I am sitting now, in the wee small hours, upstairs in the lounge car of a train plunging through the night. There will be no recounting the collision of feckless vagabonds, angry locals, young canadians, disaffected writers, beer, vodka and tequila, salted with a skeptical but attractive token female presence. I will not speak of the arm wrestling, of the violated pickle, or of the face graffiti. Stories of knives and vomit will have to wait for a more fictionlike vehicle.
But what does that leave? It all started innocently enough, when I quite accidentally sat in the only seat on the whole (accessible) train with an electrical outlet. Around this modern-day watering hole a variety of species came to taste of the current, but ultimately it was the proximity of the bar that made the Netherlounge the place to be. The cars on this train have two levels. Most of the seating is on the top, and the best seats for watching the world go by are on the top of the lounge car. Windows don’t matter much at night, however, and the lower floor of the lounge car is the source of alcohol.
The bar closes at a humane hour, but the Netherlounge remains the place where there is no possible way you can disturb other passengers. I was having a decent conversation with Jesus and, um… Franklin (not a good guess) and Shawn and another guy when the canadians arrived, token female in tow. Not-Franklin didn’t last long after that, he was hoping the train would be late enough to delay his deployment to Iraq for a week, but he wasn’t interested in being stupid.
The rest of us, it was demonstrated, were. The Canadians brought a jug of their Russian friend, Smirnov, along with his little buddy Sauza.
I identified myself as a writer. I’ve simply run out of other things to call myself. This put me in an odd sort of spotlight, as the Canadians had copious paper and pen just so they could jot down the stray word or two. Writing games ensued, and more than once I found myself sitting at a table, staring at the ruled and impatient sheet, the only requirement that I Be A Writer, while the happy earnest folks waited. I read the nimble thoughts the others jotted, while turgid phrases oozed through my mushy synapses. Not my finest hour. I am, I must acknowledge, not a man of swift wit. It would have been worse but a random word from the sole female bailed me out at a critical moment.
The sole female I impressed almost less than the guy hitting on her. She was sober. The guy hitting on her was not. It will never happen, but should one member of the male of our species ever mutate the ability to say, “you know, I’m not at my best right now, I’ll save my hitting on this girl I like for another day,” that self-restraint gene would easily out-compete the rest of us. A man who did not regularly make an ass of himself at the most critical moments would pretty much have his choice of reproductive partners (not counting competition with assholes). That it hasn’t already happened just shows that such an aberration is incompatible with the Y-chromosome.
But those are just side stories. Puppet shows and poorly-done shadow figures in the flashlight beam on a canvas tent wall. On the main stage there was drink and danger, dynamite and zippo lighters with perhaps a bit of kerosene and enriched uranium (the Canadians jotted down a quote from me to that effect, my sole moment of sparkle). Now it is a time-zone boosted 3:40 in the morning, and I am really, really tired.
But you know, it was all right, tonight. It’s why you ride the train.
Addendum: tonight there will be no sleep. While I sat in the lounge car watching the world slide laterally by and pecking out this episode, the big guy in the seat next to mine quite naturally annexed the Sudetenland, as it were. Comparisons to aquatic mammals aside, it seemed a shame to disturb him.