I was on the way to work the other day, preoccupied with global problems, like Donald Trump and the war in Syria. I’d just read a New Yorker article covering these topics and, not uncommonly for the newly enlightened, was energized by the urgent conviction that I must act to better the world. Immediately thereafter I was filled with the foreboding that I didn’t know how. And that even if I did, I probably didn’t have the courage to follow through.
I’d rolled the magazine up and packed it under my arm as I waited to change to the U9 line. The screen revealed I had a three-minute wait.
Enough time for a woman with a large dog and a leather jacked adorned with Tipp-Ex to engage me in conversation.
“Is this the right side for Hansaplatz?” she asked.
I paused to think (I shouldn’t have had to since this is my daily commute but remember, I was carrying the combined weight of the world’s problems as well as my New Yorker).
Then said: “Yes!” a little too brightly, hoping to make up for my hesitation.
“Good,” she said. “I was afraid of getting it in the wrong direction.”
“Oh, I do that all the time,” I said. (It’s true.)
“My friends will be wondering where I am!” she continued. “I spent all night partying in Tiergarten with the other punks.”
I nodded knowingly, hoping to convey mindfulness of alternative lifestyles.
It seemed to work because she kept talking.
“I turned 30 yesterday!” she said.
“You did?! Happy Birthday!” I blurted enthusiastically.
She combed her hand through a mass of hair in the center of her otherwise shaved head.
“Thanks!” she said. “Got my hair done too. Had to, for the occasion.”
“It looks great,” I said, and meant it.
“Check out my jacket,” she continued. “All my buddies signed it.”
She pointed to various names signed in Tipp-Ex. “That’s my best friend Nina .. and my buddy Timo!”
She was the kind of intoxicated we all aspire to: cheerful but not embarrassing, her non sequiturs redeemed by elegant syntax.
As I was nodding along, I couldn’t help but think: we’re almost the same age! And she lives in the park, with her huge dog and all her lovely punk friends, enjoying life instead of obsessing over her failure to make a meaningful impact. And then, because such things are in my nature, I felt inadequate in the presence of such hard-won resilience.
As the train came, she pulled out a bottle of liquor from the inside of her jacket pocket and waved it in the air.
“Breakfast!” she said happily, before ushering her hound on board.