An hour in Oakland

On Telegraph, I claimed an empty vending space beside Hilda the Cleavage Queen, because there weren't many options and she's a better view than Jasper. She's an attractive woman and always wears something low-cut and loose-fitting. Today she was also wearing a skirt, up high to the thigh.

We said good morning as I was setting up the table, and talked off and on during the day, more than we have in the past. 

A little after noon, a male customer was over-obviously leering at her, and she told him to fuck off.

After he'd walked away obnoxiously laughing, Hilda began complaining about men in general. She couldn't complain to the man on her other side because he didn't speak English, so she complained to me, saying something dismissive about men, as if I'm not one of them. As if I hadn't been sitting in the sunshine and wearing shades, slyly watching her while also, slightly, reading a book.

None of that did I say, of course. I simply nodded like an understanding gay best buddy, as she went on and on about how she hates it when men look at her the way that man had.

Unsure what I was supposed to say, I boldly went where no man named Doug had gone before, and said, "Have you ever considered, uh, a baggy sweater and slacks?" This was a calculated risk, a dance over the line of good male manners, and it could've redirected her rage at me, but it didn't.

"Yeah, I do dress up a little when I'm selling on the Ave," she said. "It helps sales — but I still hate guys like him."

"I suppose men bother you everywhere, whether you're dressed up or dressed down."

"You got that right, brother." Oh, we're siblings now?

"I'd hate that," I said. "I always prefer being left along." She said nothing, so after a moment I finished my thought: "If I was a pretty woman, I'd get a big purple prosthetic scar and glue it to my cheek every morning."

She looked at me like I'm crazy, which of course I am, and didn't say much the rest of the afternoon.

♦ ♦ ♦  

Some homeless jerk, smoking a cigarette and babbling incoherently, was loitering around my table. He was near enough to be a nuisance, but not near enough for me to shoo him.

Then a lady stopped to look at the fish and blasphemy for sale, and the bum came closer. Was he another masher, like the man who'd bothered Hilda? No, he was talking about the aliens that recently abducted Chelsea Clinton. You heard about that, right? Yeah. 

I sighed and got out of my chair to walk around the table and try verbally nudging him elsewhere, but before I got there or even said anything, he asked the lady for a light, and she reached to share a flame. Then they stood at my table, blowing noxious fumes at each other and me, and discussing what the aliens' intent might've been.

There wasn't a trace of wind all day, so I had to ask them to back away from the table, please.

♦ ♦ ♦  

On my BART ride home, I sat in the front car, and as we pulled into the 19th Street Station in Oakland, something thudded loudly.

The train slammed to a halt so quickly that my backpack toppled off the seat. We were inside the station, and through the windows I watched people move toward the front of the train, toward me — a marvelous view of everyone holding their hands over their mouths, looking down, seeing something or whatever was left of someone under the wheels.

After not long watching this, it was too many faces wearing the same face, the same stare of despair, so I read a zine from my backpack, but soon the lights went off.

The train's engine had stopped, leaving us in relative darkness and eeriness, with nothing to do except watch out the windows as cops and paramedics strolled too casually through the station. If it was an emergency they would've been jogging, or at least walking fast, so… this wasn't an emergency.

It was 'all systems no', to keep from frying the corpse underneath us, so the air conditioning had gone off with the engine and lights. The air in the train grew warm, then hot, then hotter. Now and then came the staccato of electric feedback, and after some while (it was too dark to see my watch) the driver made an announcement over the somehow-still-powered public address system: "Uh, folks, we'll be off-loading shortly."

More time went by, and again she said, "We'll be off-loading shortly," and added, "as soon as I can pull the whole train into the station." The back-end cars were still in the tunnel, apparently.

Eventually, the lights and a/c flickered on again, the engine hummed, and the train inched its way forward, very slowly. We stopped, the doors whooshed open, and—

"Off the train! Off the train! Everyone off the train!" It wasn't our driver; it was over the station's PA system, and instead of the driver's calm voice, the station agent sounded downright frenzied. "Off the train! Get off the train!" This was the voice you'd use if you wanted to provoke a panic. Sensing and seeing no danger, I let women and children off first, but stepping through the doors I half-expected to see flames, or at least smoke. 

Nope. There was nothing to see, certainly nothing to justify the frantic tone of the announcements.

And there we were, stranded where nobody wanted to be — downtown Oakland. I wandered around on the crowded platform, and stopped to eavesdrop as a man told a cop what he'd seen.

As the train had arrived, he said, a woman had hurled herself off the edge, and laid down on the track. The train, of course, had already slowed coming into the station, and we'd been nearly stopped before the jump and thud — and the thud hadn't even been her. The witness said it was some heroic yuppie hurling his briefcase against the driver's window, to alert her to slam on the brakes.

The woman who'd tried to kill herself had only scrapes, cuts and bruises from the fall, and the police had already arrested her and taken her away. Honestly, it was a little disappointing that nobody had died, or even been seriously injured.

Not much blood. No dead body. No excitement, really; only a long and stupid delay, as more and more passengers descended to the platform to wait for trains that weren't coming, because our train was blocking the way.

"Platform 2 is now closed," came another, calmer announcement over the station's PA. "Please exit Platform 2. All trains will arrive on Platform 1 or Platform 3," which wasn't enough information at all. Were we supposed to go to Platform 1, or Platform 3? Hundreds asked, but just like God, the voice from above wouldn't answer. 

As I rode an overcrowded escalator up, the train I'd come in on pulled out, with only the driver and a couple of cops on board. Presumably, it was an express run to the mechanics' shop, where guys in overalls and lawyers and detectives would examine the damage done by a briefcase.

The voice in the ceiling told passengers bound for San Francisco to wait on Platform 3, so the multitudes headed that way, me among them.

Perhaps 45 minutes had passed since the thud, with no trains coming through. When one finally came, it came to Platform 2, where we'd been instructed not to be, and foul language flew up at the speakers in the ceiling.

"Your attention please," said the voice. "Westbound passengers to San Francisco should wait on Platform 2. Repeat, Platform 2 is now open." The grousing multitudes then trod toward Platform 2, from whence we'd come ten minutes earlier.

Soon the concourse was so crowded it's a surprise nobody accidentally fell over the edge and onto the tracks. Elbow-to-ribcage-to-elbow were were packed, and I smiled at my victims during several minutes of a delightful fart spree.

When the next train pulled in fifteen minutes later, hundreds of short-tempered people got aboard, but I was not among them. It was gonna be standing-room only, and I decided I'd rather wait for a seat on the next train.

With the farting and all, I had rather a good time, but still, I got home more than an hour later than I should have.

And most of the BART system runs through 19th Street Station, so it wasn't merely hundreds of people inconvenienced, it was thousands — trains were backed up all along all the lines, maybe except trains from San Francisco to Fremont.

All those people were late for dinner, missed happy hour or the first three innings of a ball game, just because someone wanted to kill herself and couldn't even do that right.

It's not even a joke, only common courtesy, to say: If you want to kill yourself, please suicide alone in your own home.

From Pathetic Life #25
Saturday, June 1, 1996

This is an entry retyped from an on-paper zine I wrote many years ago, called Pathetic Life. The opinions stated were my opinions then, but might not be my opinions now. Also, I said and did some disgusting things, so parental guidance is advised.

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