If I’d taken a shower, it’d been a completely different scene. If I’d taken a shower, I’d have put on a decent shirt and some clean jeans and a pair of white shoes. If I’d taken a shower, it would have meant that I was driving to the train station, it would have meant that I was headed to meet a girl, The Girl, and very likely I’d have ended up at the cafe across the street. The one with the cutie barista who seems to hold the conversation just slightly longer than necessary, and is friendly with just the right hint of flirtation. The coffee shop where the business school kids hang out. Everything is so strange in a fake worldly way, like the inside of a Pier One Imports, filled with future HR managers and aspiring CEOs. I’ve never been comfortable around such unashamed capitalists. Its so bright and clean in that coffee shop across the street, and the always play trendy international music. I’d never set foot in there if not for The Girl.
But this morning The Girl had to study. And because she had to study, she could not meet me for breakfast. But breakfast must be eaten, and I’d grown fond of Thursday morning breakfast in the city. I was also very steadfast in my determination not to let This Girl take up too much attention in my life, because she doesn’t even see me as The Boy, but still, I adore her. So if I wanted to take the train into the city by myself to eat breakfast across the street from the place that her and I usually eat breakfast on a Thursday morning…then I was going to fucking do it. But, as an immediate result of not meeting The Girl, I did not take a shower. I did not go home after the overnight shift, I did not wear a decent shirt, nor clean jeans, nor white shoes. Instead, I biked myself in the pre-dawn light from the factory to the train station in my work Dickie’s, and my union cap, and my ancient punk rock hoodie. I got on the commuter train full of businessmen with their suit and tie uniforms, and their trendy leather messenger bags, and their shiny leather shoes; and I stood (somewhat sweatily) among them in all my organized labor glory. I held my head high and I dared them to make eye contact. My smile was mean.
I was the only white person to get off at my stop. This neighborhood can be, and often is, described as a “bad area.” One must walk through the public housing towers to get to campus, to the area next to campus where I usually meet up with The Girl. Residents of these particular housing projects are largely East African immigrants. It is an interesting place that the suburbanites often refer to as “Little Somalia” or “Little Mogadishu” and the public housing towers as the “Crack Stacks.” These are not terms said with much affection.
The towers are quiet this early in the morning, and the sun makes Riverside Avenue shine like its something special. I know better, I’ve seen this illusion before. You can only pay with cash at the Hard Times Cafe, but for a very low price, they’ll make you the best vegan biscuits and gravy in the city. Though normally an unapologetic carnivore, the meal, often cooked by a heavily tattooed transvestite, has become a source of comfort in my life. A concept that can hardly be understood by the business school kids across the street.