Thursday, April 26, 2007

Books, Trains, Wallets, Dystopia, Honesty

My wife at her CasaMurphy blog detailed my brush with fate the other day as I slipped on the train and my wallet slipped out. I found out by the time the Gold Line reached Union Station. I got back on the same train and returned where after scanning the platform and the tracks and even the tops of the trashcans in futility, I then wandered off to my car to-- albeit without a license-- drive the twenty-five miles to work. I had no choice; the next train would put me in a position of missing class, due to the calibration needed in my day to leave on, as they say in Irish on "Giota Beag," ceathrú tar éis an ocht a chlog nó ceathrú chun (go dtí i Uladh?) a naoi a chlog. As I headed towards my car, I saw a worker in an orange vest getting into a beat-up brown van. I asked him how to get in touch with the Lost and Found. Confusingly, after I explained in detail what had happened, only then, after I said I lost my wallet, did he pull it out of his coat pocket. (There was some "native-language interference" impeding this vatic exchange, admittedly. He told me he saw it fall out as I got on the train. My wallet had no cash. I thanked him, wishing God's blessings upon him (no atheists in foxholes) and apologized for not having any money for him as a reward. He assured me nothing had been touched inside, and he was right. Leoga, beannachtaí Dé air.

Intermission: Now, I beseech that same deity not to allow the MTA to make good on their threat to jack up their fares. From $3 to 5 for a day pass and then up to $8 or 9 in a few years: insane. How this will ease our City of Angels gridlock, ease pollution, and do a bit more to save this rapidly roasting planet (3 inches of rain here this year; 33 inches two years ago) is beyond me. Looking around the Blue Line, few of its passengers from my p-o-v look like they can afford it.

My faith in humanity restored if momentarily, I was as one of my speech students told me, still bugging out by the time I told my first class about the wallet as they filed in and I made small talk. I urged them all to spread the good karma about and be honest if they found a wallet of purse. A student in my next class told me that only last week she had lost her wallet and two hours later a man showed up at her door returning it to her. Often I have left the day pass stuck at the ticket machine in the window at the end of my commute home. Perhaps, I reckon, some poor soul or cheap soul may have used it in need. Did what goes around comes around at the Heritage Square station?

When the MTA makes us all buy TAP passes that can be electronically tracked and debited, such monkeywrenching largess will be made technologically impossible. Those TAP turnstiles stand at Union Station now, waiting to be activated. This portal will eliminate multiple uses of a pass by workers during the day, supposedly, although how Metro Rail will know one person gave it to a co-worker for use during the workday before giving it back is beyond me unless fingerprinting. GPS with RFID, or DNA comes into the picture. I guess the government knows more than I do. Another step towards centralized data collection, monitoring of citizens in the name of course of public safety and security, and a way to eliminate cash and anonymous transactions as we all leave our financial trails along with our daily itineraries in the hands of Big Brother, under the scrutiny of the police, and enriching by fat-cat contracts supposedly benign corporate entities. Soon we will not be able to go about and get lost in the crowd. The city will offer no refuge. For our own good, we will be told, we must be watched.

Later that jittery day, defying that future Mike Davis "City of Quartz" panopticon dystopia, on the Gold Line back home a cheerful conductor, # 14980, with bolo tie, ponytail, and I suspect Native American heritage happily strolled out of his driver's compartment. He wished us all a heartfelt good afternoon. I returned the compliment politely with a bit of a bemused half-smile (the Irish for "smile" can be mionghaire or leathghaire, i.e., a "small" or a "half-laugh.") as I stood in the aisle near what was the front and now would be the back of the train immediately behind the driver. I stand there often since I get off in three stops anyway and others need the seats more than I do.

