Tuesday, April 12, 2016


The Princeton train has some
small complication involved
with itself  -  as in that old
Vermont farmer story in which
the crusty old farmer, upon
being asked 'how do I get to...'
by someone along the road,
scratches his head, pulls on
his pipe, and says, 'Ayh, you
can't get there from here.' It's
the same with the train  - you
can't get there from it. The
train only takes you to Princeton
Junction, which is some 3 or
4 miles off from Princeton.
If you stay on that train, you'll
you'll only get to Hamilton or
Trenton on the next stops. To
get to Princeton, you need to
get off at Junction, and walk
about 200 feet to what's called
'The Dinky'  -  which is like
a full one-car train of its own
that runs a shuttle format back
and forth every twenty minutes
or so. It's something like another
two bucks. It gets you, in a nice
manner, right to the base of the
university campus  -  of which is
the whole new 'train station' thing
I wrote of two chapters back. The
service is continually being bettered.
One can walk to town, or there are
numerous shuttle buses and free
Princeton University campus buses,
etc. That part's all easy, but it is,
actually, just a nice walk, worth
doing. The Dinky was, for me, a
twice-daily occurrence and  because
of the nature of it, an even tighter
and closer-knit crowd of people
who soon enough get to know
one another. Plus the conductor.
With their shift-change at 3pm,
I'd have one conductor in the
morning, and one in the afternoon  -
same each day, and they too became
audaciously familiar and friendly.
So, one simply had to find a way
to make the best of it. Usually I
just gave up and went along,
talking and reciprocating. No
reason to be a boor all the time,
I suppose. Mostly, by the end,
my hours had become odd
enough as to miss the big
heavy commuter crowds. I
did make friends with conductors.
The Dinky assignment, for a
conductor, is a seniority thing,
usually at the end of a train
career, so there'd be retirements.
Same with the engineer
assignments. All varied. The
changeovers would occur. One
time, in NYC, I was walking
through an early morning Penn
Station when I heard my name
being yelled, and, looking around,
it was the morning Dinky conductor,
Bob, on a day off, taking in the city.
We walked around some, spent
some time together, and went
on our ways. It was rare, for he
lived, actually, out on the Philly
line, right near to Philadelphia, so
his trip trip in was a big deal.
All this train travel was good,
I enjoyed it, and I even learned
how to talk some, to people, out
of the blue, as things happened.
But no matter how I tried, I still
felt trapped  -  everything was 
forced and enforced. I had to 
'work' to stay on point, to retain 
a concentration; all these things 
I had much trouble doing. I guess 
it's all just the nature of the 
workaday world  - who needs
it, and I don't. I'm so glad to 
be done with all that. 
It seems miraculous.
I enjoyed my rides, though. The
different perplexities always  - 
changing seasons and weathers, 
always a surprise. People came
and went. I had a wonderful
acquaintance for a while with 
a girl who'd share her script with 
me and we'd sometimes spent 
the trip back to Metuchen with 
a little practice read of a script 
she'd be working with at Stella 
Adler or whatever NYC acting
school thing she was with once 
or twice a week. It was fun. Different
plays; she'd read her part and I'd be 
the other voice of the scene. We 
spoke generally low enough just 
for the two of us, but sometimes
the scripts were funny or dark or
weird enough that people around us
must have thought we were crazies,
or adult film stars, in one instance.
Pretty funny. Nice diversion. She 
was also a big Mick Jagger fan  - 
having just read another Jagger 
biography, she'd tell me surprising 
things  - like how, even more than 
rock star, he was an astute 
businessperson and student of 
economics and marketing, running
his money fiefdom and the trajectory
of career and band really smartly.
Stuff I wouldn't have thought of.
Another guy, a fellow from India,
also rode to Metuchen daily, he'd 
spin us his tales of home. Calcutta,
whatever the new name us, Bombay,
Mumbai, all that stuff. He'd remark
about a crowded train, say, like 'In
India, this is nothing. There they
pack the cars with people, attendants
prod people into the cars, way past
capacity, and then everyone else
just hangs on, outside the cars, 
wherever they can." Or he'd tell 
of the far-flung villages with but
one or two Internet connections  -  
people lined up, way out on a 
dirt road somewhere, waiting for 
their fifteen or twenty minutes 
of Wifi use. He lived in Metuchen,
a regular, normal life, two little 
girls, a wife and a dog. I'd see him
around, and we'd talk some more.
