April 2, 2013

Whereof One Cannot Speak...

A friend recently posted on Facebook, I am going to have to start noting down anecdotes related to Central PA cab drivers. Methinks you would have plenty to contribute, Chris?


I told her to name the time and place, and I would be there. Then I went through my mental catalogue of 2010-2011.


There was Rick, the Hawaiian who accompanied his wife when she enrolled at university. He dropped me off in front of the wrong building on the night of my arrival. It was 11.30 p.m. and my soon-to-be roommate had to send her boyfriend out to look for me and my two suitcases in the parking lot that resembled anything but Hemingway’s clean, well-lighted place.


There was the pervert, who didn’t take a lot of coaxing to tell me that his favorite cab moment was when two college girls made out in the back seat for, he thought, his eyes only. He had fallen from bank manager grace because he couldn’t keep his big mouth shut. My guess was there was more to that story.


There was Mike, the grandpa with the English degree who not only recited Chaucer to me, but helped me rescue a friend who had locked herself out of her house at 2 a.m. That was a fun detour before my Megabus ride to New York.


There was Jay-Jay, the Betty-White sweetheart who dared to fall in love with a younger black man, despite the wishes of her racist sons who wanted her to stay forever married to their abusive alcoholic father. I wrote about her on my old blog. Her energy was just amazing.


Then there was Danny from the bottle shop.


He could have been my age. I called in a cab on my way to a trailer park barbecue [another blog post altogether]. It was May, perhaps some three weeks before my scheduled departure from the States. “So, you’re finally getting deported,” a friend would tease me on my last night. It sure felt like it. My last month was a frenzy. The hourglass was dripping its final grains of sand, and my imminent transplant back home would be painful, jarring, and ultimately unsuccessful. I was out of my mind. I couldn’t sit still, and yet I was paralyzed.


Danny had one hand on top of the steering wheel. His complexion was slightly sallow, his eyes ensconced in two dark circles. His T-shirt might have been dark red. He was that kind of savannah lion who had seen enough shit not to ever flinch from a fight. Someone who could inflict a lot of pain if he had to, but given the choice, he would have declined.


“You wanna tell me about that ink?” I asked.


He had a full sleeve of abstract patterns on his right arm. Nothing decipherable, yet the lines were clear and the color unfaded. Impressive.


“I got that while I was in the service overseas some years ago. Most people have an exact figure or shape that they want, to me it was more about the time and place and who I was with. I got them all in different places. This one was London, this one Barcelona, this one in Frankfurt.”


“My thoughts exactly. I’m thinking about getting a tattoo here before I leave, any good places you can recommend?”


“Sure. There’s that place on B. Avenue, they’re really good. And if you tell them Danny from the bottle shop sent you, I bet they will give you a discount.”


“Thank you. I’ll go and have a look.”


“Nothing sexier than a tattoo on a beautiful woman. Strawberry mint?”


I took the candy. And the recommendation.


I would see him the next day, reading in my favorite coffee shop window. He drove by in the cab, and I took it as a sign. I went into the tattoo shop an hour later and made an appointment for Friday the Thirteenth. Danny’s name did get me a discount.


I would ask another driver about him some weeks later, just like I asked about Jay-Jay and her love story even though I never saw her again. The driver made a funny face, as in why would a girl like you ask about someone like Danny? but what he said was “Um, yeah. Danny’s a little… high strung.”


Danny was a wounded beast, only his fellow cab driver didn’t know it.


We chatted some more on our way to the trailer park. Just as we turned off the main northbound road and onto the dirt, I asked the unassuming question “Are you from here?”


“No, from New Mexico.”


“So what brought you to Pennsylvania?”


“My highschool sweetheart. She’s from PA so we moved here after I got out of the service. We were going to get married and were planning a life together. She got killed by a drunk driver.”


