Metro Diaries
by Wendy C. Ortiz
in Palabra: A Magazine of Chicano and Latino Literary Art, Issue 1, otoƱo 2006

[Times are approximate. There is really no accounting for the passing of time. I don't wear a watch. Please do not hold me to such minutiae.]

10:55am. Walk out of building, after speaking in pleasant, even tones to the new apartment manager, who, in his kindness (which I can tell is his innate manner, and this makes me glad), tells me his plans of calling the main office and asking them to waive the $25 fee I was assessed. I suggested they fax him a copy of the postmarked envelope, to prove my rent was received late. The classical music he listens to instantly soothes me and instills trust. I think of the Bugs Bunny cartoon where a monster, an ape? a Tasmanian devil?, is soothed by accordions or pianos, swooning around the room, forgetting his rage.

10:59am. Walking to bus stop, Hollywood & Harvard. No more mist in the air, as there was this morning on my hike. If there is such a thing as a downpour of mist, I felt it. It mixed with my sweat and stung my eyes as I ran down the trail, The Pixies blaring in my ears.

11:05am. The bus arrives. A boy-man (black cap, blue eyes, headphones) makes eye contact with me. I sit in the back of the bus. We roll down Hollywood Blvd.

11:06am. I exit at Hollywood & Western. I rationalize this one-stop ride as saving my $116 shoes, bought nearly 3 years ago, needing stitches, the foam inserts barely comforting my soles, the soft pads pounded from trail running this morning. I remember I haven't stretched. I remember to take deep breaths. Deep. Deeper still.

At the corner, a man in a long tweed coat steps right in front of me, purposefully, then steps out of my way to move in an entirely opposite direction. I surmise he is the first of these characters I will meet today. I think of the man on the metro last week, carving out a space for himself by flicking his lighter on and making a circle around his wiry body with its flame.

The Metro Hollywood apartments have taken shape in the air. Boxy, Mondrian. I descend, by foot, to the underground, since the escalator is not in service.

11:08am. A man is smoking down here on the subway platform. I have never seen this before. Even I'm surprised I've never seen this before. I move to a tiled wall, lean my back against it, pull out the free issue of Tin House. Its old now, and its horrid cover, featuring John Ashcroft in a beatific posture, perplexes and disgusts me, and makes me wonder about the Tin House editors, and I remember K.'s story about her meeting with one of them, how he watched her walk all around the building, searching for an entrance. I fold the cover back so no one has to be subjected to Ashcroft's face. I consider ripping off the cover. I imagine writing Tin House a snarky letter, knowing my tone will be fueled by their crass treatment of K.

Two men cross paths in front of me just as the subway whirs to a stop in front of us and I hold my purse closer to my side.

11:15am. A teenaged boy, mouth open, finger busily scraping along the Braille text of a large book. When he leaves the train, same stop as me, I notice the red star tattooed on his arm.

11:25am. 7th & Metro. Downtown Los Angeles. I see the DASH Bus F go by and I'm relieved. There is time to write, standing up, against the coffeeshop's marble walls. As I am writing, men of various races, ages, anatomies, walk by pulling luggage carts, all of them empty. I pause for a moment while writing and look up, long enough for a man walking by to turn around and look straight at me. The look on his face tells me he'd been walking toward my back, was checking out my ass, and then wanted to see the face that went with it. I watch a couple, elderly, walk out of the travel agent's office with a brochure and wonder where they'll go. I often stare at the prices to New Zealand, Brazil, New York, New Orleans.

11:35am DASH Bus F pulls up and I step aboard. Clean, airy, precise. A public transit dream. The lady who makes eye contact but is clearly talking only to herself, with breathy interludes, is not on the bus today. I'm ten minutes from work, and already looking forward to the bus ride, the subway ride, home.

Metro Diary: 2

Reading Desert Solitaire while standing at Harvard and Hollywood actually takes me away from the scene. Not what I want.

This subway car, like yesterday, a sauna.

Reading about desert. Standing on concrete.

The choices: do I take the bus--outdoors--longer trip--a straight shot down Vermont--read Desert Solitaire in relative peace or do I take the metro, and get off, be seduced by downtown, set aside the book, avoid the stations, the bowels, the underground? Read? Or not. Sift a newspaper left behind on a seat.

How I wish there were desks in the metro stations. There is 'art', but no desks. My thigh is not working for such a purpose.


All ticket machines are out of service please purchase tickets at your destination the sheriff has been notified

so streameth this line across the digital displays underground. A loop of this. I waited for another message but there was none, beyond the date and time. I kept wondering about the message--the warning--that the sheriff has been notified. Was the sheriff notified because it is an outrage that these ticket machines (and often the escalators, elevators, etc.) are out of service? The threat seemed to hold so much and so little all at once.

Sorry. This door is out of order.

A yellow and black sticker bore this message, only it was stuck across the tracks, against the concrete wall, in a place no one should be. And, of course, there was no door. I immediately thought of the doors I used to try and locate in the secret sections of walls, underneath tables, next to beds. Like in the episode of the Twilight Zone, when the little girl falls into another dimension and a scientist has to come over and explain the phenomenon and mark off the parts of the wall that are solid, and the parts that are actually a doorway into another world in order to rescue her before the doorway closed and snatched her up forever in some parallel plane. I looked for those doorways. They seemed to be escape routes, intermittent thresholds, secret and unstable, and I longed to enter.

I see this sticker on a space that doesn't appear to be a door, and realize that, still, I want to enter.

Metro Diary 4: Sightings

(people in various modes of sleep: mouth open, head back, head leaned against trembling window, head forward on chest)

(many different women punching away on their cell phones)

(baby standing near the front of the bus, whose hair gets pulled each time people brush by her) (an artist's rendition of East Los Angeles [not the city itself, but the impression he must get when thinking of East Los Angeles])

(man with a radio blaring Happiness is a warm gun...[which I then sing along, aloud])

(woman dressed in office casual and black hat, carrying a bag of holiday gifts, directing a man with clean, pressed clothes and gold jewelry to the nearest stop with all the courthouses)

(an artist's rendition of Pasadena [not the city itself, but the impression he must get when thinking of Pasadena])

(woman reading a book, Jaques Derrida, sneaking glances at the passengers and sometimes at her reflection in the dark glass)

(girl of maybe ten years of age wearing t-shirt that reads Zero to Insane in 1.5 seconds)