The shoes of the man sitting opposite me on the ‘E’ train are made from black leather, long since scuffed to grey. They are on the whole unexceptional, but for a large fleur-de-lis that has been embossed below the lacing. Their one time appropriateness for special occasions has been worn away. On the subway and on the underground I often find myself staring intently at the shoes of my fellow passangers. It is not from a fetish, it is just that I keep my eyes on the floor, avoiding eye contact with those around me, or I keep my eyes on the page of a book I am reading. A few minutes before, when we pulled into a station, I stopped reading, put my book on my lap, and cast my eyes to the floor. Occasionally a glance is stolen, such as the one I make at the man wearing the fleur-de-lis shoes. He is a thin, middle-aged black man wearing a blue suit that like his shoes is faded by wear. He sings “In my father’s house.” Well, he sort of sings “In my father’s house.” It is not the whole hymn that he regales the train with, it is just that one phrase – half-sung, half-shouted every thirty seconds or so. Looking up I see that I most of the other passangers have their eyes to the ground, particularly when he sing/shouts “In my father’s house,” though everytime he does that he looks around. I don’t feel he looks around for a reaction, but for recognition. Perhaps feeling that things have descended again into commuter quietness he again sing/shouts “In my father’s house”. I put my eyes to the floor and look at the fleur-de-lis pattern. Queens Plaza is his stop. As he leaves the train, he notices the book in my lap – God by Jack Miles. He seems happy with my reading material and looking at me, he sings/shouts “In my father’s house” as if I’m the only of his “E” train flock that understands the importance and virtue of his ministry. Then he leaves the train before I have time to explain that reading a book called God does not make me virtuous as he might think it does, and that the book is a critical look at the Old Testament that considers God a literary character and so casts him in the light of literary theory. Not that I would have said that if I had the time.
If you want to stay discombobulated, don’t forget you can subscribe to Culturally Discombobulated using the email subscription button on the right hand side of the screen. Or, if you are a real masochist, you can follow me on twitter at @C_Immigrant or at @awindram.