An Evening on the LIRR

After 3 years living in the city, I appreciate any transportation above the ground. It's nice to see trees and houses through the windows, far better than the dark tunnels that threaten to take the Subway down to hell. Last year, coming up from the A train, I was sometimes surprised to find myself still in New York. So the commute home on the Long Island Railroad is mostly pleasant. Tonight it was interesting: a chance encounter on the train, blustery wind, a plea for attention. He wore a baseball cap and dirty sweats....Read below for my not quite a J.Peterman experience.

It's cold here now. It rained all day. They said we have a 'Noreaster' blowing in. Having grown up in Florida, any storm without an eye fails to impress me. But it made it most unpleasant to walk in the almost freezing rain. So I was glad when the train arrived and I could get out of the weather. I settled down and tried to arrange my fabulous eggplant colored coat to encourage dryness. I didn't feel like reading. I decided to watch the rain fall.

My zen daze got interrupted by some drunken shouts coming from the back of the car. Sounded like the angry yells of a homeless schizophrenic. I thought, 'This ain't no MTA $2 train! My ticket cost $10 so I don't know what kind of homeless person could afford this train.' A few minutes passed and then I heard the tell-tale shuffling and muttering. 'Huh. So there's a homeless man on the train. Smart place to be on a wet day like this.' I remembered when I got stranded in London in late September a few years ago. Having no money for a hostel, I bought a roundtrip bus ticket to Oxford just so I could have a warm place to sit. I couldn't begrudge someone else looking for warmth.

The shuffling grew louder and as he passed so did the urine-must-alcohol au de street smell. He wore baggy sweatpants falling off his waist and a dingy flannel overshirt. He must have been going to the bathroom. I returned to my window. Some minutes later I hear, "Miss did I pass by you?" The man stood on the stairs leading up to the platform level and asked me that strange question. "What?" He repeated himself and then I understood, he was lost. "Yes you did." He nodded and looked at me. I turned away again.

"Manhuhbubbaba?" "Manhubaba?" He was still talking to me? I squinted at him and tried to figure out what his question meant. Oh, am I going to Manhattan, yes. Then he asked me what I did there, what did I do. I told him I teach. He smiled and said "4th grade?" "No. College." "sh---!" He shook his head and then sat down on the stairs in front of me.

What is it about a young woman alone on public transportation that invites the vagabond and inebriate to talk to her? I knew that curse well growing up and riding the trains in Miami. It's been awhile since I've had such an encounter up here. Well, there but for the grace of God go I... really. He was middle aged. With blond hair and glazed blue eyes and a rough lumpy face. He wasn't skinny so he didn't really look homeless.

Then he began. "I've been in Hampton Bays. Two days. Trying to get into rehab. On the stinking drink. That damn vodka! My old lady, I have a good old lady, yes I do. She got fed up. She told me she was fed up. So I came out here. Two days. I stink now." Then he yelled to someone in the middle of the car "Hey is my stuff over there?" Response in good ol Brooklyn accent: "Do I know you? I'm supposed to watch your stuff now?" "Yes! Is my stuff over there, scumbag?" "I don't know."

Then he turned to me and grumbled about the scumbag. Then yelled again, "You're a scumbag! I'm over here talking to the young lady." "Don't bother her." "Hey! Don't be jel! I'm the one talking to the young lady. Chill." He went on some more about the two days and the drink and these scumbags with a gold spoon in their mouths. "We made a lot of money back in the day. At least I did. But we didn't know. We're so smart we got stuck on stupid didn't we? The world is a bad place." I nodded. "Those two days, Hamptons, that one guy he wanted a fight. I can fight. I used to box. But I hit him there, his tooth bit me." He raised his fist to show me a fresh scratch on one of his knuckles. About this time a man walked up the aisle towards the stairs. The drunk man leaned to the side and told the other to go around him. He said, "No. You get up so I can go." "Go around." "I'm not going around, get up." Surprisingly, he stood to let him pass. "I'm just talking to the young lady, we're chit chatting."

The other middle aged man stopped at the top of the stairs to look down at the drunkman and myself. He gave me a sympathetic look. I gave him an amused smile. He looked like a dad. A working man kind of dad that would beat someone down if necessary. He was letting me know that he wouldn't let drunk man hurt me. He stayed up there the rest of the ride keeping an eye on us. And listening. Drunk man started his monologue again. It felt like listening to someone in a sad play. He told me he was 49. He couldn't believe it because he didn't expect to live that long. He lived hard. He and his buddy. "I buried my buddy this summer. He was my best buddy. We were through thick and thin. Thick and thin! We did time together. We were upstate and at Attica. When we got back we met in the cemetary to party out. He told me he'd bury me. But I said No, I'm going to bury you. And that's the way it was too. He bought a bag of dope and that killed him." His face grew red and he looked away from me as he talked.

