Thursday, May 23, 2013

Oldie but... well, you decide

Was looking around my drive in search of a photo, and found this essay I wrote back in my undergraduate days. Does it hold up well?

Place Assignment: The Commute

He always takes Chester Avenue on the way to work. He doesn’t particularly like Chester. In fact, he dislikes it intensely. There’s a traffic signal every other block or so. If the timing is just right – or rather, just wrong – he has to stop and start twenty-three times between the moment he turns onto Chester until he finally hops on I-71. He’s counted. His personal best thus far is ten stops. He’s tried to duplicate this feat, but the signals don’t seem to have a particular pattern. Chester is bleak, and it epitomizes the seediness of East Cleveland. During the wintertime, it seems as though every derelict in the city gathers there to huddle around makeshift bonfires. There are several abandoned homes along Chester, and all have been vandalized. In one particularly crazy week, someone or ones torched several of the empty homes. The police suspected an insurance arson scam, but could never prove it. Still, he takes Chester on the way to work because the traffic on Carnegie Avenue is brutal, even at eight in the evening.

He dreads the commute to work. Work itself is fine. Proofreading checks is dull and not the least bit challenging, but it leaves him alone with his thoughts, and that suits his brooding, introspective nature. He takes pride in his accuracy – sometimes, he goes months without making a mistake – and he likes most of his co-workers. His supervisor Katherine is beautiful, and he finds her irresistible. Even though she’s married and some ten years older than him, she can tell he has a crush on her, and flirts with him shamelessly. When no one else is within earshot, he calls her “Kitty” and they both constantly find excuses to touch one another – a little pat on the shoulder here, a friendly hand on her waist when he walks past her there. These little interactions set him aflame, and he often daydreams of making love to her while she purrs in his ear. Nothing will come of this flirtation, but even though he can’t conceive of sleeping with a married woman, the way he covets Kitty is the beginning of a disturbing trend of becoming attracted to, and eventually sleeping with, married women.

On the way back from work, he takes Carnegie. The oppressively claustrophobic sea of cars that clog the traffic during normal hours is non-existent at four in the morning. He’s a creature of obsessive-compulsive routine, and he always times himself to see how consistent his driving is. Now that he’s been on the job for a few months, he has perfected his routine so that it takes him exactly twenty minutes to go from work to the corner of Carnegie and Prospect. He uses this intersection as a landmark because it’s exactly thirteen minutes from his apartment. There’s a large digital clock and thermometer display on the northwest corner, and he always checks it as he drives past. On this particular night, he’s fifteen minutes later than usual, but this is because it’s brutally cold, even for Cleveland, and he helped jump-start two of his co-workers’ cars when their engines refused to turn over.

He’s absurdly proud of the fact that his car not only started right up, but also had enough juice to jump-start two others, almost as though he were personally responsible for his car’s superior tolerance for extremely cold weather. Kitty winked at him when she saw him jump-start one of the pressmen’s beat-up Mustang. He can’t remember the pressman’s name – Bob? Rob? – but he’s so exhilarated during the drive back that for a second, what he sees on the corner of Carnegie and Prospect doesn’t quite register. He slows down to a near-stop as he waits for the digital display to cycle through the time and display the temperature. Minus twenty-six degrees! This is easily the coldest temperature he’s ever seen. He pulls over to the side of the road and gets out of the car. It feels cold, but not extremely so. Then a frigid gust of wind comes through and shocks him with its iciness. His eyes well up, and the hair in his nose crimps. He spits on the road and watches the saliva freeze solid in less than a minute. Minus twenty-six – a multiple of lucky thirteen, to boot! For one of the few times of his life, he experiences true happiness. He smiles and gets back in his car. Exactly thirteen minutes later, he’s home.

1 comment:

Tracie Rathsack said...

I liked it...was a nice story since it's quite warm in DC!