Attempt on the A Train (Excerpt 3) – You

Excerpt from Amin Erfani, “Attempt on the A Train,” in Unsaid Magazine, Issue 8, ed. David McLendon, March 2021


“[…] You. You: Standing quietly in your spot. Transparently filling space. Adjacent to or within the restricted periphery of other standees. Doing nothing. Nor giving the impression of wanting to be doing anything. Of any kind. At any time. Least of all: To stand out. Presently: Your social status sums up to being a lump of mass occupying a perfect void. In a prescribed spot allotted on a given grid. A grid devised by experts to sort out huddles of masses into patterns of masses. Mapped out on blue paper with white letters and numbers denoting rows and columns. A maximum capacity of spots allottable across meticulously delineated areas. Yours: Occupiable by any random standee other than you. Statistically no less average or transparent. Occupied presently by you instead of any other standee. At this stage in your midlife: You pride yourself on taking part in the plenum of the so-called Invisible Majority. Against whom: Prime people thrive in visibility. The young and the rich and the beautiful. Your own social capital boils down to making the select few eclipse the great many. Without your sort no scale would exist by which to measure: Flamboyance. True achievement. Extraordinary things and extraordinary people would no longer appear to be so credibly: Extraordinary. If you and your many weren’t so intently: Ordinary. A strayed pair of eyes gazing randomly in your direction sees: Not you. But behind you: The sixty-one-year-old wearing a Borsalino Beaver fedora with acetate myopic glasses in black wool cashmere velvet collar coat and tie set off by an embroidered Moroccan vest. Nasalised Missouri accent snarling: Every man has inside himself a parasitic being who is acting not at all to his advantage. Yours is an incredibly laborious task: To inspire fierce and unfaltering indifference. The convoluted calculations required to take stock of this stake. The pressure and the chore and the angst. The violence and pathos of such an act. Undetected by the untrained eyes. Carrying on your shoulders an overbearing old social code. Rigorously impressed on you by a family line of impeccably average progenitors. Rigorously impressed by you on your own carefully manufactured average progenies. It would be inconceivable if not disrespectful to walk back on generations-old tradition of: Pure Prosaism. Old habits die hard. Especially in a lineage of: Self-loathers. Signet ring on the left pinkie engraved with initials. Gifted in your late teenage-years by your late mother. The memory bearer. The family heirloom. Passed along the line of gender-specific same-name ancestry. Modified at every generational step by a simple postpositive title add-on. Today: Your childhood memories are but a big blur. Wiped despite reaching recently your mid-forties. The efforts and the persistence and the planning. Yearning for absolute vanishment into your immediate surroundings. The pre-calculated blandness of your attire. The homogeneity of colors and fabrics. Deliberately bought to blend into the background almost instantaneously. The coveted art of disappearance. Time and thought invested in every article of clothing. To rate above a certain minimal degree of noticeable neglect. But below what’s commonly perceived as even remotely joyous or posh. You are a studious follower of fashion. Envying what you do not allow yourself to be part of. Steer away from accidental drifts into creativity. Listservs and newsletters and timelines. Venturing at times one-liners to a perfect stranger in your virtual social net. Validating superlatively another’s self-projected image. Grittiest attempt yet to connect online. Without real hope of being validated back. Passive participation in societal rituals without the return of being perceived as a true participant. All of which occurrences provide you with a sense of: Belonging. Most gazes pierce through you. Gripped instead by a slogan on a square-card perking behind your shoulder: Have you found the you in you yet. The year of the booty. Brazilian butt lift. Breast augmentation. Nose surgery. Mommy makeover. Cool sculpting. Tummy tuck. And more. If you love something. Like yourself. Set it free. Nothing in you craves attention. Your social self deems itself fulfilled while being: A view-blocker. You carry upon your face an indelibly apologetic expression. Owed to the plight of life of having to carry around a face. Served up in public places for public consumption. Longing for erasure of every feature off your complexion. Brow creases and frown furrows and shallow forehead. Face put together in bits and pieces of contours. Lines interrupted midway. Others incoherently tied up. Scrabbled face. They say: Every line reveals traces of an inner life. Yours: Filled with disappointments and failures. Chronic fright and persistent