"Man it tore me up. Losing him. Tore me up. I can't even look at you now. See? Tore me up bad. I cried for 8 days, I did. We were thick and thin." Then his theme shifted as he turned back to look at me again. He examined my face with a look of surprise--and his glassy eyes were searching mine. At this point I felt a bit uncomfortable. I didn't want to encourage him with rapt attention, but I didn't want to insult him either by ignoring him. Drunk or not he was still a human. So I looked at him as he talked to me but I glanced away often. Making only brief eye contact. The conductor came by and told him not to block the path or bother the lady. He didn't take my ticket. Then he disappeared. I imagine he didn't go far and stayed within listening distance.

"Now what I need is to find a good woman. Man, if I had a woman. I would never drink again. I'd give it up sure thing. I make a good living, operate cranes and heavy machinery. I'd take care of her. If I had a woman. I'd even cook dinner for her. Cook chicken and pork chops. I'd do the cooking, I would! I'd be so good to her." Uh-oh, I could see where he was headed now. I almost told him I'm a vegetarian after he described his luscious meat dishes in more detail. But I bit my tongue. Maybe he didn't mean me. "Give me your number." What? Just like that eh? I said 'No' and shook my head without apology or reservation. He said, "Oh, you're too young, right? I'm too old." I said "yes." There was no reason to tell him that the urine on his clothes was reason enough, not his age.

Then he repeated some of the stuff about being 49. There are still some old hippies left. He's one of them. How did he get that old? He showed me his cut again. He pointed to my skirt and said,"beautiful. That green. That's beautiful." "Thank you." Then he gave me his pedigree. "I'm swedish. Nordic. Swedish. Not Irish. And not that Po-lack. I come from good people. That there, (pointing at my skirt again) that's my grandmother. You look strong, like a strong boned woman." "Yes. I am." "Yeah, I can tell." Then he stood and walked back to his seat. Was this the end?

No. He returned with his grocery bag. He showed it to me. Told me he picked apples from Long Island in there. Red and yellow. Don't they look good? I nodded and he sat down again. As he sat he cursed someone in the middle of the car and grumbled about yuppies. "They don't know tough love. I come from tough love. The world is tough. You look like tough love. Yeah. You're tough love. You would whip me into shape. You'd straighten me right up. That's what I need." I didn't tell him that he was mistaken, that I can't even straighten myself up. But I did frown at him apparently. Because then he said, "You know how I can tell? Your frown. I can see it there. (He pointed to his chin.) I can see your frown there. You're tough. Give me your number."

I said no. Our train neared the next stop. A young skinny man now stood above us with the dad-man, watching. The dad man told young guy "He told me to go around him." They snickered. As the train stopped, drunk man stood and asked if my name was Diana. I said No. The dadman yelled down to him, "Come on man. You're here." Drunk man held his hand out to me. He asked if my name was Karen. I looked at his hand. I couldn't do it. Paying the man some attention was one thing--touching him and who knows where his hand has been? Oh no. Quite another thing. I shook my headat him. The Dadman called down more forcefully. "She doesn't want to shake your hand! Leave the lady alone. Come on! Get out of here." Drunk man turned silently and went up the stairs.

I felt a little bad for the hand thing. But really, where has his hand been? I was grateful to the dadman. The conductor came by again after they left. He asked me if I was ok, how bad was it? Did he need to get the police? I shook my head. Then he smiled and moved on. Without clicking my ticket. This was the first time ever in two months of riding this train that no one asked for my ticket. Hmm. Should I say something? He passed me twice. Maybe he thought I deserved a free ride for keeping the rowdy drunk man placated.

Before the train goes underground towards Manhattan, the Empire State Building is visible. It peeks up behind all the box buildings in Queens. Tonight it looked beautiful. The lights were on and the last of the dusk sun, glowing through the rain clouds silhoutted the tower. I was almost home.


What's wrong with this country? What's wrong with me?

Monday I went to see my shrink. It had been about 5 weeks since I'd seen her last. Because she had fired me as her therapy client, wanting to switch to 'medication management' meaning we'd only meet once a month. She said I needed more intense and frequent therapy than she could provide. I explained that seeing her twice a month was already more than I could afford and I hadn't found any cheaper services in the area. She said she would look for me. Right. Whatever, I didn't care because the therapy didn't do much anyway.

