Morning scene #42

“Memphis versus St. Louis…” He waited.

“St. Louis,” she answered quietly, looking down at the paper.

“New Mexico versus Long Beach State?”

“Long Beach State.”

He held his pen three inches above the sheet on his right leg as he sat. His starched white shirt cuff ventured out from the sleeve of his blue pinstripe suit jacket. She was thoughtful but decisive with each choice, and he wrote as instructed, never questioning except when offering the next bracket. He directed his entries onto the page while fighting the shake of the subway. He paused to rub his nose. An itch perhaps. A stubborn cold? She looked up at him, eager, even impatient. They weren’t finished, and she knew it. Yet she held her Dora the Explorer backpack tightly on her lap. Her legs dangled over the seat.

“Louisville versus Davidson…”


Her brother, to her left and about the same age, looked at their father’s writing and his sister’s predictions. The boy’s mouth was slightly agape, his eyes in a trance at the piece of paper that no doubt was to be entered shortly into the office pool.

photo: detail/Under the Stars Photography



“Bromine and hypobromous acid make water at room temperature,” she said, over the rapid clack of the train wheels on the downtown #2 express. “Remember that; it’s going to be on the test.”

Tall and slender, she clicked her gum and swayed her taut black-jeaned hips against the brushed steel pole as her shorter blonde girlfriend and the coffee-skinned boy listened. He leaned against the door, facing them, who together clutched the overhang to my right.

His voice was soft and familiar when he looked at the tall girl, “You know kinetic molecular theory will be on this, right?” A smirk creased his smooth skin.

“Shut UUUP!” she shrieked.

The second girl: “Oh, man.”

“It’s totally going to be on it,” he said. “I am totally ready for it.” His white teeth appeared.

There was silence for a moment as the train hurtled past the 66th Street station toward Times Square, my destination.

“Let’s see,” the tall one began again, “H-G is… H-G…”

“…is mercury,” a new voice piped. The voice was seated below the four of us. “Hg is mercury.” A woman with grey hair falling from her scalp like thirsty weeping willow branches, eyeglasses with yellowing lenses and whitish peach fuzz on her cheeks looked up at the three. “I was a chemistry major.”

“No waaay!” And the tall girl handed the group’s study sheet to the older woman, A Mentor Discovered.

“Well,” as her voice dropped in pitch, and as she looked at the pencil-written one-pager, “it was a long time ago. 1965. A lot has changed.” She held the page between her hands like she was holding butterfly wings. The white, single-ruled note-sheet shook slightly as she glanced over sentences, charts and pictures. The three teens formed a canopy over her.

A lot has changed. Hg was still mercury; the Periodic Table was, is and always would be; but in 1965, was this woman the one with the bellbottom jeans, the sleek blonde hair, the rosy cheeks, or was she always hidden, only to emerge with the answer to a question others were wrestling with in front of her, as though she was the invisible contributor who is ever ready but never intrusive?

She handed back the paper after her brief study, and there was silence. The train wheels clacked, and the long iron tube thrust southward, passing 50th Street, carrying hundreds of the more than five million people circulating like blood through arteries around an island at the edge of an ocean.

The teenagers resumed their chattering. The old lady looked into their conversation—wistful for what was lost? longing for something never gained? judging her popular classmates nearly half a century after the fact?—her eyes participating, probing, tacitly questioning and answering, her lips forming a slight smile.

photo: Howard Freeman

uptown express #3

The woman with the page haircut stood steps away from the couple twenty years her younger as they clung to the subway pole in the center of the car. She considered them.

The younger woman faced her lover. She wore a spaghetti-strap lycra top, revealing a tattoo of a black-and-blue star between her shoulder blades. Her hair was pulled up; her skin was creamy with freckles. Her lover moved into her and let his hand glide over the trickle of hair that had escaped the barrette. He spoke softly with her; his teeth were crooked and yellowing. He kissed her ear.

The older woman looked away, smiling at an advertisement above her head as her forearm brushed against the scarred space beneath her blouse.

The Singer

111408telzeyI heard faint singing, even though I had earbuds in from my iPhone on the downtown B train, headed for Herald Square.


I looked down, and there was a Chinese lady, about 70 years old I’d guess, reading sheet music inside plastic slip covers and a dull pink plastic floppy binder.  The lyrics were in Mandarin or Cantonese characters, and I wouldn’t have known it was music were she not singing while her eyes groomed the page.  Her voice was gentle, between a child’s plea in the middle of the night and a bird’s call.  In her salt-and-pepper hair was a sequined pink hair-band.  She had three bags: a red plastic bag with empty Tupperware containers, a white canvas tote bag with the words “Advanced Imagery” printed on it, and a green one closed at the top.  Her rust fleece jacket, zipped to the sternum, revealed a maroon and cream scarf wrapped neatly around her neck.


A Hispanic woman in her 20s was sitting next to this Singer, occasionally looking at the sheet music as well.  Unsmiling.  I wondered how long they’d been riding next to each other, and how long they still had to go.



photo:  telzey