despair. Despite leading a life very much average by any measure. Void of any imminent and real danger. You startle randomly throughout the day. You look over your shoulder: To see if anybody is looking at you. Your face projects a clinical case of childhood onset. Fretting obsessively about things benign by your own admission. You do not act on things. You let things act on you. Submerged that one particular morning by a sudden unprecedented urge. Standing underneath a commercial banner. Because you’d dropped off your guard. Because then you felt fatigue and vulnerability. Because the index of self-hatred was set higher still than your everyday mindset. For reasons too incidental to remember now. Served an overpriced lukewarm burnt coffee cup at the food cart. Realized two blocks too late your bifocals were left in the other beige blazer. Held onto a pole at arm’s length of a straphanger too self-assured and good-looking and successful by standards of mass-transit voyeurism. Turned instantly into a textbook consumer target. For whom slogans aren’t only words or product puffery or show-window. But: Mirrors. Every daring advertisement makes every given reader realize: Something lacks in your life. You just don’t know it yet. But you feel it. A hole. We can fill it for you. This. Here. Will make you feel again: Fulfilled. Be: Wholed. You came to the realization: Your facial constitution is in crisis. Begs for professional intervention. Fretting slowly into fragments. To stick its pieces back together. Diagnosis brought by: Your overhead morning commuter ad. Catching a glimpse of yourself in the chalky car window parallel to the moldy platform wall. Horizontal multi banners sales pitch. Pictureless slogan. Black font on white. Bland and bold and big. You were not born with facial lines. You acquire features with time. Life is a messy defacement process. Fraught with worries and agita and stress. Cure yourself of your past. You suddenly see the center piece of your somatosphere as: A disorder. Anxiety carving deep-dug fragmented curves. Broken border lines. Drooping nose tip. Loose jowls. Loss of neckline. Fractures across features. Symptomatic manifestations of long-lasting and intense anxiety. Late-in-life victim to mass-marketed diagnosis. What’s behind any ghastly disfigurement: Angst. Ad-manufactured fact: Triggering in you a whole new order of anxiety. Looking again into Lexan glass. More angst of uncovering traces of past angst. Determinant factor behind facial impairment. Life scars formed from decades old repression. Prognosis of self-procreating anxiety. Parthenogenesis afficere. Singlehandedly responsible for the accelerated loss of collagen and elastin chains in dermic tissues. Per your new personal face gymnastics trainer’s complementary spiel. Handing over a custom branded ball pen to jump start the registration process. Your ridged and saggy and shriveled face needs immediate care. At a $50 per half-hour rate. Time and money and efforts spent peering into mirrors. Under close and intense professional supervision. Unspoken feeling of defeat in estimating the insurmountable work lain ahead. The chubby cheeks and the double chin and the turkey neck. Hourlong 4-days-per-week workouts. The meticulous manipulations of muscles. By mechanical pressuring of fingers. Start patching up the upper line gaps first. Over the frontalis and the frontal belly of the occipitofrontalis in particular. Mei Jung acupressure. Sign of a tumultuous inner life linked to digestion and intestinal movements. Stress lines. Worry lines. Administer hayaluronic acid-fruit-leaf seed extract moisturizer. Import product sold on store shelves only. Rub it hard. No coupon participation sorry. Until it hurts. Take a quick break. Here’s another essential bit of fact: You and I have got 57 muscles each in our faces. The royal road to get ahold of your future self. Re-instate facial symmetry. For your wealth and prosperity lines. Start over. Every tissue demands mastery of a particular technique. Patience and practice and stamina. Curriculum fleshed out over thirty-four weeks. Reconfiguring firmness and tone of every tissue and muscle fiber. Eight-month tuition to be paid in full before classes begin. Position your forefingers on the verge of the hairline. Improving face muscle strength. Added benefit: Improving gall bladder and liver function. With debit card or certified check or money order. Apply fast and firm inward circles. Cash: The most preferred mode of payment. Effectual in preventing atrophy of the fine muscles and wasting of the lymphatic system. Repeat 20 times a day. You skim through inspirational quotes to prep up in the morning. You offer body and soul to your guru’s pep talk. You put on upbeat music to pump yourself up before classes start. Stage two starting on session six in week two. Yang Bai. Opening of energy points and blood meridians. Added perk of stymieing migraines and headaches. Rule of