For most pondering their mortality, they question if they would have accomplished all they set out to do before their time is up. For me, I am just concerned about the environment I will die in. For instance, when watching television by myself, I’m acutely aware of what channel a particular movie is on. Because you never know when someone will burst into your apartment and murder you.
“Did you dust for fingerprints?” one of the responding detectives will ask.
“Hey, Mike,” the other will respond. “Martha Stewart here was watching Lifetime when he got shot. What a loser. Let’s pull his pants down.”
And they will laugh, and I will cringe from the beyond.
When living alone you’re hyper-aware of all sounds around you and the thought of someone bursting into your apartment with murderous intent seems feasible, because there is no one there to tell you it isn’t. Other things seem possible also, like the other night when I woke to the sound of rain and thought a tsunami was approaching. To my knowledge, Philadelphia is not a tsunami-prone area, however it only takes one to change that, doesn’t it?
And that sound of horns honking? Those are terrorist cab drivers communicating with each other in Morse code. And I lay awake in bed, waiting for the blast.
When living in that cocoon of crazy, the insanity is bottled like a to-go cup, traveling with you in social situations and threatening to overturn at any moment. You need to safeguard against that happening, and the smarter ones operate on a time-delay, giving themselves a few seconds of additional thought before speaking.
“That reminds me of that time I thought my landlord had installed a secret camera in my smoke detector so I knocked it off the wall and broke it, but then I was afraid I wouldn’t be alerted if there was a fire, so I slept on my fire escape. We’ve all been there, right?”
You picture the gaping mouths and cocked heads around the table, and opt to keep this anecdote to yourself. But this idea of death permeates each scenario, and likely has to do with the common fear of dying alone, vulnerable and scared. Logic would say though that when presented with the actual possibility of death, you would be more prepared, having already imagined the event ahead of time.
Last week I traveled to Northeast Philadelphia to have dinner with friends. They were all due to run the Philadelphia Marathon the next day and were carbo-loading to prepare. I think marathons are dramatic wastes of time that are overrated. Crossing a finish line with 40,000 other fitness freaks, many of whom have walked the majority of the distance, is the equivalent of riding a ski lift up Mount Everest, and the elite uniqueness of the “accomplishment” has been severely diminished. Homeless people walk all over the city, and they don’t get medals.
By the time we had finished dinner, it was past ten o’clock, and I hadn’t considered how I was getting back to my apartment. My ride to the restaurant was going home in an opposite direction and no one else lived in Center City. The Market-Frankford line subway was a few blocks away though, and I asked to be dropped off there since it made a stop on my street. I thought it made sense at the time, but was met with looks of horror.
“You want us to drop you off at Frankford Transportation Center?” a girl asked. “It’s night time…and you’re white.”
After checking to make sure she was correct about my race, I replied in a cocky manner.
“Listen, I’ve been in some pretty tough areas when I lived in New York, okay? I’m pretty sure I can handle it.”
Frankford Transportation Center is the last stop on the Market-Frankford subway line, and like any last stop on a subway line, the only people who end up there have made poor life decisions, or have fallen asleep.
“Call me as soon as you get home,” the girl said as they dropped me off outside. “Be careful.”
Her concerns had compromised the tough guy image I was trying to conjure, and I laughed as I swung the door closed, moving briskly past a man scratching himself and moaning on the sidewalk. My coat hid the purple sweater I wore underneath, and externally I tried to portray the distracted glare of an ex-Special Forces soldier just home from Afghanistan. A face that said, “You don’t know the shit I’ve seen, man.”
That image was ruined when I put my hand on something slimy and shrieked, “Ew!” while flapping it around in the air.
I took a seat on the subway and was immediately approached by a child.
“You got a dollar?” the girl asked, no older than six or seven. The tone was not inquisitive, and more demanding, like a bankrupt midget.
“No, sorry,” I said.
“Gimme a dollar, stupid,” she said.
“Jacquira!” her mother yelled from behind before I could reach into my wallet and give her twenty. “Stop bothering that white boy and sit down!”
As Jacquira stared me down, I was again reminded that I was white, and looked around to see I was the only one. I felt how black people must feel at a Coldplay concert, and hunched down to avoid further notice.
There were children everywhere, sleeping in various contortions on the subway floor, and their parents looked exhausted and bored. No one looked dangerous though, and I managed to relax. That is, until I heard another voice.
“Damn, Ma. You look delicious as hell. You got lotion? Lemme give you a foot rub.”
I looked up to see a fellow white person sit down in front of me, clad in dirty, gray sweatpants and a ripped flannel jacket. He was talking to the mother of Jacquira, and was not the ambassador I would’ve chosen.
“What is you saying?”
“I said you look delicious, girl. Damn. Yo, I ain’t even trying to be like that, but I was all noticing you and had to come correct. These your kids?”
“Yeah, these my kids. You aight?”
“Hell yeah. I’m feelin nice, you know? Sippin on some syrup. Gets you all nice.”
“Cough syrup, you know? I’m on my second bottle. You want some?”
He was indeed drinking cough syrup, and other than his goatee, the rest of his face was beet-red.
“Boy, you stupid. Where you from?”
“I’m from everywhere, you know? I been everywhere. East coast, West Coast, Wyoming…everywhere, girl. You on Facebook?”
I wondered why Wyoming made the list, and hoped he didn’t friend request me later.
“White boy acting crazy. Jacquira, you scared?”
We turned to the girl.
“Hellll no. Got my gun. I’m straight.”
The mother laughed while I wondered where she hid it beneath her pink pony sweatshirt.
“Yo, your kids is cute as hell, for real. I wanna have six, eight, ten more kids with you, girl. You know? Damn girl, I’m ready to make a family witchoo.”
“You trippin. You know where you at?”
“Just a white boy in the hood tryin to get shot.”
I slunk down and looked out the window, but since it was dark all I could see was my own terrified reflection. I was going to die. This was it. The other men on the train had overheard this conversation and were starting to grumble. I was going to die in a race war, mistakenly allied with an idiot, and gunned down by a six-year-old girl.
Two men got up and took up position next to Jacquira’s mother, glaring at the man while he guzzled the last of his cough syrup. One of them looked at me briefly, and I tried to show I understood his anger, shrugging my shoulders in a, “Get a load of this guy,” fashion. He looked away.
I couldn’t blame them for murdering me, and I checked my pockets for anything embarrassing the police might find, concerned that my receipt for a recent candle purchase was hidden somewhere. Then I pulled out my phone and deleted all of my text messages, since they’d be public record if a bullet hole didn’t destroy the device. Content that I’d prepared myself for murder, I looked back up at the men and forced a smile
“This stop is, Second Street.”
I sat shocked for a second until I realized it wasn’t God talking, but the subway announcing the next stop. My stop. I jumped up and moved to the doors, standing next to the same men I was just afraid of. When the doors opened I sprinted past four drunk girls clamoring to get on, and ran the two blocks to my apartment.
Drawing the shades, I sat down on my couch and caught my breath. It wasn’t long before I heard the terrorist cab drivers begin to honk their horns in Morse code. No matter, I thought, the approaching tsunami will take care of them.