Monday, February 25, 2008

The First Trip Out

Last night.
Monday, February 25, 2008, circa 7:15pm.

Approximately one year ago, I bought a cloak. Approximately one month ago, I finally hemmed it to my size. Approximately one day ago, we made our debut.

Me: flowing maroon skirt, striped and flowered maroon blouse.
The Cloak: hooded, black wool, lined with blue satin. Reaches the ankle.
Our Trip: through Midtown Manhattan.

I started out feeling shockingly self-conscious, needing people not to laugh at me. Hence my ramrod posture and rigid face. Just as I was starting to relax, I heard someone pass me say loudly and derisively, "Harry Potter!" Great. Not Harry Potter. Why did that have to be popular, anyway? I'm trying to buck convention, not truckle under because of a popular fad! It's fine. Noble. Just think noble. Face rigid, eyes straight ahead, I ignore the man who grins all too widely and waves. I am noble. So what if I came out here to have fun? I am noble.

And yet... And yet as I leave Times Square, what's the point? The police aren't stopping me as a suspicious character; Charlie Todd hasn't stopped me excitedly to say that I've sparked a new ImrovEverywhere scene. Just a man holding his son's hand apologizing with the slightest widening of the eyes as I futilely try to squeeze past him when he takes a fraction of a second too long to begin crossing the street. After all, how can a long black cloak compete with the man in the totally wacked-out outfit reminiscent of Native American pajamas? So I am left with nothing. Just a normal walk to the Penn Station area, and I don't even get to take a train out of the city, home. I'm stuck; even a cloak can't break me out of my routine. And I'm tired.

So I lean against a fence, give people a chance to say something? Sigh. No, and I'm tired. So I make my way into Penn Station proper. Another chance for points lost: No police or army presence at the top of the escalators. Just one policeman riding into the station, and he doesn't even seem to notice me.

I enter from the NJ Transit/Amtrak entrance, meaning to buy a bottle of water, sit down, maybe use the bathroom as long as I'm there. But the waiting area is for ticketed passengers only. I already knew that... I also know that I have never seen anyone demand to see a ticket, but still, a grin begins to cross my face. Even if I am just stuck in my routine, and even if I probably don't need to, I can still do what I do best: follow the letter of the law while breaking the spirit thereof. The sign posted outside of the waiting area says that it is for NJ Transit customers only, and asks that passengers limit their time in the waiting area to one hour. But nowhere on the sign does it say that the ticket must be used after the hour is up. So feeling altogether smug, I approach the machines to buy a round-trip ticket to Trenton, NJ--which I will use next week.

As I'm buying the ticket, a man asks me if when I'm finished, maybe I could give him for five dollars so he can eat something. That's a no-brainer. He is my first adventure, how can I refuse the hungry man met in the wilds? I tell him I'm about to buy a water anyway, I'll get him something as long as I'm in there. I take a few steps toward the fancy chocolate-muffin-beverage store; he suggests McDonald's. I tell him I wasn't planning on going out that way; I'll get my water and my change, give him five, and he can go to McDonald's. Everything goes just fine. The clerk perhaps gives a different smile than is usual to give a customer, but that is not an adventure. Neither is my homeless man, really: how much does it have to do with the cloak?

I'm not sure how discouraged I should be as I weary into the waiting area, and note--just in case anyone asks--that there's a train to Trenton at 9:01, and another at 9:14. Good, I have a little over half-an-hour before I clearly miss a train to my destination.

As I make my way over toward the women's bathroom, I hear someone behind me say to his companion, "...It's called a cloak." Yes. Maybe now I get my adventure? However, the couple does not approach me as I settle into a seat on the end of a row. But as I sit down, I distinctly hear the word "cape" from the other end of the bench. I glance over out of the corner of my eye, and see a man with a goatee and a girlfriend. He's playing with a collapsible cane, and I smile as other snatches of their conversation drift over my way. "That's the real... It has a hood and everything... to get... tried to sell me on without a... No..."