He'd tell me, sometimes, things I 
could hardly imagine  -  about the
ways other people lived, or struggle
to live, or to survive; your choice 
there. He was, they both were, these
Metuchen people, smart, witty, 
intelligent people. Very enjoyable.
Only one was pretty. There was
another guy I'd often see, local
again  -  all he ever did, nearly
each day, to whomever he was
with (not me, but always nearby),
as the nice Spring weather began in 
earnest, was go on complaining 
about mowing : how he hated the
Spring because of his constant need
to mow, cut, trim. Nearly every day
it was like another grass-apocalypse,
if you listened to him. And his
stupid cowboy hat. I wanted to
go up to him an introduce myself
as an Astro-turf salesman, just to
make him happy for once. The
Eternal Winter of the Useless Mind.
I had a friend, who worked in a 
capacity with the Physics Department 
at the University. He'd come here, 
with his family, from Scotland when 
he was 12. He'd tell me stories too. 
His immigration tale was great : I 
guess it was about 1965, his family 
arrived here, in the midst of a mix-up, 
over papers. They spent endless hours
at immigration, sorting things out. They
were finally sent, for their first few
weeks in the USA, to some temporary
housing set-up in Asbury Park. It was
all unexpected, and a big surprise. 
All their stuff was transported, with
them, in a van. They got there, and
their first night in American the place
burned down. The whole rooming
 house, up in flames. They lost 
everything. First night. Talk about
starting anew. He used to say it was
'probably the best thing that ever 
happened to his family.' Only in
America. This fellow could drink 
too. A few times we went out drinking
together, and he made me look like
Cinderella, compared to his intake.
One time, in NYC, Halloween night
or something; he was pounding 'em
down, and then pounding some more.
Trying to pick up some girl dressed as
a Swiss Miss or something (costume
night, Greenwich Village Halloween
Parade) at Peter McManus' Tavern,
19th St. and Seventh Ave. He just
kept on. We were crazy wasted, he
was crossing and walking at the same
time, wobblier than a rubber crutch.
He finally collapsed, and just passed
out in the gutter, right out front. I 
dragged him up, propped him against 
the building, called someone we both
knew, and she came down from 91st
Street, in a cab, just to pick his prone
body up and get him home to somewhere
or other. They later got married. I guess 
never mentioned that besides playing
the mandolin, I'm a matchmaker too.
This same fellow, with the Physics 
Department at the University as I said,
would every so often be sent, or go, to
Italy, where, underneath the Italian Alps,
the Princeton University  part of the CERN
Particle Laboratory effort, and various different
Universities and such were working together on 
particle physics  -  something like a mile-long
accelerator built way underground, where 
they'd smash atoms into each other at high 
speed, (this is a layman talking; it's a lot more
complicated than this - you can look it up), to 
see what happens. He'd say they were on a 
quest to unlock the secrets of 'dark matter' 
(gotta' love that), cosmic codes behind 
reality, etc. Anyway, point is, one time he
invited me out there with him  -  he said he
could 'hire' me as an assistant, it would be
a 6-month trip, only, and when finished, the
job for me would be over. I declined, yes, 
because of my other job, and home life, etc.
Maybe I should have just said yes and chucked
it, and worry about it all in 6 months. 
But, whatever.
He had two other peculiarities (actually, a bunch, 
but I'm only citing two more)  -  he would use the 
gym at the University, it came with the job. While
we'd be sitting around awaiting the Dinky, there'd 
usually be some well-dressed, stuffy men types 
around, University guys, all fancy and rich.
They were fellow gym users, with him, 
all that locker room and shower-room stuff,
and they'd nod hellos and things. Alan would
always say to me, as a put-down to them, or at
least to their elitism, 'I know him, in the gym, I've
seen his 'junk', he's got nothing'. Then someone
else, same deal, 'Seen his 'junk', he's OK., etc.
Talk about deflating people. I'd say, 'Jesus. Alan,
you're making me self-conscious; my junk's so bad
you'd have it out on the curb, with the rest of the
trash.' A little weird, but: 'By their junk ye shall
know them.' Is that in the Bible? I forget.
Lastly, every day, while we were waiting, 
at the nearby little store, Alan would buy a 
piece of fruit. An orange, or a banana. It was 
his daily thrill to eat the fruit and take the 
skin or the core or whatever, and then just 
heave it, out onto the grass or into the 
hedges. He did it, each time, just to get a  
rise out of people  -  all those re-cycling and
bio-degradable types. They'd look smugly 
at him, etc., and he'd wise-crack back - 
  'It's bio-degradable;  it will decay and 
take care of itself. Get over it.' 
I always loved punks.

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