scenes from urban working life

1. I’m at the gym, on the elliptical machine, which faces out the window to the street. They’ve installed TVs on the machines at the gym, which I hate — the screens block the view outside, and TV does not help me unwind after a day at work. So I turn off Fox News, or Headline News or whatever scandal-filled show the person before me has been watching. I listen to my iPod and watch the people outside instead. I like to evaluate their clothes and shoes, I like to wonder why some handsome man in a suit is running down the street, I like to imagine who the woman in the stilettos pulling a child along by the hand is going to meet.
I’m weirdly cut off from the world in my headphones, but I’m absorbing it, too.  Out of the corner of my eye I see something moving very fast, too small for car. It’s a man in a wheelchair. He’s being pushed by another man, who is running as fast as he can down the sidewalk. Both men have salt-and-pepper hair, and their faces are the deep tan that homeless people have, a mixture of sun and grit that have darkened once-pale skin. The man sitting in the chair has long, straight hair, well past his shoulders, and a long beard. Both are flowing behind him as the pair flies down the sidewalk, and suddenly the man in the wheelchair is a galloping horse, mane tossed about in the wind.

2. I’m on the train, riding home. The car is pretty empty and quiet. I’m reading a novel. Two stops from where I got on, the car fills with noise that cuts through the music on my headphones. I look up to see a bunch of teenagers jostling each other in the aisle, pushing each other into seats, trading places, laughing. They smile and yell at one another, and though I can’t make out their words, I can tell from the cadence of their speech that they are not speaking English. I turn down my music, and it’s French, fast and slang-filled. They are comfortable and awkward all at once, they are too friendly with one another, they are boisterous, and they are full of jokes and activity in the way that teenagers are everywhere. All the passengers in the car are watching, pulled in by youth and French slang. For a moment, I think I’m somewhere else entirely, and at my stop I find I’m sorry to remind myself that I’m not in Paris.

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