Tuesday, August 03, 2010

The Road Not Taken

One of the perks of living in NYC is people-watching. Sometimes I'll throw on a pair of sunglasses and keep them on while riding the train and just observe my fellow straphangers, and the best is watching them watch somebody else.

Last night, as I rode the R train back to Wall St. after another Spanish lesson with my favorite Portuguese student in Midtown, I found myself in a car with a family yucking it up and having a silly ol' time. They were clearly tourists (Italians, I believe) probably returning to their hotel after a long day of sightseeing. The father was having a sort of staring contest with his daughters. You know, the kind where you try to make the other person laugh first? Normally I roll my eyes at such a disturbance during my commute but, well, I've been ultra-focused on trying to beat my own time (9mins and 1sec) in Sudoku and really just welcomed the distraction.

As I began to look away from the family, having had my fill of their silliness, I noticed a man in a suit standing by the door poised to get off at the same station as me. As I. UGH you know what I mean. Anyway he was standing by the door, dammit. And I noticed he, too, was watching this family as intently as I had just done, except he had this worn, sad look in his eye that made me look at the ring finger on his left hand and sure enough- bare.

I immediately created a story for him: He worked in finance, long hours, too. He traveled a lot for work and it was part of the appeal of his job. He lived alone in a beautifully spacious one bedroom apartment on Pine Street that he'd bough after deciding that NY would be his home base from now on, but also had property in London and a little place in Barcelona where he liked to go to relax.

It was an ordinary day for him. He got to work at 8, sealed a few deals by 10:30, had lunch with his racquetball buddies at noon at Balthazar's- he had the roast lamb sandwich and watched one of his friend callously devour the sauteed calf's liver- and then returned to work to do some more important stuff that made him feel on top of the world, enough that he kept working through to about 7 o'clock.

He would skip the gym tonight- memories of the calf's liver still fresh in his mind- and head home instead. On the train car he noticed a man sitting with his wife and three daughters on the train, and they were causing a ruckus with their booming laughter and insistence upon moving about the train car instead of staying in their seats. "Damn tourists," he thought, but couldn't help but stare at the life he hadn't had the time to choose. The beautiful wife. The rambunctious children. He was the star in the office, but at home no one cared. Because there was no one there.

Normally he wouldn't care, but on this night he watched the father with a disturbing mixture of admiration, jealousy and longing. He calculated in his head how many years before that could be him if he focused on having a family starting tonight. Maybe ask out the woman who usually smiled at him at the coffee truck in the mornings. She looked nice. They could have beautiful children together. They would take amazing vacations and his daughters would engage him in silly games and love him and consider him their hero.

But he was already 43 and decided, sadly, it would take too long. He would never be that man on vacation with his beautiful wife and three equally beautiful daughters. Tonight he would go to his immaculately sterile apartment on Pine Street and after a glass of bourbon (or four) he would utter, "Fuck it" and resign himself to the life he chose.


Unaware of the fact that as I watched him walk towards Pine Street, I had resigned myself to the life I'd chosen, one that did not include a fabulous apartment in lower Manhattan, the ability to eat lunch at Balthazar's with my racquetball buddies or a vacation in Barcelona whenever the mood struck.

*smooches...sharing a moment with a stranger on a train*
yet another reason why my city is better than yours...and why I'm such an amazing writer. go ahead. you can admit it. I won't make a big deal out of it.