But I looked forward to this appointment. I was scared of my emotions and the sudden instability. I wanted to talk about it and maybe suggest that I might be some kind of unusual bi-polar. I had a good 3 or 4 weeks. Then suddenly, everything was bad again. I could trace a pattern of good year-bad year all the way back to the 6th grade. She was unimpressed. She wasn't listening. I said, "I feel crazy. I can't control myself. I'm crying for no reason." She gave me a new medication with a lecture about how this one is dangerous so I can't play around with it. I can't just stop taking it like I have some of my other meds. Blah blah. That's why she hadn't given me the scrip earlier. Wrong, I refused to take a new med before now, but ok.

At that point I gave up. I could tell she wasn't interested. She actually told me there wasn't anything else we could do about the depression, but I should try to stay hopeful because I've pulled out of it before. I tried to explain that it was different this time. (P.S. Don't tell a depressive there's nothing she can do but wait it out!!!) I tried to tell her I was scared. It had never lasted this long before and never made me stop caring about everything like this. She dismissed me. Made another appointment. Gave me the scrip. Now I remember that I was wrong, it lasted this long when I was 19-21.

I don't like to think about that time of my life. Nightmare doesn't begin to describe what happened. The panic attacks became regular events the spring of my freshman year. So I went on the Paxil. It made me pass out in the hallway. And I had to drop my art class because my hands shook so badly I couldn't make the stupid squares straight for my color chart. My sophomore year I barely remember. I had some crazy episodes. One night I ripped all the pages out of the phone book, one at a time and threw them out of my dorm window. I drew a mural over my bed with magic markers. I threw dishes out of the window so I could hear them crash. Alienated my best friend and roommate. I remember stacking all the furniture one night. Gained weight. That summer I stayed in Atlanta instead of going home. I lived in a crappy house with a psycho racist control freak, one friend and one acquaintance. I had 3 jobs, waitressing, legal secretary and record promotions intern. No car. No air conditioning. The first few weeks I slept on the floor. I bought myself one knife, fork and spoon and 2 cups. The Olympics were in town. Life was uncomfortable.

Then I met "Nasty". My first college boyfriend. I had a crush on him because he played amazingly beautiful songs at open mic night at the Red Light Cafe. But he looked like Butthead from the Beavis and Butthead cartoon. He even dressed like Butthead. After 2 weeks he scared me with his 'devotion'. He wanted to fly to Arizona with me, I was going to see my mother. We had dated for 2 weeks! He gave me some dorky present too. A homemade necklace with a crystal, a mix tape of himself, and some other junk--he was 28. I wanted out but didn't know how to do it. He was manipulative and passive aggressive. He didn't have a car either and his hippie friends had B.O. But he gave me attention and affection which was new for me. He wrote me songs. That summer, I went psychotic.

All day long my mind said "You should die." A theme with several variations. For months that thought, like an evil voice in my head abused me. I've gone off track of this story....Anyway. I broke up with Nasty finally and after a few days of psychosis I took all my pills. Made sure no one was home. Turned out the lights and lit some candles. I played a Moby song on repeat. I wanted the things in my head to stop. I wanted peace and quiet. If I didn't wake up in the morning even better. Yadda yadda yadda stomach pumped, ended up in the psych ward against my will for 72 hours.

Fly back to Florida for my brother's wedding, stayed with my father to rest and hide from the mess I made in Georgia. Returned to school in the fall and dropped out in October. Ended up living with my mother in Phoenix where I developed a near catatonic depression. I was too depressed to bother with suicide. That was my first bout with agoraphobia. At the time I thought the eery landscape of Arizona caused it. I had grown used to the forested city of Atlanta. This desert place looked like the moon. The sky felt oppressive and I feared it would obliterate me if I went outside. Crazy. Mom took me to a series of mental health professionals, one made house calls. He meant well but suggested I join a gym. Exercise? It was a good day if I got out of my pajamas. Finally my mother checked me into a hospital out-patient program. (These were the good old days when I was on Pops' health insurance.) They put me on Wellbutrin. I went hypomanic about 3 weeks into it. They declared me better and I drove myself back to school in grandpa's car that I inherited. Just in time for the spring semester. Overnight I was better. I had a great year after that.

