THE HAPPY COMMUTER

       For most of the 45 years I worked in New York City, I commuted daily on The Long Island Rail Road, usually catching up on some sleep, or sitting there bored out of my mind. So I started bringing my camera and taking photographs out the window. 

       I did this for years, thousand and thousands of photos of basically the same thing every morning and evening. I admit a bit odd, but nobody seemed to mind, and I was happy.

       One day a few years after 911, the train was passing through the yards right outside the tunnel in Queens. Lot’s of great photos there, especially at dusk when the light gets particularly beautiful. A short time later, the Conductor makes an announcement over the intercom saying there’s a sick passenger and we’ll be making an additional stop at Jamaica. Another great place to take pictures. 

       I’m busily take shots when I feel a presence behind me. I turn and there are six LIRR Police in full Kevlar standing there holding an assortment of automatic weapons. A sergeant asks me what I’m doing. I say I’m taking photographs, it’s a hobby of mine.

       He asks to see some identification. I hear myself saying, “What do you think, I’m a terrorist?” “I’ll ask the questions,” he says, and they march me off the train in front of a trainload of very scared passengers. 

       Once off, he takes my camera and ID and goes off somewhere to check me out, leaving me with the rest of the officers and the machine guns. 

       Make a long story, short, he comes back and says, next time you take pictures let the Conductor know, you’re scaring the other passengers. I said okay, 

       Of course, what I didn’t say, was that I was the Executive Creative Director of the Long Island Rail Road’s advertising agency and had just finished up the MTAs new, “If You See Something, Say Something” campaign. 

        I guess someone saw something.

       

PUDDLES

The sheets of water soaked our hollow bodies.

Cleansed the red mud from our shoes.

We looked at the sky and drank what washed us.

To our front a gleaming bird nested.

Resting for the long flight home.

The water poured down its sides.

And made puddles around the staircase that led from its belly.

Which the men getting off hopped over.

The men, the darkest of them still pale to the sun,

walked at attention.

The two columns approached.

The pale were alert and looked ahead.

We neither looked ahead or back.

They saw the trail of red mud behind us

and tried not to make eye contact.

We passed each other like different species on a plain.

They wondered what we were laughing about

as the last of the red mud

mixed with the gleaming bird’s spreading puddles.

In time they would know.

 HOBO Woods, RVN, 1967.

HOBO Woods, RVN, 1967.

WELCOME HOME

I was in the 82nd Airborne at Fort Bragg after I got back from Nam. I hurt myself on a parachute jump and took a leave. I was at the Long Island Rail Road at Penn Station waiting for a train. A LIRR cop came over, picked up my duffle bag and carried it down to the train for me. He put the bag on the overhead rack, shook my hand and wished me good luck. A few months later I was out of the Army attending school in the city. I commuted in and out of the city everyday on the LIRR. My hair was getting long and I had a beard. I was sitting on the floor with my back against one of the pillars. The same cop came over, gave me a hard kick and told me to get my f***ing ass off his floor. I thought of a line from an Allen Ginsberg poem. “America I have given you all and now I’m nothing.”

  1969 > Penn Station, NYC Photo Booth

 1969 > Penn Station, NYC Photo Booth