April 5, 2002
I walk to the subway station in the late silvery morning. The air is still too crisp but starting to soften. My muscles, rigid and aching from having tensed against the brutal winter for so many months, are just beginning to relax. The annual bone-melting of summer is just over the horizon; I can feel what I think of as my inner Gumby beginning to inhabit my skeleton. My desire for that Gumby feeling borders on sexual.
Entrance to the subterranean cavern that is the Logan Blvd. station is blocked by a herd of sullen, young toughs in baggy pants, their shirt tails hanging below their fleece jackets. They're already in full Gumby mode. They've probably been like that all winter. I'm envious. I glare at them ‘til they move out of my way - and then feel what a bitter old bat they must see in me. They're just kids on spring break. They don't know about earning a living yet. I muster a small smile of gratitude as they let me pass, but not enough to make up for the scowl.
|The Logan Blvd. Subway Stop|
Waiting in the subterranean tunnel is the usual assortment of just-past-normal-commuting-time riff raff. Nurses, students, moms with babies, and a few straggling working stiffs who just couldn't quite drag their sorry asses out of bed at a more appropriate hour this morning. I'm among the latter category. Among the gathering throng is one youngish guy I've noticed a few times before. He's wearing the same dirty, faded bell-bottom jeans he's worn before. I know this because the jeans have a raised seam running down the front of each pant-leg, and who would own more than one pair of pants of this description? Parenthetically, I can't quite get used to the reappearance of bell-bottoms, some thirty years after Bell-Bottom Blues was released by Derek and the Dominoes. He also wears an artificially distressed leather jacket. I guess he didn't have the patience to distress it through use. Slight build, pale freckled skin, square jaw, watery greenish eyes, and a beak of a nose that gives him an intellectual appearance he may or may not merit. Your basic Ashkenazi Jewish kid.
The train arrives and we all crowd in. A handful of lucky souls wedge themselves into the few remaining narrow seats. The young toughs who barred my entrance to the station earlier have saved a seat for me. I favor them with a dazzling smile, leftover from my days as a hot young babe and inherited from my mother. One of them winks back.
Mr. Ashkenazi is seated across from me. He pulls a hand-held electronic device out of a non-descript backpack and begins doing whatever it is one does with those things. There's nothing extraordinary in his behavior, his dress or his expression. What makes him extraordinary is his ornamentation. It's both primeval and traditional. The tops of his ears are pierced many times; he appears to be wearing five or six little silver rings in the top of each ear. It looks excruciating. Then there are the earlobes, pierced and then stretched so that the hole in each lobe accommodates a hollow cylinder about an inch in diameter. I can look right through each cylinder and see the acne on the kid's neck. A young friend recently informed me that there's a sexual thrill to be gained from the pain of stretching one's earlobes to this extent. Now I appreciate a sexual thrill as much as the next person, but I’ll pass on this one, thanks.
The ears, bizarre as they seem, are not the feature that rivets my attention. What calls my attention to this man and will not let it wander, is his hair. It's been my experience that people who find it necessary to mutilate themselves to the point of scarring their physical beings for life, generally have also dyed their hair to some unflattering color not found in nature (and really, when one has a spider web tattooed around one's neck and arms, "unflattering" doesn't really come into play. Picture such a person in a fitting room at Nordstrom's, trying on, say, a silk blouse, and saying "this color really isn't flattering for me." Not so much).
The ears, bizarre as they seem, are not the feature that rivets my attention. What calls my attention to this man and will not let it wander, is his hair. It's been my experience that people who find it necessary to mutilate themselves to the point of scarring their physical beings for life generally have also dyed their hair to some unflattering color not found in nature (and really, when one has a spider web tattooed around one's neck and arms, "unflattering" doesn't really come into play. Picture such a person in a fitting room at Nordstrom's, trying on, say, a silk blouse, and saying "this color really isn't flattering for me." Not so much). Anyway - this kid's hair is the same sandy-red color that he was most likely born with. It matches his freckles and his eyes. It's short and gelled up into a sort of iguana crest atop his head. Okay, it's a slightly strange hairstyle, but it could be washed and combed into something more reasonable if he suddenly had to attend his cousin's Bar Mitzvah, a funeral or High Holiday services with his parents. And let's face it, the hair is nothing compared to those - uh - ear cylinders.
With the Iguana-Do?
The thing about his hair that rivets my attention is that, in addition to the reptilian crest, he's wearing payahs. Yes, payahs: those side-curls or ear-locks worn by Orthodox and Chasidic Jewish men. These are the men who never leave their heads uncovered, who always wear at least a yarmulke, if not a fedora or a big fur hat (though in the present instance, covering his head would mean flattening the iguana-do, so I imagine that's his reason for eschewing any such accessory). These are the men who wear prayer shawls under their shirts and never touch another human being, except in the privacy of their own bedrooms (where, I might add, they’re rumored to provide their wives with a thrill that puts those silly earlobe-stretching cylinders to shame).
But I digress. So here's this youngish guy, looking like a cross between a young Woody Allen and every parent's worst nightmare of a date for his daughter (come to think of it, Woody Allen kind of is every parent's worst nightmare of a date for his daughter, but that's another discussion entirely). Where was I -------- oh yes - so here's this guy who's wearing your standard-issue youthful rebellion uniform, which, while unattractive, isn't particularly offensive except that it hasn't been washed in a month of Sundays. He has a reptilian hairdo, which is silly, but not all that unusual, certainly nothing to stare at before one's even had one's first cup of coffee. And then, this otherwise unremarkable young man exhibits two absolutely astounding characteristics, either of which might attract one's notice, but both of which I have never, in all my years, observed united in the same person. He has mutilated his ears to the point at which they will require a surgeon to return them to anything resembling normal, and at the absolute opposite end of the cultural scale, he's sporting payahs.
|Every parent's worst nightmare.|
And I watch him. He sits quietly, minding his own business. He neither makes eye contact deliberately nor avoids it. He doesn't shrink from the accidental touch of a fellow passenger, nor does he assert his presence obtrusively. He doesn't invade the space of the person sitting next to him, doesn't seem to shrink into himself, doesn't listen to loud music, doesn't do anything that would attract attention. He's just an average guy, sitting there, fiddling with his little hand-held computer thingy, while his physical appearance fairly shouts to the heavens some horrific internal conflict.
The train reaches Clark and Lake Streets. My stop, and his also. We both stand, among others. He steps back to allow me to go ahead of him. A perfect little gentleman. We all trudge up the two flights of wide stairs to the street, where I watch him head south, before I turn north and walk toward my office. I hope the warring factions in his head will reach detente before he explodes. I enter the lobby of my office building, and am standing in line for that sweet nectar of the gods, a Dunkin' Donuts coffee, when I realize I'm quietly humming Hatikvah.