Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Warm Room

Until not so recently, I spent a lot of time around the holiday season waiting in train stations, bus stations and I even camped out for four days, (yes, four days ) in an airport terminal waiting for a storm to pass. Luckily, the four day hiatus was post-Christmas and it did not look like this train station. Most people I know find waiting in random locations tiresome and annoying. Franky, I miss it terribly. Yes, I miss even places like this train station in Poland where the task of traveling sometimes felt more like an act of faith than an activity. Traveling in Poland was more of a crap shot as to where you might really end up, but even more improbable to predict was the duration of time it would take to go anywhere. Thankfully, a lot of places I ended up looked like this.
This is the place I wish all trains would end up. Maybe they do. Maybe in the locomotives of our minds we each have some preordained destination where one day at random like the Polish train system we will crank open the doors and find a spring field and one bold poppy, waiting. Just like us. Just like us.

And this is why I like waiting at stations, somehow it's like a democratic purgatory of sorts where everyone is alike, everyone waits just like everyone else. No one can out wait another or one up someone's ability to wait. Although I recall watching a group of Serbian men one New Year's try to out wait the world by singing the longest song that latest seven days. They seem to have been seated in a warm room of an Austrian train station for a entire week or seven bottles of vodka which ever came first, just waiting. Perhaps they were waiting for a train that would take them to some other time and not just some distant town.

I've also witnessed people who think they can out wit waiting. A cellphone in hand and one in a protected pocket and laptop in tow, shouting into one of their cellphones to some poor customer service person at an airline company. I've heard sentences shouted, such as, "Do you have any idea who I am," while not so secretly purchasing a ticket on sidestep.com. These people are amazing to watch and I cannot believe their hasn't been a coffee table book of photos taken at airports, to show the agony of defeat or the triumph of home comings. I guess there are just some moments of vulnerability that are just too much to see.

And odd as it might sound, maybe it is just the vulnerability of waiting that I like, the fact that people will strike up conversations with you and openly discuss their views of politics or hope to exchange personal philosophies and all with or without knowing each others first names. My fondest of conversations happen when both parties were speaking different languages and somehow, something got communicated. I recall getting relationship advice once by a man who only spoke Hungarian, I don't speak Hungarian. But somehow, we managed to find ways to learn about each other. It's amazing what you can only learn from hand gestures. I'm sure if any of you who are reading this are mimes then you can really back me up here. I quietly applaud you.

But sometimes, all it has to be is a phrase, a simple gesture that you hold on to. So I send this poem to you as a reminder. If you get stuck somewhere this holiday season, look around, take off your i-pod and maybe you'll have your own moment in limbo that feels surreal and thankfully a gift from the warm waiting room. Happy Holidays. I hope all of your travels end up in a field or as least may it feel like it. Enjoy.

Stop Request

You wouldn’t mistake your mother

for a woman who walks through glass

and sits beside your book.

So you pass the time and frame

the woman’s face, the one who

isn’t your mother. She’s like a Budapest tram

ticket you carry in your wallet

next to the taste of oranges

shared with a boy whose name

you don’t remember. You watch her hands brush

a bit of hair away from her brow while she opens

a can of beer. Not cheap beer either

and rinses her teeth. The warm yeast fills

the room like the smell of sex on cotton. She spits

on the floor. In that moment you love her

more than your mother, who would never spit.

When you leave the room, she shouts

Happy New Year in German. And you believe her.

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