrassed at my mime and so was I. It was awful how he didn’t look up at me again my whole ride. The lady next to him went on with her conversation, and we rocked in the same rhythm, just now pretending that we had never crossed paths. I got off the train, and caught a glance of him, still looking down into the paper with the picture of the man and the other man.
On the way into my building, I saw the edges of the full moon creep around the corner of the brick, but decided to look away before I caught the full shape of it.