I had never visited my friend the barbecue host, but I felt the car make its final turn. The leaves shone a leathery green in the four-o-clock sun. Frodo the black lab mix was barking insanely, clearly on canine overload between chasing bees and having to greet a new guest. There was the clunk of bocce and sizzle of the grill, Harleys reclined against trees and trailers, and one four-wheeled metal box of messed-the-fuck-up smack in the middle of it all. I swear the forest spun.


He said it so matter-of-factly. In the soft voice of a man who has accepted melancholy as part of his TGAC sequences until the end of his days.


Futility ran down my neck like a stream of rancid mud. I wanted to scream. Make him turn the car around – hell, make him turn the planet around and maybe turn back time. Offer… something. A beer. A listening ear. A foreign shoulder to cry on. All ego-options, quickly scratched off the list as inanely, insultingly stupid. There was nothing, except for the black dog barking like crazy through the muffle of the car window, scratching at the door for me to get out, get out, get out now. Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.


“I am so sorry,” I said with my reluctant index finger on the door handle.


“That’ll be $12.50.”


  1. "A man who has accepted melancholy as part of his TGAC sequences." Wow. I love that. I really, really do. It's beautiful and brilliant, yes, but it's the goddamned truth. Death in any form never dies, it just leaves a scar you eventually get tired of explaining. A deep, ugly scar that is jarring to look at for the first time, yet the one who carries it sees it every day, no different than his own hands and feet.

    1. I have been staring at the blank Comments box for five full minutes now. I have been wanting to tell his story for a long time (and there are more from PA that I haven't written about), yet was torn between the feeling that I would be exploiting it. Not because of confidentiality - for all I know, he might tell it to everyone - but for fear of not doing it justice. I still feel like I didn't do it justice, and on top of that, that I never really could. This is a story of the loudest scream that comes out mute. It is fodder for Benjaminian storytelling, the kind that delivers counsel which is never enunciated, never explicated.

    2. I think of my mother and it makes me wonder why he told you that. He didn't have to. He could have said a million other things. Humans make tenuous connections with one another every day, most of which are touch-and-go, never to be made again. Yet knowing this, knowing you were just a girl, one of thousands of meaningless connections he will make in his life, he chose to show you the scar that no one else can see. Perhaps with each connection we make, we pass a piece of ourselves across the aether, and our burdens become lighter.

    3. Agreed. It's one of those moments where the ego wants to feel exceptional and then bitchslaps itself. He didn't have to show his scars, but he did, ergo I must be special. WRONG. Shut up and listen, bitch.

      I don't know. That entire year I was a walking receptacle for human stories. A man in a bar told me I was sitting in his dead father's favorite spot. Healthscares were drunkenly phoned in in the middle of the night. Gay experiences of a dude who hadn't even come out to himself shared over coffee. Soldiers and ex marines telling me about divorce and therapy and families not responding to their letters from Afghanistan.

      I chalked it up to my court-jester marginality. I was a passer-by, and a foreigner to boot. I was not part of anyone's circle of friends and would be gone soon. I can say things that others cannot, and I can take what you won't give to others. I was safe. I still am. If any one of these people felt that I had something to offer beside that, empirically or intuitively, that is up to their conscience and for me to feel humbled by. But I love what you said about passing a piece of ourselves across the aether, because my immediate association was that we also run across a piece of ourselves that was somehow external to us before the connection, we encounter a piece of ourselves that was either left behind or was yet to become part of us. Thank you.

    4. You are much smarter than I am, especially as it pertains to book-learnin', as they say in the South ;) But I find a kindred soul in you in a way I have only felt with a small handful of people on this rock. I confide in you because of that. Not because you are safely half a world away. Not because I consider my friendship with you tenuous or intangible. Intangible is not the right word, I know. But I can't think of what I'm trying to say. Unimportant? Fleeting? Either way, I confide in you because you reside on that deeper plane of understanding that gives you a point of reference so rare in our species. And it is only from that point of reference that certain things can be seen at all, colors and shapes and patterns of life that are hidden from others who see the world only on their linear and tangible stance. If you were my next-door neighbor, I would have confided in you just the same. Though you probably would have grown sick of me by now ;-) Just wanted you to know that.

