It’s a Wednesday I think, and I’m going home high. It just passed 10:15 in the morning, my alarm reminds me – been up since I heard kitchen noises at 9:46. (I didn’t forget about the alarm – I knew it’d go off, marking forty-five sweet minutes left in the breakfast hour before James – I call him “Camper” – picks me up. Still blazed from last-night antics, he and I plan to shop uptown a bit, just for a while. Maybe I’ll buy some flannel or a grinder; Camper doesn’t know really what he wants, but I need to buy a special edition record for Nina. Otherwise…bad. So since I’m going home, packing happens, panic happens, I shave.
Camper is waiting downstairs. “It’s snowing!” he texts me.
So I see. We tie our scarves tight and cross a few streets, the air’s so fresh. Great morning to leave London. Let the confusion of the clouds figure itself out for a few weeks ‘til I come back in the New Year.
But Camper leaves on Sunday and he’s NOT coming back. So we hop on the Tube and shoot uptown. I watch people. We’re talking about the class system of humanity. Fucked up.
“What about Rocket Vintage?”
“We can go that way. Okay.”
“Can we check out these flannel jackets?” Camper’s found a £5 one that seems great. I check the time. I look at a sweatshirt once owned by some named “Skeeds.”
“Should we keep going?”
“Yeah, we could go faster. You’re not buying that cheap one?” Guess not. Back on the street again. A million crappy t-shirts in market stalls; Rastafarian tents blast us with marijuana imagery. Really, really not interested, Bob. Camper helps me look for this record, but no shops have it.
“It’s okay, man. It’s not like I didn’t try.”
“Why does this t-shirt say Do Not Wash in Warm Water. Do Not Tumble Dry?” Camper asks me across the stall.
“Not worth it, dude. But I’m buyin’ this one. See? It’s got some Star Trek glam rocker on it.”
We buy a banana fritter. (Best thing.) I check the time and we give up. My train’s at “14 o’clock”, I tell our friend John, who proposed a late brunch, “and I really gotta jet.” Almost worried, I give Camper one last hug.
“Kick Keats in the head for me,” I tell him as he grooves up to his flat to start a paper.
I eat peanut butter on a carrot. Many hundreds, or it feels like that, of steps later, my big-ass suitcase and myself are out in the half-assed snow. I am vaguely worried about time, but hey, the sign says sixteen minutes to St. Pancras, and here’s the bus. Awesome.
I am sorting money in a public transportation vehicle – it must be done before I change the currency – and I am so uncomfortable, with leafy Euros and pound notes spread across my lap. What power is in this paper? There is no power in it! But there is power on it. Smeared all over it. People smell it with their many greedy eyes.
Holborn, then Russel. Tavistock Square. Euston. One more stop. It’s four minutes to two and I have ‘til 2:04. And then we are stopped. This vehicle is rumbling, but stationary. I can’t stand so still. I stand up. People around me know I am late, they know my story. It is 1:59.
Heaving hot breath through my lungs, a growl of confusion and anger pours out. I am out of breath, not sure whether I should affix my energies on surviving or consoling my pathetic self. Lost. If only I wasn’t going home high.
“Are you alright?”
An angel named “A. Neal” helps me, slides cards and tickets effortlessly through windows and machines. She soothes me. The train’s gone. But you’re on the three o’clock. Smiles. The tensions whose grating screeches I hadn’t even had time to hear fade to happy clarity. Smiles. One-hundred-eighty degrees behind me there is a currency exchange, coffee, phone credit. I utilize all three. I am OK. I text Nina and tell her I am OK. I can’t bring the coffee I’ve bought into the waiting area. It was boring anyways; no kick.
“Take your coat off please.”
“Take your hood off please.”
“Oh– my change.” The short woman with no English waves me off and I walk through the metal detector. And I grab my big-ass bag and my big-ass coat and I head towards the passport control booth.
Oh. The Passport Control Booth. Oh. I am about to vomit, suddenly.
Is the room spinning? With my bag and my coat and heat and my heavy head, my momentum could be spinning the room. One person, two – now five people are around me as I find myself sitting down. Hunched over; surrounded.
“I am about to miss my second train,” I say to one of the faces. “Can I just tell you my whole story?” I see another smile; it comes from behind concern and strict rules, though.
“So I missed my two o’clock train. But they were nice enough to put me on the next one free of charge,” – I am thinking about Nina. How worried she’ll be. “And now I’ve just realized I left my passport back at my flat.”
We are being silent. This second is for silence; I am a failure. Too much, even, for the savviest of train station staffers in London. But just now a neuron fires: NO, nobody can bring it to me. I must go quickly home and get it myself. Can I leave my bag here. NO. Can I first get the ticket changed. YES. There are storage lockers. OK. I get a wink and a smile from A. Neal as I walk out and feel somehow positive despite all this. I am able to smile, too, and before too long I am running. I will be running for a few hours now, I think. Thank God for that goddamn elliptical machine.
Underground stations are a godless maze of human endeavor. As I realize this, I am unable to digest the magnitude of it – I don’t have time. Northern Line – the one BLACK line on the map – but going north. North? Yes. Transfer. With the image of the beautiful salt-and-pepper curls that had jangled on a woman sitting opposite me bouncing in my mind, I head to the platform that’s next. But which? Ok, South. Yes? Northern…but not the Eastern Branch, you want the one that goes through–
“Doesn’t say, does it?” A man ten years older than me and far better dressed stands at my side and he is reading the same map, the same set of symbols. Equally mystified.
“You’re as confused as I am?”
“I think it’s this way,” he says. We are together, walking, together humming “Charing Cross…Charing Cross…” We will find it. This man is strong.