But, back to the original story. My shrink rushed me out of her office with nary a tissue for my tears. On my way out, I couldn't stop crying so I went to the bathroom to finish it. Locked myself in a stall and sobbed for an hour. Messy, snotty, coughing, loud sobbing. One woman asked if I was allright and did I want her to get help? I told her I was crazy and she just left without a word. This was in a hospital. I did hope she'd return with someone. She didn't. I got tired of standing and went to a waiting room where I called in sick to cancel my classes. Then I stood outside my shrink's office wondering what to do, still crying. I left. Still crying on the street outside the hospital I called my doc and left a message explaining where I was and that she didn't understand the seriousness of my condition. I filled the new scrip for the anti-convulsant Lamictol.

She called back. She asked if I wanted to go to the hospital because that was all she could do. I said yes. She had to check on space and would call me back. She did. She and her supervisor think I should be hospitalized. But I would have to pay for it. There are social workers though who work with patients to help them get medicaid. I told her I make too much money. She said I might need to reduce my income to qualify but once I did it would apply retroactively. I yelled. "I can barely pay my rent as it is! How can I cut my income?" She said, "You need to figure out what you really need right now. You need insurance." "I need a home! That's crazy!" Blah blah, she just wanted to make sure I knew all this before blah blah did I want her to reserve a bed? You couldn't check in until tomorrow...I asked if this was the cheapest hospital. She didn't know.

I sat on the wall facing 9th Avenue. Still crying and holding my sweater tight against the wind. All of this was too complicated. All I knew was that I felt completely unstable, out of control and terrified. My thoughts ran like this: I should be responsible and find the cheapest place instead of just checking in here--What difference does it make? I can't pay it anyway no matter how much. I might qualify for some aid in Jersey, I should look into that. She asked again if I wanted a bed. It was cold and exhaustion from the sobbing set in. I just wanted to go home. Too many decisions. Too complicated. I told her I was going home. I wandered around Chelsea instead. Eventually made my way to Times Square and the short bus.

So, the more I thought about it, the worse this whole thing smells. Apparently, it's standard practice for people to quit jobs so they can get medicaid. Well if I did that then I suppose I'd qualify for food stamps and maybe Section 8 housing assistance too. I DON'T WANT TO LIVE ON WELFARE. What has become of our country? In order to get the care I need, I have to make my situation worse and even more expensive.

My friend gave me another suggestion. His friend works in a public hospital in Brooklyn. He told him how easily one can avoid hospital bills. All I have to do is check in under a fake name and fake social security number. And I should do it at the end of the month when the regulars check themselves out to pick up their disability checks which they spend on crack only to return to the hospital when the money is gone. Public hospitals get government funding according to their number of patients, so at the end of the month they will take anybody to fill beds. They won't even check my fake SSN. I don't much care for that suggestion either.

Both of those scenarios require cheating and severe violations of my integrity. I may be able to cry all over myself in the street in front of the hot dog man and everybody else but I can't stomach that other mess. So I numbed myself and waded through the rest of the week. Not knowing what else to do.

The new drug makes me very drowsy. I didn't shower today or do anything productive because I felt so crappy. While getting changed for bed I noticed all the new bumps on my legs. The doctor told me if I got a rash from the meds I should go to the emergency room because that could kill me. Nice. But these look like hives more than a rash. There is no redness. I read the warning paper from the pharmacist. It says to go to the hospital if a rash develops. But if one has an allergic reaction, extremely rare, just stop taking it. Hives are listed as signs of allergy. So I didn't take the stuff tonight. I'll tell my doc on Monday.

So that's where I'm at. I'm tired of fighting. I'm not suicidal. I'm not feeling hopeless, just frustrated. But my mind is quiet in that blissful and disturbing way. The break from incessant uncontrollable thoughts is nice. But it's creepy too. I'm empty. I have nothing to say to anyone. There's nothing I want to do. I can't think about anything long enough to make any decisions. It's taken me 5 days to write this post and I'm only typing it now because I can't sleep.

This is life. I'll keep slogging on because that's what we have to do. I know I'll be ok eventually. I'm not so sure about this country. Something is going to break and it will be ugly.


it came back. Friday I was exhausted when I got up in the morning and stayed that way all weekend. I didn't leave the house for 4 days. Wednesday I broke down for no good reason and cried for 2 hours. I've been crying on and off for 3 days. This is not a hormone thing. I can't control this. I want it to stop. The overwhelming emotion floods through and debilitates me.


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It's dead. I killed it. The corpse of my social life rots on the curb. That's where I kicked it sometime in the last year. I've been getting better, so now when the weekends roll around, I actually want to get out of my house. But my list of people I can call is very short. By my own fault. I stopped calling them and no one calls me anymore because I said 'No' so many times.

