by Jessica Delfino
I got into the cab at Thompson Street. The cabbie looked me over through the rear view mirror like a sandwich being made to order behind the glass at Subway. He didn't say anything, but his eyes asked me a hundred questions. "Um, hi." I said. I'm always so polite, especially to people who don't give a fuck whether I'm polite or not. "I'm going to 55th and Broadway?" I said. I always talk like I'm asking a question, my words curling up at the end like one of those flat plastic fortune fish you can maybe still find in Chinatown. I don't know why I do that, but I might say it has something to do with my being afraid of everything. "55th and Broadway?" he actually did ask. "Uh, yeah," I ascertained. I always start out my sentences with Uh or Um, which some psychiatrists might attest to me feeling insecure. I don't feel insecure, I swear I don't, but I must be, because I'm always saying uh or um, and my statements come out like questions.
He pressed the meter button and pulled out into traffic like a fighter jet. Michael Buffer yelled at me to make sure I get ready to rumble for safety, and reminded me to please buckle my seatbelt. My friend and I had been talking about that just earlier. What kind of person can have a job like that - one where they hear or see or do the same thing over and over all day long. We agreed it takes a very special kind of person, who, every time he clicks the meter button hears Michael Buffer's voice, or every time he punches the card sees his life fleeting by in a series of beeps or boops or ca-chings!
We flew up 6th avenue like we were on a runway. I checked the clock on my cellphone - it said 12:07 am. If I die, I thought to myself, I made it into another day. I am always constantly thinking like this. Death rides me piggy back style every day, every where I go. And I just let it. My mother would insist this has something to do with the fact that my father left when I was young, but I think it has more to do with him being gay.
"I'm an outlaw!" he screamed at my boyfriend once during a phone conversation.
But it could be something else all together. It could have something to do with 9/11, or
being cuddled too much as a child, or eating too many dairy products, or having a mental disorder of the undiagnosed kind. My friend and I were talking and he said that 50% of the population has an undiagnosed mental disorder. I don't know if I believe that statistic or not, but I bet you a pair of shoes that everybody thinks they're sane, whether they're crazy or not. Even the people who swear they're crazy think they're a hybrid sane-crazy, and probably really mean goofy or just overextended.
The driver and I begin talking. He's studying to be a nurse. He drives his taxi 6 days a week. He used to study chess, every day for 6 hours a day. I've never met so many people who play chess in my life as I have in New York. I play chess, but only as a game. When they say 'play' chess here, it means something different. It means tutors and expectations, tournaments and Yahoo! games accounts, clocks and books and knowledge of masters and autographs, $1 an hour and coffee and chainsmoking and side bets and pieces having monetary worth and your name on the line. The driver insists, "No, it's for fun!" But if it were so much fun, then why did he quit following his dream of being a master to take up nursing? Is it because nursing is more fun than chess? In the games he played, I bet so.
The driver missed 55th and went up to 57th. Cars flew by us, along side us, horns screamed over our conversation, street lights winked knowingly. I looked out the cab windows and saw buildings all around me like sleepy giants, hungry for the morning when the people would come in and fill their empty stomachs. At the corner of Broadway and 57th, a bus pulled out in front of us. I breathed in the fumes and imagined them hardening like nail polish on my lungs. A doctor might say that I'm a hypochondriac, but I think I'm probably just bored and a little bit stupid.
Another taxi, one of those fancy all black ones who think they're better than the yellow ones because they have leather seats and charge a million dollars an hour, blazed past us. The driver yelled "Fuck You!" out the window. I watched his face, twisted up and crinkled, like christmas wrapping or steak and eggs. I bet he did that kind of shit all the time. He probably broke stuff out of anger on regular occasions.
Finally, the cars let up and we turned down Broadway. The taxi glided back downtown like one of those satin tampons. I saw my destination hovering in the near distance, like a chaperone. The driver pulled alongside the curb on Broadway and I panicked for a second, imagining a car careening out of control and smashing me into the telephone booth as I daintily stepped out of the taxi. I paid the driver and thanked him graciously, as I always do to people who don't care if I'm gracious or not. "Thank you so much?" I said in my soft-scrub scratchy voice. My boyfriend would say that I speak that way because I'm sweet. I would say, too many cigarettes on top of fear of death. He would say, "Why do you have shit to say when I'm trying to compliment you?" Then I'd feel bad.
I think about it for a second as I get out of the taxi without incident, then I forget about it. I'm safe, thank god. No smashing phone booths or bus crashes tonight. A cool breeze littered with the sweet smell of garbage and relief hesitates around me, then passes. I made it here alive. These are the things I celebrate in life. Making it to my destinations, not dying at this or that moment in a flame ball. As I'm walking up the sidewalk into the building, I realize I'm very tired. I push the up button on the elevator and start to wonder. Can these things still fall?