thumb: Avoid facial expressions. Anger. Happiness. Perplexity. Awe. To attenuate crow’s feet and bloated bags and dark rings. Tackle the orbicularis oculi and the temporalis by way of yoga toning around eye sockets scheduled for week three. To abate brow and eyelid ptoses around soul-wrenching hollow looks. Indicative of weakness and spleen. By which early stage of third week of training you had dropped out of scheduled classes for good. Despite the eight-month tuition processed in full. After suffering from a third order of anxiety. Paid with sibling and one-childhood-friend borrowed money. Because you’d felt pressured and oppressed. Putting your scarce relationships in peril. Being stared at too closely and too intensely by somebody who wasn’t you. Nerve-crushing experience without any precedence. You wonder: What were you thinking. For far too long every day over two whole weeks. Scrutinized up close and personal. Having avoided traps like these in the past in your adult life. General philosophy being never to attempt rising above your condition. Untenable to entertain any true relation: At the distance between you and a mirror. Spectacle of complete and unprotected nudity offered up to the gaze of the Other. Episodic manifestation of a manic state surely. Engaging uncharacteristically in a significant goal-directed activity. Beyond the duration of any normal activity. With pronounced but ephemeral euphoric accents. Ending quickly with an acute anxiety crisis. The depressive self’s paralytic sway creeps back into well-known territories. Trampling over the smallest urge for: Action. Ambition. Initiative. Despite all proof to the contrary: You argue over yourself that the inability to complete anything isn’t a sticking trait of your character that illustrates the worst in you. Cowardice. Surrendering. Moral failure. That instead you are taking things into your own hands. Naming a medley of half-baked high-brow concepts. Dignity. Self-respect. Decency. Covering up true lack of grit as a systemic dysfunction of your personality. Such indignation against yourself gives you new energy. Becoming all hellbent about pursuing the abruptly aborted gymnastics curriculum: This time on your own terms. Redesigned according to your gut intuitions and tolerance threshold and a knowledge of yourself unmatched by others. Spare time increasingly spent alone. Staring by yourself into scattered mirrors. Pocket and hung. Arranged strategically within your vicinities. Positioned with clear purpose. Covering most angles inside your domicile. Mirrors reflecting mirrors. Magnifying one stored inside the top desk drawer of your cubical. For swift and easy access. In case opportunities arise. Doorless partition opening clears out onto a narrow walkway. Co-worker traffic turns ugly upon schedule. You take frequent bathroom breaks. Lock up in a stall. With phone’s selfie camera on. Time for a warm-up with tiny space for privacy. Wait for public lavatories to be emptied out. You prefer life-size reflections of yourself. The wall mounted whole-length mirror. Over rows of deserted sinks and foam dispensers. This provides you with a sense of territory. As long as nobody walks in. You wash your hands many times over. Rush through a batch of exercises. You see the polished chrome hand dryer reflecting back an elongated image as you dry your hands. You take your sweet time. Granting plenty of opportunities to pick up where you left off at the gymnastics classes. Toiling over the orbicularis oris and the depressor labii inferioris and the depressor anguli oris. Trying to hit different muscles at different times. Some of which you may or may not have already hit upon in the two weeks of attended training. Because you do not remember. You did not take notes. Lacking self-awareness: You drift from strict toning workouts of facial tissues into off-the-charts improvisations. You manipulate particular muscles to create expressions which belong to a stratum of prototypically average expressions. Trying in the mirror a range of physiognomic palette. Presumably fit for or applicable to professional or social settings however scarce in your case. Puckering the orbicularis oris in the lips as far as they can go. Pushing them out with a mid-range woo-woo. Attempting a sort of emphatic approbation. Assessing all possible proper responses to events as uplifting as: Donuts assortments at the office assistant’s front desk. Pulling them backward. Stretching the cheek buccinator and mentalis upward. As wide as your face allows a smile. Courtesy of last-minute rescheduled directors’ meeting from the day prior. Repeat at least ten times. Exclamations worsening collagen and elastin depletion. Despite the guru’s full-blooded daily warnings and pep talks and threats. Now in the rear view mirror and totally forgotten. Imprinting fine edges on your forehead and crow’s feet on your cheeks. You drift into intricate deviations. Get stuck weeks on