Monday, January 26, 2009

Sundays, Bloody Sundays

The 5:50 out of the city is always on time Sunday evenings. On it with the Complete and Total Loser are tourists with tired feet who have ventured into town to see a concert, a lecture, an art exhibit; college students connecting from Amtrak or the airport, heading back to the half dozen private colleges in walking distance of a train station after a weekend home.
Philadelphia's 30th Street Station at night
Philadelphia's 30th Street Station at night.
The Loser is on his way to have dinner with his elderly parents, a weekly event. One of three offspring, he's the one who never married and has no family of his own. Over the past decade his parents have gotten increasingly frail. He knows the meal will be something previously prepared. A rotisserie chicken with stuffing from a box, vegetables steamed for many minutes. His mother, once robust and an enthusiastic cook, had a nerve cut during an operation nine years ago and swallowing and eating is a challenge now. She has lost dozens of pounds, her balance is bad, she aspirates food often and contracts pneumonia. She loved to sing. Now, her voice is an ugly rasp.
It's not the quality of the food that bothers the Loser. It's the fact neither parent can glide about the kitchen easily as they once did. Immediately on entering the house through the kitchen door he goes to the refrigerator and gets a beer, which he downs fast. It helps mask his parents' great age and their approaching feebleness and deaths. Halfway through his second beer his mind is level with theirs. It is the only time during the week that he drinks.
Dinner is in the dining room and there are cloth napkins, candles, silverware. The Loser asks about his siblings and their children. They discuss the topics of the day. His mother, always highly defensive and easily slighted, has dropped any pretense of manners and anything his father says in opposition to her is met with cruel scorn and mimicking far out of proportion to the imagined offense.
At the end of the evening, the Loser's father drives him the short distance to the train station. Here they talk. The father tells stories from long ago. His parents, what they and he did during the Depression, the war, early jobs, his ad agency work in the 1950s, his parents. The Loser prods him as he has countless times before to write this down, at least the bare bones, who was born when and where, what they did and when they died. His father brushes this off, saying all the information is in the large collection of papers in the attic and that if he were to write it down it would take forever.
Both know the real reason which is that if he did he fears he would die on dotting the last sentence with a period.
A glow down the tracks means the train is coming. The Loser tells his father to have a good week, leaves the car and boards the 8:45. The train back is a negative image of the previous one. The majority of those on it are older, poor, uneducated, black. They are the ones who work in the kitchens and clean the halls of the colleges or the area's nursing homes and supermarkets. They are headed to the city where they live in badly kept rowhouses in decaying neighborhoods. They don't take out laptops or books but generic MP3 players and cell phones. Some fall asleep as the train sways on the tracks. Others stare into space.
The trains pulls into the station. The Loser disembarks, goes to the bike rack and is back in his rowhouse apartment in minutes. He has no work the next day so he has a cup of coffee. He turns on the TV, reads the paper, checks his email. Before he knows it it's late, after one. He showers and gets into bed where he reads for a bit then falls asleep.

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