I passed a newsstand the other day, on a Monday, next to a train station that was under renovation. I stopped to look around, under the scaffolding, hoping that a cover or a title would inspire a new story from me. My train was late because of track maintenance, again. Headlines were abundant: “MAN SHOOTS HOT DOG VENDOR IN FOOT OVER RELISH ARGUMENT,” “STOCKS PLUNGE AFTER SALMON TYCOON’S BUNGLED RHINOPLASTY,” “BIG BROTHER CONTESTANT, BOBO, FARTS INTO HIDDEN MIC,” and so on. There were so many images attached to the text, one showing a passenger jet making a landing with only one wing, that I was overwhelmed with information and couldn’t decide which news bit or cover story to develop into an interesting narrative. I did not hesitate too long, however, because my attention was drawn to a couple, talking. I remained at a discreet distance from them.
A woman and a man, who seemed to have run into each other at the station, started up a vigorous conversation about the people they knew. They were about the same age, wore similar clothes and both of them wore a small mole on the forehead. One mole pulled toward the left temple, the other to the right. They were probably in a hurry, or hadn’t seen each other for a long time, or wouldn’t see each other ever again, because they seized the occasion to sputter at each other without a pause. The names they mentioned were many. It was difficult to follow them, because they passed on the baton of character assassination at a wicked pace. Their former classmate or roommate had a hideous habit of wearing tweed and rolling her eyes the wrong way. Her husband wore white socks with dress pants and smiled so much that it was rude. Their mom, it wasn’t clear to me whose, still couldn’t bake home-made bread without it being soggy or brittle, and she made embarrassing passes at men half her age, who felt confused and uncomfortable. The man’s co-worker, Jerry, at some consulting firm, under his supervision, was bothering everybody, day in, day out, with his outspoken honesty, getting on everybody’s nerves. His boss, an impotent wimp, with sympathy for other impotent wimps, wouldn’t fire anybody and kept people on payroll who should’ve been cutting out food stamps. His recent project for wealthy clients had been sabotaged by these people, disqualifying him for a bonus. The woman, probably cheated on by someone and visibly still angered, even outraged by it, had drawn up a “cheat sheet” that she posted on a site, with people she and her friends suspected of cheating. It would soon get a million hits. She also said that people over the age of seventy, who couldn’t take care of themselves, should be institutionalized in places they could afford and their real estate offered to young people with at least one degree from a Top 50 college, because life has definitely gotten harder. He nodded to much of what she had to say, not always in a friendly way, and added that his brother should also be locked up because he always threatens to beat him up, and sends text messages about wanting to kill him, and he probably beats up his girlfriend because she doesn’t earn enough money. His own girlfriend, Laura or Moira, doesn’t block her former husband’s calls on her phone, so she shouldn’t be surprised if he would one day cheat on her, too. She assured him that it would probably be the right thing to do and gave him a bear hug. He politely returned the hug, then his hands wandered down to cup her butt in a loose, casual hold. They whispered something to each I couldn’t make out and hurried away in opposite directions.
These are just fragments of the things they said, but some of them might be worth weaving into a story. I haven’t decided yet.