Friday, August 24, 2007

Fraggle lady

Riding the el to and from work is, if nothing else, the best cross-section of humanity available in any one place or time. This is what happened last night:

This lady gets on the el over by County Hospital. She has blond hair, curly, with hot pink stripes it in. She hasn't brushed it today, she looks like a Fraggle. She's on her cell phone. Apparently she'd been sitting at County all day in the hard, straight-back chairs and she was in pain. They had been giving her a hard time. She'd been waiting 13 hours. On the phone, she wails things like:

"They keep running these TESTS. They can't see the problem with TESTS. They have to see INSIDE MY BODY."

And I smirk because it's funny to see a Fraggle talking about people having to see inside her body. Next to where she's sitting, there's a jittery man standing in dirty jeans and a torn t-shirt. The shirt used to be white but now it's covered in the grime and grit of life on the street. He's either jacking off or peeing on himself, which is better than my first thought, which was he was cracked out. Having a grown man pee himself while a Fraggle says things like "I'm going to go home and self-medicate. I will medicate myself. Today is Wednesday, right? Thursday? What the FUCK happened to Wednesday?" is funnier than you'd think.

The man sits down, squeezes his knees together but the telltale smell of piss fills the train car. The lady is saying, "I can' can't use the phone during the day when I'm not in Texas." Does she realize she's in Chicago? And these are daytime minutes? The fact that she could mistake this blue line train for the Lone Star State makes me giggle quietly to myself, my face turned toward the window, hoping she can't see.

There's a mom and two little kids - one maybe 2 years old, and the other an infant - and the 2-year old is looking at the Fraggle with wide eyes. The Fraggle says, "They run tests but they won't get them back for a week and after a week I'll be gone - gone!"

The man with the wet crotch and jittery hands gets up and exits the train. It's been raining hard for about five stops now. The Fraggle is saying, "I'll just go home tonight and I think I should be blond again. I'll go get some hair dye on the way home, wherever. Whatever."

As if dying her hair will cure all of her medical woes. I have my face buried in my satchel, trying not to laugh out loud because you don't want to laugh at the crazies when you're on the train. There's nowhere to run when they come after you.

The mom and the two kids exit the train, holding up newspapers to protect themselves from the wind and the rain. The little girl shows no signs of fear as she and her mom and sibling march into the night. The storm swallows them up as our train abandons them to the lightening and thunder that are infesting the sky.

Fraggle ends her call, walks up and down the train once, twice. Halfway through the third lap she stops and her head whips around to the windows and the weather outside. "OH MY GOD!" she wails. "OH MY GOD! I DON'T EVEN HAVE AN UMBRELLA OR ANYTHING! OH GOD! OH GOD!"

She leaps off the train at the next stop, presumably to color her hair or trek back to Fraggle Rock, or maybe to melt as the rain touches her skin. After the doors close, my eyes are wet from giggling and the prospect of walking home in the rain and wind doesn't seem so bad; the giggling keeps the gloom at bay. It's a miniature euphoria that keeps me grinning all the way home.

Is there nothing those Fraggles can't do?

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