Then last night I heard something unpleasant. Walking the third to last length of my last commute of my 12 hour Thursday, I was tired. Here's a rundown of my day. In the morning, at 10:30-45ish--filled with the fear that I may miss my train, I ran/walked 4 blocks to catch the bus to the city. I left late and then traffic in the tunnel was really really bad. Not only did I miss the last train to the village in Long Island where I teach, I almost missed the last train to the town within taxi distance to the campus. But I was lucky that I didn't have to wait for the subway or I would have had to cancel class. But after rushing through the underground tunnel, I caught the backup train. Arriving in BFE L.I. some 90 minutes later, I then had to pay $50 for a cab ride; knowing I drew it out of an account that would have a negative balance when my rent check was deposited. But, I had to get to work.

After I gave my 85 minute lecture and dawdled to fill the hour before the train left, I walked the half hour to the station. A walk in the humidity and full sunlight with a very heavy totebag carrying books and a gymbag with my swimming gear and other personal affects that went unused. I found out that day that people are required to take a tour of the athletic center before they can use it. But people are required to make an appointment for a tour. I have one on Tuesday. From there, it's the 90-100 minute train ride, with a change and wait in Jamaica then to Penn Station. And a push through the hundreds of people up the skinny stairs to speedwalk to my school where I will be 10 minutes late for a 2 hour seminar. After those 2 hours, I passed up the chance to go out with classmates because of the negative state of my bank account. Which meant it was time to go home. And walk to the Port Authority because I pay for my subway by the ride now.

I let down my hair because it had become a disaster anyway, it was 8:45 pm and trudged towards the Port Authority. The walk is 3.5 Avenues by 8 blocks, and usually takes 20 minutes when there is no traffic. Worried that I was rude to my friend when she was asking if I would join them, I typed out a text message apologizing. As I concentrated on my phone and walked, I got to 40th and 9th, The Port Authority. Walking along the front, crossing the 41st Street chasm dividing the P.A., I heard a voice echoing.

"There is a girl in desperate need of a man." Well that's not a nice thing to say. I stealthily glanced from side to side and see that I am the only one walking by. Could he mean me? No. That's ridiculous. "I mean, DESPERATELY. Look at her!" Ugh. I think he did mean me. I hit the SEND button on the phone, sighed and pondered the bruising, harsh comment. What about me would make someone say that? First of all, it aint true. I can't even take care of myself, what would I do with a man? Ah, perhaps that's it...am I visibly not taking care of myself now?

So I picture myself in my head to work it out. My hair surely had gone to frizz. It needs a cut. I was wearing Birkinstocks--but femme ones, you would too if you had to walk almost 2 hours that day! My skirt was all rumpled and stretched out. Ok, maybe he had reason. My blouse was a loose one,untucked--I have no waist so I can't tuck shirts in, it makes me look like a freak with boobs sitting on my hips! I know I wasn't smiling. I certainly wasn't excited about going home. I was tired. My make up had melted off hours ago. Does all that equal 'looking like she desperately needs a man'?

Well, anyone who has spent even one hour in Manhattan knows how sickeningly beautiful and put together the women in my age bracket are. They get fancy haircuts with coloring, wear tight and skimpy clothes, jewelry, sexy shoes, cute bags...it's very expensive to look that way! Midtown looks like a real-life fashion magazine. With frumpy tourists and cops thrown in for "authenticity". But the truth is, no Wall Street Suit or Hipster guy will look at a woman who's not a walking ad for Vogue. Except, of course, to pity them.

Regardless, have I let myself go? I thought I looked nice when I left in the morning. I was late because I ironed my skirt. (A VERY new thing, this ironing. It used to be a once a year event.) I put makeup on in the taxi on the way to work. My hair is a wreck. Fabulous. But because I've seen myself looking good I like to carry that image in my head. It helps with confidence. But maybe I'm clinging to that picture while getting slovenly with the reality? Crap. That's not good.

Whatever. I climbed into the short bus to wait for it to fill so we could all go back to Jersey. I found myself wishing I had stopped and confronted the Jerk. Clearly he has issues to be so interested in my "needy" state. Maybe he was attracted to me and then repulsed? We'll never know.

I look forward to the day when such ridiculous things don't even register with me, let alone occupy half an hour of thinking time. One day I'll have real things to worry about. (money isn't worth worrying about because there is nothing I can do until the friggin school distributes our student loans. NJ is way too expensive, I may have to go back to NYC and roommate life.) So, this blog is my Friday night entertainment because I didn't have the energy or the money to do anything else. For which I take full responsibility and expect no sympathy. There's a show about papermaking artists on PBS now. I hate television.