    5. Funny you should say that, because just last night I was (re)minded that, book-smart as I am, I still lack in the world-smart department :P Can't argue with that.

      I'm sorry if my comment came out wrong - it had more to do with my year in the States than the present. Whatever acquaintance I made, they were prefaced with the simple fact that I would be gone soon - be it at the end of the day or some months down the line. That tends to facilitate communication in both directions... The blog is different. The anonymity and physical distance is there of course, but I have definitely met some kindred souls here, and I am not leaving any time soon :)

      Thank you for letting me know. You know the feeling is mutual :)

  2. Hey Chris,

    Sorry it took so long to arrive here. The cab driver took a rather strange route via New Zealand. Anyway, the meter is still running and I haven't got much money....

    Quite the observational post, Chris. As for me, "I'm flying in my taxi, taking tips and getting stoned...."

    Okay, I'm going now....

    Gary :)

    1. Nice song, Gary :)))

      I went to a bar the other night, and "Tiny Dancer" was playing. Made me think of "Madman Across the Water" and conversations with you on that topic.

      It's always a pleasure to have you stop by, even if it's the long way round. You keep flying, and I will keep observing ;)

  3. I love this piece Chris. Your humanity is so pink and vulnerable here. I could see everything so vividly, with your words cuing my emotions along the way. I too wanted to lessen his pain. Offer some sort of lame consolation prize intended mostly to soothe my own guilty soul. Why am I guilty? Because I judged him and now I want to take it back because I believe that I "get" him now. Of course I don't. Yet, somehow I am him.

    I know this is a personal question but I'll toss it out there anyway. What was your tattoo of and what part of the body is it on? Lemme guess.... Who am I kidding? I couldn't begin to imagine. It could be anything from an origami boat to a poem. You don't have to tell me if you don't want to. It's fun guessing.


    1. As always Leah, you echoed my words back to me, adding a little something on top of my own understanding that I was not able to put into words. Thank you.

      I would never get him. I could never help. It wasn't my place to offer anything. Yet he offered something that I cannot name, but that has stuck with me ever since.

      I actually wrote about the tattoo when I got it, and posted a picture too. I'll go rummage through my old blog and see if I can forward something via e-mail :)

  4. Partly because I have been near-death, non-comprehending brain-dead and partly because you post rather infrequently....I've found this piece to be a totally refreshing ride shot-gun in a convertible Corvette just blowing by the intersection of Hollywood and Vine at sunset. No matter Bout Da Smog Babe...it's just nice to be out and about!

    1. Thormoo, you're back!!! It's great to have you out and about.

      That is an awesome visual right there, thank you for showing up for the ride. Keep getting better, I promise there are a few ideas simmering in the background, and new posts coming up. Have a great evening and an even better day tomorrow buddy.

  5. I loved this. Made me wish I were in a city with cab drivers. Made me wish I was out in the world looking into someone instead of sitting at my desk. Made me want to open like a wound and say "hell no" to the band-aid. People. They all have a story. They all teach. Come in come in please come in.

    "All ego-options, quickly scratched off the list as inanely, insultingly stupid." I'm going to remember that line, next time I want to open my mouth and speak to what I cannot know. I will, to a larger degree, hope to open my ears.

  6. I spend most of my time sitting at my desk, either with the computer or the latest item on the dissertation reading list. And I haven't had a single cab experience remotely resembling those from PA since I came back almost two years ago. I have contracted. I have gone back to selectiveness. If I wanted to use a silly FB simile, I would say that I have gone from having a completely open profile to "share with: friends of friends." That's as far as I go these days. I do radiate differently, but it is careful and selective and only by proxy. Not many strangers are let in anymore. Perhaps it's the curse of knowing one's home too well.

    I have realized that I too often speak to what I cannot know. Damn that ego and the superiority/inferiority complex that accompanies it.


I thrive on interaction. All comments are welcome and will be replied to.