On enountering a tipsy punk

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).


By Pax – Transferred from pl.wikipedia.org to Commons., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2118607

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.

The Spindly Old Man and his Giant Dog

Yesterday an old and spindly man carrying a canvas rucksack got on the S42 train. By his side, ranging far beyond his hip, was the largest dog I have ever seen. The animal’s expansive snout was curved into an unmissable expression of contentment and its panting caused a pleasant breeze to waft in my direction. The pair captured the attention of the entire carriage. One lady  gasped and another simply pointed and shook her head.

The considerate hound immediately dove under a row of seats and stretched out its gargantuan mass. The  old man plonked himself down nearby. I chose the seat next to him. I had to keep my legs dangled in the air because a portion of the canine was jutting out far  beyond the area beneath the seat. The old man took out a newspaper and  I opened my book.Shortly after I felt him abandon the paper and read over my shoulder. I hoped my leisurely reading pace suited his. The book was The Diving Bell and The Butterfly. Its author, Jean-Dominique Bauby, a French journalist, became paralysed after a stroke and could only communicate by blinking. He died at the age of forty-four.

The man and his enormous dog stayed on the train for five stops. As he was getting ready to disembark, one of the ladies, who had been staring unashamedly the whole time, blurted out, “How much does he weigh?”

“Sixty seven kilos,” the old man replied in a flash and added, “He’s not a Saint Bernard either; he just looks like one.”

The lady nodded earnestly. “And how old is he?”


The doors slid open and the old man stepped forward. Then he hesitated and turned around again.

He looked the lady in the eye.

“He’s the best thing ever to happen to me,” he said.

Then the doors closed and they were gone.