I’ve started talking to myself; I’m pretty sure that's the first sign of going crazy. I hold a charming conversation with myself while I get ready for work in the morning, but when my roommates walk by my room I’m reminded how thin the walls are and shut myself up. I grab my keys and leave my apartment, locking the door behind me.
Dorchester is a new and strange place to my suburban senses. There’s something always going on—cars speeding down Dot Ave, construction workers on break all traveling in herds to the Burger King and parking lot across the street, and then there’s the occasional beggar asking for anything you can spare. I do sometimes, but mostly not.
I turn the corner toward Savin Hill station only to see my train pull up to the station on the opposite end of the street I’m on. I’d run but, more often than not, my hustling is in vain, as I typically reach the station panting and sweaty just in time to see the train take off without me. I stop and smell the roses, figuratively speaking that is. I walk down the sidewalk past lawns, litter and dog sh*t as my train ahead takes off. The leafless trees sway as the wind howls; my jacket isn’t warm enough, but I figure I’ll cut my losses and wait for the next train to avoid being late.
I get to the station, holding my bag over the sliding doors so it hits the sensors. The doors open and I slide through. The alarm blares three times, as per usual, but no T employee is on duty, so I take a seat. Seven minutes until my train comes.
“Hey, can I tell you something?” Some shifty-looking stranger asks me.
“What?” I say in a tone hoping to deter this conversationalist, while also trying not to get stabbed.
Long story short, this stranger rationalizes his use of medical marijuana on public transport and regales me with how the last person he tried talking to about this matter ended up throwing hands with him.
“People don’t give a sh*t any more,” he says defensively.
Among the many things I want to say, I nod and silently wish my train would arrive sooner.
“The next…alewife…train…is now approaching,” the automated voice speaks.
I jump on the train and listen to my upbeat music, anticipating the chaos I will endure in my upcoming eight-hour shift. The doors open at Downtown Crossing; I take the escalator and arrive at ground level. Downtown is a fun place if you go there to have fun. Otherwise, it's just a passing view and you see it for what it really is, which is just another city. The streets are bustling with Bostonians and tourists alike, the homeless bundle up and sleep alongside Washington Street and the air smells like hotdogs.
The cafe up ahead has a line going out the door. A wave of dread washes over me. I walk in and see the manager and a coworker manically making lattes and cappuccinos like their lives depend on it, chipping away at the line only for new customers to take their place. I wave to them but they’re too preoccupied to notice.
I get ready for my shift in the back office, watching the lobby through the security cameras. I grit my teeth, my heart rate goes up and I take one more deep breath before clocking in. I make myself a red eye—it's bitter and scalding—and get to business. The caffeine makes me twitchy; I have pins and needles in my palms, but I’m moving at mach speeds. The chatter amidst the lobby, the music playing overhead, the whir of the blender—I can’t think, but I wasn’t paid to think. I’m making flat whites and cortados for people who pretend to know the difference. Preparing online orders. Ringing people up. All the while, I’m supposed to be remembering the closing procedures.
After five hours of this, I go in the back kitchen and sit on a milk crate. I steady my breathing and put my hands in my armpits to stop them from shaking. Hunched over and stretched thin, I remember that I still have to give the baristas their breaks. I return to the bar to do so.
Later on and one man short, some guy on PCP walks in waving his arms about like a lunatic while he paces around the lobby talking to himself. Customers appear anxious and look to me, the acting manager, to do something about it. Again, long story short, I told him to buy something and sit down or leave. He promptly spit on the couch. I firmly told him to leave, mentally preparing for the worst possible outcome, looking him in the eye.
He left but not without making a scene.
As I scrub the couch with disinfectant spray, I notice the city lights seeping into the lobby. The Paramount across the street illuminates the dim cafe with a warm harmony of orange, red and yellow. A pretty sight. The subways underground subtly shake the floor, as police cars with their sirens blaring race past the storefront.
As the sitting-in customers gradually leave, I goof around with the baristas while we clean. We lament and sigh with relief over how such a crazy day could eventually end. The bar is made presentable, the sandwiches wrapped, the bathrooms cleaned and the money is counted, then we three go our separate ways.
I make my way, shivering through the urban nocturne, seeing people out and about doing what friends do on a Saturday night. Down in the train station, I leave a bag of unsold croissants next to a man sleeping on the ground in the tunnel, thinking he’s in for a surprise when he wakes up. If he wakes up.
The train arrives right on time and I walk on, appreciating the warmth once inside. I listen to calming music and sit back, not knowing what I’ll do when I get back to my apartment. The train cars are filled with a mix of enthusiastic collegiate party-goers and service workers struggling to keep their eyes open. At Andrew station, two people sit on a bench with an umbrella opened in front of them; thin clouds of smoke rise past the umbrella. The doors on the train close and I resume my on-rails journey.
The doors open.
I move as fast as socially acceptable to the stairs, stepping up two steps at a time. I get to the top and loop around the railing toward the exit, incidentally facing other people walking up another staircase, all giving me looks like “who’s this guy?” I’m the first one through the sliding doors and down the stairs, putting some elbow grease into that door only to get stabbed in the neck by the harsh wind once truly exposed to the elements, reminding me why I don’t want to dilly dally on my walk back home.
The wind howls sporadically. My eyes tear. My stomach growls. I see the Burger King. I also see the stools placed upside down on the counters despite the lights still on. My smile fades. A car races off of the street and zips to the drive-thru as I walk by. I pass other closed storefronts. I pass a gay bar and hear the music thumping. There are blinds on the front windows, but I can tell they have a disco ball in there.
Past a few more closed storefronts and bars and unfortunate souls left in the cold, I arrive at my apartment. I walk up the stairs as my keys in hand clinkle, and finally to my room. I open the door, close it, lock it and roll into bed swiftly and deservedly. I’m still wearing my jeans. My body aches. After a moment of reluctantly standing up, I begin removing my work clothes. The top button on my pants comes out.
“Fantastic!” I say aloud, as my sight moves from the button on the floor to the mirror on the door, where I see me donning an animated sarcastic smile.