I am leaning into the fuzzy upholstery of the seat on the train and cool, annoying sweat slides across my back. I am feeling positive again after the youngish black man in front of me suddenly rises to his feet, offering the elderly bird standing on brittle legs his seat. Oh, humans. Oh, angels.
And now I’m here again. Oh, well.
“I love you Southbank,” I say aloud. “Wasn’t ready to leave you yet anyway.” I realize I never said goodbye. I am taking pride in Lambeth. But not in my stupidity. Never go home high, I guess.
Men at the door, metal shutters. Oh no, was there a fire alarm? Am I barred from my building? Shit.
“Just a test.”
“Cuz it’s a Wednesday, isn’t it?”
Chuckles, jolly. “Catches on, this one.”
Those men must’ve put the Christmas spirit in me, because I am in the kitchen with two blond girls at either side. My flat mates are giving me a farewell hug. I have just told them my rotten luck. I am gonna get my passport and–
“Go go go!” says the one in the School of Midwifery. Busting through the door, throwing open the top drawer of my desk, now bare from abandonment, I open my eyes wide, ravenous for relief. THE PASSPORT. IS NOT HERE. AT ALL. It is not under the three notebooks, the textbook, the shiny folders with my drawings of clouds on them. It is not under anything.
If my passport is still in a hostel in Berlin…
No. After such great sex it’s a wonder we thought of anything at all – no. I took it, put it in my bag, journeyed. In my backpack. My “rucksack”, they say; which is where?
I watch the gnawed-on butt of my second carrot bounce on the sidewalk. It fell a long way. Ha! I throw far when I’m angry. Because my passport was in my rucksack and THAT, ladies and gentleman of the jury, is stuffed in my suitcase. Which I have left at the train station. Which I had with me the whole time. Yep. Consider death, Alex.
Again the crossings. Again the buses that buzz around the glass circle cinema. But I am making the buses sleep on the couch tonight.
So much heat and so many fingers crossed that I almost forget: Jubilee is my favorite X-Men character. Jubilation Lee, rain-slicker yellow and neon pink—my train bears her name. Will I remember the good parts? I have been running for two straight hours. They say if I miss the “sixteen-fifty-five” they’ll put me on the next one anyway. Will I remember the positivity?
Subterranean heat drowns out thought. Sweat, moving sidewalks, hustle. Do I look ridiculous? I wonder vaguely. To these women, especially. Thank God I have a girlfriend.
Like a monkey on monkey bars, I swing free and nihilistic on the handholds of this train. Germs? I touch everything. When I am high, like voltage, I need grounding. Reached Green Park – beautiful. Is it bad that I check out my acne in the windows? Train two makes me think: God-DAMN, I have been all over this city today. Heard all types of voices. Seen love at all ages. Feeling lonely, I watch two stately sixty-something Englishmen talk about blood tests and blood pressure. The woman heating the space next to me is very happy.
I arrive at King’s Cross/St. Pancras International. How epic. I am laughing with two strangers as we turn away from the empty corridor we thought was the “Way Out.” Again, we connect. We happy few. A Rasta-beanie wearing dude with a hip hitch in his step – could he ever know what his drug has done to me? – interrogates me, asking for the ticket to my luggage. The ticket? To my luggage. Pocket Number Six procures this. Transaction complete – I am suddenly the loud American at the front of the line, waving his passport around and offering his credit card.
It seems like all steps are complete. I really cannot foresee a further fuck-up of this journey, failing the ultimate combustion of the train and all its mechanics. Wait. Haha! Don’t I have some mezz stuffed in my toiletries somewhere? Oh well. If they bust me for that I deserve it. I am more concerned with the amount of sweat in my clothing.
“You wanna know the end of the story?” I am asking A. Neal at the check-in booth. Quick and self-loathing, I give her a story that ends with me pointing at my suitcase, saying “…the whole time.” Oh, the entertainment. But also, I have A. Neal’s sympathy.
I say, “You know what? I’ve seen so many friendly people today – if the product of this is a greater fondness for humans, I’d call it a good, full day.” I think I might be serious. Because now I am watching two pairs of kids, lovely girls in school uniforms with their headstrong pre-teen brothers, and they’re trying to buy candy. At both registers the workers are saying: You’re 43 pence short; you’re just sixteen pence short, do you…” Can I love this forever? How can I not? I guess I’ll die at some point. But my own transaction is smooth. I buy three Happy Hippos. I tell the register worker I’ll be using a credit card. That okay?
“Hey. I’m easy,” he says. “And you understand the system.”
Do I? I am wondering as I put back a book I accidentally stole from the airport bookstore.
“Excuse me!” I look up and there’s the angel, Amy. Her nametag and my ticket, I notice, both have just that letter A for a first name. She is beckoning, silently. I freeze: now what? She is still silent, but smiling. Oh shit, the joint. My already sweat-heavy hoodie gets a surge of panicked moisture.
“It’s a good thing,” she assures me. So will you say something, lady-who-is-now-weirdly-a-part-of-my-life-but-still-just-for-today?
“You’ve just lost so much of your day. We wanted to make you feel better, so we’re moving you to a first class seat. You’ll get a meal.” I remember that I’ve had a carrot with peanut butter, a carrot without, and one Animal Cracker-style Rich Tea Biscuit today. Amy seems to be the angel in charge of making sure high kids don’t go home hungry. Or maybe she’s my patron saint.
“You can tell all your friends about traveling with Eurostar!” How can I tell all my friends? Besides Camper, I met them all for the first and last time today, I think cutely. And now I am extra-thankful to them all because now I am writing it all down in this book and the journey is complete. I got home high and soon I’ll see my brother and we’ll get that Home High, when everything we grew up with, everything familiar, is suddenly very, very exciting. And you know where ALL the snacks are.