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Friday, October 17, 2014


Photo courtesy of David Monniaux The Three Wise Monkeys Toshogu Shrine

     The three monkeys are reputed to hear no evil, see no evil, and speak no evil, but we—a band of writers—employ all our senses. We see, hear, taste, touch, smell and employ evil in our work.
     As a city girl, my senses are engaged whenever I ride on the transit system feeling the heat of people jammed together during rush hour or the whack of someone’s backpack as the owner barrels past me. The icy breeze from air conditioning on a hot summer day or the slam of a stranger’s body against mine launched by a person who’s gotten up late and is determined to get on an overcrowded train.
     Smell comes to the fore when the homeless need a place to sleep and have had no place to wash or a starving teenager wolfs down a hamburger complete with onions and a side of fries or someone who is standing much too close and had prepared and eaten a healthy Mediterranean dinner the night before and used a tad too much garlic.
     I watch—fascinated—when someone late for work is able to make-up her face complete with eye shadow, mascara and pencil without putting one of her eyes out. Her lipstick—though I don’t like the shade she’s chosen—glides easily on her lips. As easy as an Olympic skater’s glide across the ice. Then there are dancers who stand on one hand, form pyramids and manage to swing from pole to pole without kicking in one commuter’s head. People absorbed in cell phones are everywhere—when I peek most seem to be playing the latest game. Others listen to music and turn off the world and sometimes the sound leaks out of their ear phones—and wakes the sleepers who have an inner alarm clock that will wake them when they reach their stop.
     Singers, guitar and mandolin players and magicians who ask us to hold pieces of cord can be heard every day along with preachers practicing their chosen profession and beggars—the truly down and out and the professionals who’ve worked at gathering alms for years. Listening to conversations often introduces a new character or a sentence or two of dialogue and when I don’t hear the ending of a story, the line becomes part of a mystery to be solved or an ending to make up.
     By the end of a long trip, my throat feels dry and I pop a mint offered at the end of a lunch in my mouth. The mint brings my taste buds refreshment and when I come to my destination, I feel I’ve put the ride to good use. Observations are stored in my brain and I’m sure will appear next time I need to recall an image, a sound, an odor, a sight, a taste or a feeling of revenge.



Anne Marie Becker said...

A crash course in humanity - love it! So vividly written, Elise. I love to people-watch, but don't have much opportunity in my daily routine anymore (except at Starbucks). Maybe I'll have to make time to walk across the college campus or downtown...

Rita said...

People watching is soooo much fun. My main spot to watch is the grocery. Your voice for this short piece is brilliant.

Elise Warner said...

Anne Marie: I bet you could get fascinating ideas walking across the campus. Collin Dexter made Oxford famous.

Rita: I agree with you about the grocery. Especially on discount days when the lines grow and grow and grow.

jean harrington said...

Wish I had your powers of observation, Elise. This was a lesson in how to see, hear, feel, sense. Thanks.

Cathy Perkins said...

It's so easy to be a hermit and live in our writing cave - love this post! It reminds me of taking the train into the city office. Watching the dynamics of the commuters vs the ones riding in from the airport who are clearly uncomfortable with being out of their element.... but that's a different story :)

J Wachowski said...

Elise, you brought so many moments to life! I've traveled in this commuter world and boy, do I recognize some of these people. Beautiful!

J Wachowski said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Elise Warner said...

Thanks everyone: Today's ride was a humdinger. A homeless person who hadn't been able to shower must have spent the night. The passengers had to duck a trio of dancers as they did their Tarzan routine and as soon as they finished a solo performer stepped into the car and did a similar act.
A religious group was serenading as I exited through the turnstiles and their leader asked me "If I wasn't happy that Jesus died on the cross for me?" Who could be happy about death? Wish I had a glass of Cotes Du Rhone right now. I refuse to ride the subway tomorrow but think I'll jot down some notes about today.

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