Right after that happy conductor departed, presumably for the other end of the train, a man who looked like a teacher, but ten or fifteen years older than me, stood opposite me with I.B. Singer's "Gimpel the Fool" in a handsome new edition sticking out of his messenger bag. He took a picture on his phone of an older black woman all dressed up in a hat and green dress, like you might see at a funeral or church event. He then showed it to her, and asked politely if he could send it to her. After a bit of surprise, she answered she had no computer, but gave him her son's contact info, which the man wrote on the inside of his battered Spanish-English dictionary. I swear I saw written there Hollywood Adult School in his writing.

Today, a woman sat in the same seat the lady had the day before and pulled out "Anna Karenina" in the new Pevear-whateverofsky translation in Penguin, a great cover of a woman's legs with flowers clutched demurely or provocatively between them, no upper body, only the lap. I figured I'd better not ruin the ending for her as she was only a hundred pages in, but suffice to say I found it suitable that she was reading it on the train. Earlier a youngish Latino man going to work-- I think he wore a parking attendant's jacket-- on the Red Line held a Vintage edition of Kafka's "Metamorphosis and Other Stories." It made me consider how infrequently I saw non-students (or so I assume) reading literature. I rarely notice anyone reading books that I can identify. On the Long Beach buses, it's a few newspaper readers, some students, rarely with a textbook open. Not much book action on the LBTA.

Still, you never know. I finished Ron Rosenbaum's "The Shakespeare Wars" and wrote about it here a few days back. It's a hefty tome in size and theme. Well, less than a week ago, I saw a younger white man transferring from the Green to the Blue Line-- and so perhaps a traveller returning from LAX-- perusing a LAPL library copy of that same book!

A year ago, a demure Asian woman looking like a non-local by her dress, demeanor, and mien was making her way through "A Portrait of the Artist." On the same Gold Line-- where the Pasadena crowd coming to downtown looks markedly better off in terms of fashion worn and burdens carried-- I did see this very morning a woman holding a newish trade-sized Penguin Classics (the ones with darker covers and fine artwork) but I could not make out which one. The newer printings place the title at the bottom and not the middle or top of the cover, confounding erudite snobs like me. Handsome as the new editions are, I liked orange covers, smaller sizes, and the no-nonsense, sans-serif typeface. Penguins, at least since they gave up the severe Gill-inspired typography of the WWII period, carry often quite fine artwork however! But the press seems to be dumbing itself down with a lot of ephemeral titles and trivial mass-cult detritus. Yet I guess the publishers today want more than selling the Eliots or Jameses to us.

Blue Line readers tend towards Spanish tabloids, La Opinion, the free Hoy, dog-eared Bibles or, if desperate, Jehovah's Witness tracts. The scruffy (0f course) bum poring over Maeve Binchy's "Evening Class" one day on the Blue Line did make me pause one dull morning. He only pulled out of his plastic bag a battered paperback after spending about half an hour arranging his piece of pan dulce and shaking out from that same bag its crumbs. He had eaten it curled up away from me-- I sit in the single aisle end of the section seat over the wheel and not the usual ones facing the windows-- in the opposite seat, hiding from me as he munched. $250 fine, you know.


Bwca Brownie said...

so I read all the way to the end and found ... No Comments.
When there is so much there to comment on.
Possibly, previous readers are embarrassed to reveal their opinions. I have been told that being opinionated is a vice not a virtue.
Is this the post which began with Fr Vitale? a true Christian is a rare thing, bless him. and bless Martin Sheen too.from 'Badlands' to Jed Bartlet is quite a journey.

and bless your wallet-finder, who probably has not read City Of Quartz ( I wish I had not given away my copy) ... bless too 'Steeleye Convention' and 'Fairport Span'. I had tea once with Maddy Prior on Sunset at The Hyatt House.

wishing you Happy Easter Monday.

Fionnchú said...

BB, thanks so much for your kind reply. Somehow you conflated the old MTA post about my wallet gone missing with the newest one about what I found on the train the day before Good Friday, the same tracks, the same journey, but, as you say, winding up differently. Happy Easter to you and yours!