end on sculpting a perfect portrait. Such as of a person on the verge of reaching: A thought. Wobbly head on a stiff neck. The flow of adipic bag waves by centrifugal force around the face center. Fluttering sacks of fat. Slackness of flesh. Moving in slow motion. Around bulging eyeballs and gaping nostrils and compressed lips stuck into quasi stillness. Pictorial rendition of a human brain racking up full steam: What it takes to light up the bulb. You have failed to investigate ways or invest thoughts in the temporalis or the masseter or the levator labii superioris alaeque nasi. Due to lack of true reflection regarding the reach and potential of the whole business of muscle firming and facial toning and fine tissue gymnastics. Despite such pretensions to this day you remain oblivious to your own inner or outer constitution. Small scar by the upper left lip close to the mouth commissure predates your earliest childhood memory. Tiny deep lip cut. Unaccounted for despite your routine self-scrutiny. In search of anomalies and improvement strategies. By rule of thumb: You favor self-abnegation over self-expression. You’d rather reply to people’s forms of requests or inquisitions with a prefixed teeth-length static smile. Projecting a purposefully overplayed nasalised pitch. Secreting a Pavlovian drape of disproportionately small perspiratory droplets over the frontal globe area. These are entirely self-trained and minted reflexes. Dispel most effectively any impression of assertiveness or confidence or profundity. You opt to speak in short bisyllabic-or-fewer-word sentences. Woven together with fillers and hedges and discourse particles and the likes. You stoutheartedly assimilate your speech to that of an eighth-grader’s. Despite the strenuous amount of energy required for washing down your diction to someone third your age. This provides you with a sense of: Safety. Were you ever to gain momentum by accident. Be caught off-guard by some lapse of focus on fending off your inner-most mature impulses. Achieve by inadvertence some sort of extraordinary gesture. Say unwittingly out loud something of true importance or consequence. Despite the self-eating efforts that every bit of your conscious self invests in repressing such impetus. Just then: A crippling sense of fright takes over you. Your temple pumps blood twice its normal rate. You hear your heart beat harder on your eardrums. Your muscles go tense. Your eyes dilate. Your mucous membranes go dry. You look about you. Transfixed. Terrorized: By the possibility of being caught in an act that may have some impact on something at some point. Instead: You prefer making lists. You browse catalogues of items knowing perfectly well you won’t purchase anything. Because it is: Soothing. You leave the TV set on in the background to provide you with an illusion of company. You follow shows admittedly tedious just to rebound on a private conversation between coworkers by the water fountain. You wake up early and go to bed early. In between: You seek to achieve nothing and crave all things low energy. It is exhausting being you. You are tired all the time. Being a nobody who does nothing. This eats you from the inside out. This messes with your sleep cycles. This started from that time you read Flaubert. As for: Writing. You have given up hope a long time ago. You know it now: Your name will never appear in print. You have no strength left for it. It is beyond your might. Unhappily. Perhaps happily. The truth is: You would have made yourself all too miserable. Had you truly tried. You would have made everybody else miserable too. Wishing: To rise too high. You would have torn the soles of your feet into shreds. Seeking to take that gravel road. There are other roads made for you. Paved roads. Stocks waiting to be sold on markets. Spots waiting to be filled on grids. By any one idiot among the many other idiots. You have chosen to be: Society’s stopgap. Filling perfectly your void. Fitting perfectly your role. Law-abiding citizen. Settling and everything. Void-filling and everything. Like the rest. Like everybody else. The way everyone is supposed to be. The way everybody else is. The lawyers. The doctors. The teachers. The administrators. The jurors. The jurists. The judges. One more idiot among many idiots. Some active agent of the workforce. Office worker. Who is surely the most idiotic of all. Because you supposedly ought to become something among things. No middle ground allowed. Well then: You have made your decision. You are decidedly decided. You will abide by the law. You will embody lawfulness. The law will be your law. Which instead of leading to things. Will lead to nothing at all. You will spend years in this city. Piling pennies in the bank. Waiting for the end to come. The one dream left for you to have. That is to die. In a house. Far away from here. On the beach. […]” 


Featured in Unsaid Magazine Issue 8, which you can buy here: