I’m having a bit of a crisis when it comes to choosing a new book to read while riding the Metro to work. Right now, I’m stuck between a Dean Koontz novel (who I despise, he writes like someone made a word processor come to life but tried to copy Stephen King’s taste for the macabre) or a new science fiction book I picked up at the library. This one is called “Homefront” and it was written by an up-and-coming author Scott James Magner; although if he doesn’t make it as an author, he could always try the assassin route. Three names = good assassin (or so history tells us). I picked up Homefront because it’s similar to the science fiction novel I just finished writing and I wanted to see what my competition was writing. I’m leaning toward Magner because I hate Koontz. I only picked up his book because I had nothing else to read and it was the best option from the slim selection on the bookshelf in the break room at work. Hardly an excuse, I know, but it’s the best I’ve got. I’d much rather be reading Bradbury or for some strange reason I have a longing to reread “Catcher in the Rye”. Let the conspiracy theorists delve into that one.
This morning, I took my favorite seat on the westbound red line train headed into downtown St. Louis. Across the aisle, I spied a black man in khaki shorts and a dingy grey t-shirt sitting next to a red-haired woman in a dark blouse and ratty jeans. During the westward ride, he constantly dug noisily into a package of saltine crackers and munched on them equally as loud. At one point, he slithered past the woman (who I believe was his girlfriend by the way they kept necking) and took the seat behind her. He dropped one of his beloved crackers onto the black rubber walkway and instantly reached down to pick it up. Without bothering to dust it off, he crammed the cracker into his gaping mouth, chewing and spraying bits of cracker across the floor. His girlfriend looked about as annoyed as I felt and I wanted to holler at the mouth-breather that there is no eating on the train. The signs are plastered all over the car but I doubt he would have listened or cared. So I returned to my book debate.
Magner was definitely winning over Koontz. I started the book, Homefront, it opens with a scene with a scientist sitting before a Senate committee discussing the fate of mankind in the face of a virus that is mutating humanity. An interesting concept and easy to digest. The first chapter opens on a rogue starship full of these so-called mutants, it seems to be years in the future after the Senate committee debate. The characters I am first introduced to are named Jantine and Malik (a name that I’ve used on occasion in a fantasy epic I’ve been working on for the past two decades). These are just two of the many onboard the starcraft.
I’m interrupted when the train stops at Memorial Hospital. The cracker-eater and his girlfriend get off and I say good riddance, at least until a man sits behind me. He is breathing heavily, his lungs rattling in his chest. I assume he’s a smoker who almost missed the train. He has that body odor smell – sweat that resembles stale corn chips – and I’m wondering if he chose to sit behind me because I’m probably one of the few people on the train who bothered to shower today. I wonder if he’s enjoying the smell of Pert Plus shampoo and Lever soap. Although by the way he’s struggling to breathe, I don’t imagine he cares much about what he’s smelling at this point. I also wonder if maybe he needs to get off the train and go the hospital but his opportunity to get medical attention is left behind as the doors close and the train lurches forward.
The book is hardly keeping my attention and I find myself gazing out the window, watching the trees give way to the urban wilderness of East St. Louis. I recall a news story that I heard about, crime is on the rise especially on the Metrolink. It doesn’t surprise me looking around at the people who frequent the train. I realize that I’m probably a victim waiting to happen but I’m not scared. I carry nothing of any value, I suppose my Smartphone would be considered valuable but the damnable contraption is malfunctioning. I can make and receive calls but no one can hear my voice – so I have a phone that is not a phone. An oxymoron if I ever heard one. Plus I’m comforted by the fact that if some fool did try to mug me, the thick binding of the book I carry would make a wonderful melee weapon and my satchel is durable enough to use as a temporary shield in a pinch. And, of course, there’s the fact that I just don’t give a shit. I survived living in Los Angeles and New York so St. Louis ought to be a walk in the park.
I hear the conductor call out my stop so I tuck my book away in my satchel, trying not to crush my lunch also nestled in the bag. I stand up, reaching for the hand rail that runs along the ceiling and I navigate my way to the door. I wait, watching the brick of the underground tunnel sweep by. There’s a lady standing in the front corner of the train, face toward the window as if someone put her in a time-out for an offense that I’m unaware of. People are so strange.
The train comes to a stuttering halt at the 8th and Pine stop, I get off and begin the trek to the office building where I work. Up the stairs I go, avoiding the line taking the escalator. My soft and rotund midsection is the reason I take the stairs and walk when I can. It doesn’t seem to be making a dent in my expanding waistline but I have to try something. I suppose if I tried a little harder, I might see my expanding waistline begin to shrink but I’m naturally a lethargic creature and it’s very difficult to write and stand at the same time. I know, excuses, excuses…but they’re my excuses so suck it.
The Arch looms overhead as I walk along Chestnut, bypassing the orange Wainwright Building on my left and the Peabody building on my right. Soon I spy Kiener Plaza with the statue of the Running Man, forever frozen mid-stride and levitating over his fountain. Up ahead, I see that some cretins have overturned a portable outhouse. It appears that a city cop on a bicycle is typing into his Smartphone, I assume he must be typing about the outhouse because he’s looking right at it. Well, for all I know, he could be posting to Facebook or Twitter about the stench and the chemically-altered blue water that is collecting on the street. I walk by, holding my breath until I’m clear of the vandalism.
And that’s as far as I’m going to take you on my tale today. I think I’ll find some time to run by the bookstore tonight and pick up a couple Bradbury books, maybe even a copy of Catcher in the Rye.
This is Metroman, signing off…