The Grownup Train by Chris Honore’ (Colombia 1967-69)
Chris Honore’ was born in occupied Denmark, during WWII. After the war, he immigrated to America. He went to public schools and then attended San Jose State University and the University of California, at Berkeley, where he earned a teaching credential, an M.A. and a Ph.D. After teaching high school English for two years, he joined the Peace Corps. He’s a freelance journalist based in Ashland, Oregon. His wife owns a bookstore on Main Street. His son is a cinematographer, living in Southern California.
THE GROWNUP TRAIN
by Chris Honore’
They stood on the train platform, eyes narrowed, bodies angled to the right, looking down the track, waiting. A train had just passed through. Another would be along shortly.
They were hardcore, their posture and dress conveying a self-conscious, determined insouciance: shoulders hunched, knees slightly bent, baggy denim shorts riding precariously low on their hips, their hair a shag carpet of stiff, uneven spikes. Both wore frayed black T-shirts, the seams separating, revealing startling white skin.
The taller of the two held a skateboard cupped in his left hand, the flat side pressed against his hip, the undercarriage revealing neoprene, day-glo wheels and aluminum axles, called, oddly, trucks. An oval yin-yang decal, centered, declared, “I Found Animal Chin.” The nose of the board was shredded, the rails and tail ground down to bare wood.
The shorter of the two stood alongside, a similar board in hand — hard-ridden, the wheels a hot pink. He held the board by the nose, the tail resting on the toe of his black, high-top sneaker. Stenciled on the front of his T-shirt, in dripping red letters, was the declaration: “Skateboarding Is Not A Crime.” A nose ring looped through his left nostril.
“Mickey,” the short one said, glancing up at the screen flashing “Concord.” “Man, we got to get this one. Else we’ll be here all day.”
“Only if there’s not a ton of suits on board. Like that last train. Hate to ride during commute hour, man, all those guys, cell phones jammed to their ears, texting, laptops open. They give me the heebie jeebies.”
“I hear ya, man. Dudes all stressed, twisted tighter’n a dog chew. But we gotta share the zone. Otherwise, how else we gettin’ home?”
“Anthony, just chill. It’s like I keep tellin’ ya. The journey, man, not the destination.”
“That’s cool, Mick. But don’t tell that to someone who’s gotta seriously hit the head. Right now, a porcelain bowel, that would be my destination. Suits or no, man, I am definitely on the next train.”
“So use the john here. What’s the big deal?”
“You’re kidding, right? Do I look like I have a death wish? The men’s head in this station? It’s a condo for the wacked-out night crawlers. No one, like no one, goes in there unless it’s by invitation. I’ll hold it, man. But I am, dude, getting on that train.”
Mickey looked around, checking the smooth concrete surface of the platform. “You think anyone’d mind we rode our boards here?”
“Mick, that definitely would not be cool. Security is way tight. Not to mention you might take a header over the side. Like onto the third rail? Turn you into one crispy critter.”
“Surface is pretty smooth, though. Make a good ride. Use those big round cement barrels people are sitting on to do some grinds, few ollies. Place is a skate park.”
“Mick . . .”
“I’m cool. Just sayin’ how the place is set up. Next train we’re outta here. But I am definitely not sitting next to a suit. None of those nerds can find their way out of a phone booth with a map, least of all find the source.”
Mickey said this while gazing down the track, his forefinger absently rubbing the teardrop stud that rode snugly below his lower lip.
“Hear ya, man, the nerd herd. Maybe it’s the tie. Got to be the tie, man. Cuts off the circulation to the brain. Shuts down the quest.”
Anthony absently put the tail of his board on the concrete walkway and gave it a snapping spin, landing the tail back on the toe of his sneaker. Then, with a sharp kick upward, he caught the board neatly in one hand. It was a quick, elegant move, so practiced as to be automatic.
Suddenly Mickey stood straighter, squaring his shoulders, his eyes fixed, his mouth dropping slightly open. Anthony turned, following his gaze. Coming toward them was a girl, young, maybe seventeen, eighteen tops, short black dress revealing long white legs, her lips painted a plum purple, her hair obsidian, her fingernails a deep black. Above the elbow of her right arm was a tattoo, two delicate strands of barbed wire interlaced. Everything about her said Goth, the princess of darkness. Late night raves, crows perched on a long uneven fence, frenetic music pulsating, a multitude of hands reaching high in the air, some holding glo-sticks.
“Anthony, check it. Check it out, dude. Is she a stone-cold fox or what?”
“Unbelievable, man. A morsel. Damn she’s fine.”
A vagrant breeze lifted her shoulder length hair and pushed the silky dress against her hips and legs. She walked toward them, provocative, self-contained, the heels of her knee-high boots clicking on the platform.
The sound of metal moving on metal came from the tunnel to the right. People on the platform stirred, gathering up briefcases and papers, walking toward the edge of the platform.
“Let’s sit next to her, Mick.”
“I’m up for it, absolutely.”
“How ’bout we ask her to get a soda, like at her stop, get off with her, find a place.”
“I’m cool with that. Definitely. You got any money?”
Anthony shoved a hand deep into his front pocket, bringing out his train ticket and some lint. “Nope, not one centavo, bro. Tapped. You?”
Mick shook his head. “My old man won’t spring for more allowance. Got me on this meager weekly couldn’t keep a gnat alive for one day. Dude is deeply tight. Sleeps with his wallet under his pillow. One eye open. Where’s the trust?”
“Heard that. My old man’s like some financial terminator.”
“I’m talkin’ to her anyway, pesos or no. Goin’ for it, dude. I mean, look at her. Forsake all others, hang up my board, devote myself to her contentment full-time. Live somewhere down in Baja, Sea of Cortez, get a beach shack, watch long sunsets while she makes plates of frijoles and runs her hands through my hair. I’m there.”
Anthony and Mick, ignoring the Concord train sliding into the station, watched the girl approach, smiling, suddenly waving, quickening her pace.
“Damn Sam. Mick, check it, she’s waving at you. Looka that. She’s smiling. You believe this?”
“I . . . ”
“Mick, gees, do something. Give the babe a wave back. Say something . . . anything.”
Mick, a hello caught in his throat, his right hand beginning an upward extension, heard a voice just behind him.
Both Mick and Anthony turned as one, glancing over their shoulders. A business type, early twenties, dark pin stripe suit, briefcase, the top button of his white shirt unbuttoned, his muted gray tie loose, walked past them.
“Larry, hey,” Monica called back. After a tentative embrace, arms encircling each other, they walked toward the slowing Concord train, the doors sliding open with a whisper.
“Whoa, dude,” Anthony said.
“Close call, man. But I think she looked at me. Felt we had a moment. We totally made a connection. Too bad Larry showed. Coulda gone another way, man. She, like, saw me, but what could she do?”
Anthony nodded, moving toward the train doors. “I really gotta hit the head, man. Time to boogie.”
“Monica. Always liked that name.”
“You come in with me at the Concord station, I’ll use the head there.”
“I gotta get more allowance. I’m living on slave wages. Spare change. I’m not kidding. It’s affecting my life style. My old man needs a wake up call. Needs to get hooked up with my economic situation.”
Anthony, shifting his board to his right hand, took the first open seat. Mick sat across from him, his board on his lap.
“I’m feeling some pressure here, Mick. If the head at Concord is locked, I’m toast.”
Mick stared absently out the window at the people still on the platform. Most looked harried, tired, some sitting on round concrete benches, hunched forward, reading, talking on cell phones, others just staring ahead, blankly, waiting.
“Definitely makes you think, man,” he said. “Definitely.”