I just look at the floor ahead of me, smiling gently. Then a man comes over. Shortish yellow dreadlocks, very polite. "Excuse me, ma'am, do you mind me asking...?" I smile at him and gesture, go ahead! "I was just wondering: are you Amish?" Broad smile from me. I am happy. "No," I reply, my smile turning into a broad grin, "Just crazy." Yes!! This is what I came for! This is me, this is how I think, how I am, and I am immune I can do this in public, and no one knows who I am. No consequences. Yes fun. The man's polite, friendly smile falters, but he hitches it back in place, "You're not crazy," he responds, his smile faltering again, his eyes questioning just a little bit. My smile is wide and gentle again, and I shake my head, murmuring, "No. I'm not." But he isn't quite sure if he can believe me, and I don't think that adding, "My psychiatrist gave me a clean bill of health" will help any. He shoots me one last quizzical smile, gives a half-wave, and goes back the way he came. Score.

I sit there smiling; I am happy. But things are on the upswing now, I am still and the people around me are still. There is only the etiquette of the city separating us; it is not compounded by our motion and rush. Then the man on the end of the row leans over toward me. Adventure the second, baby. "'Scuse me," he opens, "My girlfriend here was just wondering: is that, you know, like... Harry Potter?" Sigh and damnation but sweetness, always sweetness or else the adventure is totally shot.

"No," I answer with a fairly normal smile, "No. Very much no. But I've already gotten that tonight."

"Oh. Ummm... So why are you wearing the cape?"

This is too perfect. Big smile, one hundred percent friendly and happy. "Well, it's cold outside." Follow my point home with eye contact, more smile. But normal.

That throws the man slightly off-balance; he tries to say something, fails, then comes out with, "Oh, so you wear that all the time?" He sounds pretty normal himself. This could be quite, quite good.

I don't want to admit this is my first time out, so I say, "No, just when I feel like it."

This totally confuses him, so I take pity and explain. A little. "I mean, I also have a coat for when I want to make a good impression. But come one, a coat or a cloak, which one's more fun?"

He's still not quite sure what's going on, but he's game. Gesturing his cane, he sallies with, "I have this when I want to make a good impression!" and flourishes with his arm, snapping the cane together.

"Well, that'll make an impression all right. I don't know about a good one, but it'll sure make an impression!"

We laugh softly together, and a friend of his walks over, freeing us from the awkward need to either continue or finish our conversation.

A little while passes; I see a policeman and a soldier walk by. I check my watch, sigh, and walk into the bathroom. When I come out, the policemen and soldier are there, and everyone is listening to them explain that tickets are being checked. Excitement. Personal interaction with authority, which should have the air of confrontation with none of the danger. I've got me my ticket under my cloak! I walk past them and sit down; the soldier glances over at me and away again. He glances back, I smile, he smiles, he looks away. Finally he looks over and calls softly, "I haven't seen a cloak in quite a while!" Good, he knows it's a cloak, not a cape. I answer with a smile, "Neither have I." I consider adding, "Yeah, I don't think I haven't seen a cloak in, oh, 250 years or so!" but by the time I think of it, too much time has already elapsed for it not to sound lame. So I content myself with, "I haven't seen anyone check for tickets in quite a while either."

"Well, that's what we're doing now!"

Clearly. I know that. But sweetly, always sweetly. It's more fun that way. "Yeah. You're checking for tickets, I'm wearing a cloak: it all works out."

The soldier nods, but I don't think he gets it. A few minutes later, they leave, and they haven't asked to see my ticket. Oh, well. I had fun. Anyway, the first train is scheduled to leave in about ten minutes, and I'm done here. So I start my walk back to the apartment, knowing that I am finally on the same wavelength to adventure.

But the trip back is nearly uneventful. That's alright. I'm out of my funk. As I near my dorm building I notice two girls who clearly go to my school headed that way, themselves. Shoot. I was hoping for anonymity, here. But it's all right, I don't know them and they don't know me. I'm still wrapped in my shroud of mystery. They're walking rather quickly, so I slow down a little and move aside. As they pass me, their conversation becomes much quieter, and has an overtone of confusion. A few steps later, they turn into the dorm, and with the broadest of grins, I do the same. The first girl opens the door and turns to look at her friend. She gives the best double-take; I take the door and motion her friend inside. Silence, then, "Mmm... Have a good night?" "Good night," I answer with a gentle smile, and we all present our IDs as they call the west elevator and I make my way I go toward the east.

I have had an adventure, after all.

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