Thursday, September 24, 2009

Train Portraits - 1997

This is a chronological collection of notes from one old sketchbook that I was flicking through this morning. I went through a 'phase' of writing my observations down in real time whilst commuting on various trains, trams and buses in Germany. In some cases I would encounter the same people over many months so narratives would develop. The following is - with a few spelling corrections - as written in the books. In some cases I gave the protagonists nicknames - in brackets - for my own (in)sanity.

Early December 1996 (The Slider): 40-50. Black bag, orange trim. Baseball cap forward, thin brass clip at back, very short, white hair, wirebrush mustache. Three studs, left ear, short stubby nose, 'American' glasses. Head sunk in sea of black bomber jacket, gaunt face. Eyes (and head) twitch left and right, peeking, turning, stares for moment upon three, two males, one female. Turkish, young, having fun, laughter. He seems perturbed.

The great slider of sliding doors. Always exasperation, grunts, glances for approval, acknowledgment. Always the stares. Cigarette (cigar) long, brown, thin, the smell. Blue tight jeans. Off at Opladen, another survival.

Undated (The Slider): Bag is heavy, weighted shuffle, spine crunched. White logo on baseball cap.

27 March 1997, 8.05am (Beer man): Sixty plus, puffed black leather jacket with bronze clips. Sester Kölsche in hand. Brown leather wallet, worn plastic bag to left. Cigarette dead in hand. Two small dents left temple. Hair thin, grey, wet over back. Alcoholed nose. Black, worn dress pants. Chin pushed forward, large pout. Deep crevices of dry skin in cheeks and forehead. Chin is scarred.

Finger pushed under nose, hand grips chin, other hand in groin, resting. Clean shaven. Big expelling cough, energy thrust in grunt. Square, deep hands and fingers.

Brown leather wallet (2) for pink ticket. Henry VIII fingernails. Woman sits across. Left hand on beer crossed over body, right resting up chin, elbow on windowsill, holding cigarette, solemn eyes.

Eyes trace from eyes to lap to eyes to lap of woman. Train stops, exasperation. Reaching look. Both hands in lap, small cough. Such light and delicate drawings upon the cigarettes. Three until 8:23am. Cigarette case, tailored cigarettes.

Oblique scar top left to bottom right, deep on nose, cheeks are red. Colourful shirt buried in this huge jacket. Yellow with pattern? Fourth cigarette, beer not finished, one fifth full 8:30am.

Loud, nasal breath, cough. Pulls on ear, shuffles in bag for bright yellow glove, puts it back. A new visitor, black jacket, animal trim. Eyes to lap to eyes to lap, stroking upper lip. Solemn pout, cough.

8:41, Solingen Ohligs: off. Is short (160-165), worried eyes.

3 April 1997 (The Slider): Black polished shoes, clean, blue clean jeans, two pens (one black plastic, one white plastic) in shoulder pocket. Is more relaxed, new glasses, hand resting on windowsill, still the curious glances. No mustache, clean shaven, sniff. White, pinstriped blue collared shirt, wide red patterned tie.

Confident without mustache, sniff, blow, sniff. Plain plaster on right hand's forefinger tip. Loosely applied.

Struggles off tram, from composure to quick glances again. Enters carriage, slide, slide, cigarette in mouth, long, brown, thin, slide, slide, next carriage, slide, slide, next carriage.

4 April 1997 (The Slider): Walks length of carriage, slam, walks back, slam... the disgruntled. Fist clenched, thumb rubbing. Eyes squint, bright light, teeth exposed. Gone - Opladen.

7 April 1997 (The Slider): Reading, can't place hands. Tram before.

8 April 1997 (The Slider): Growing mustache back, hat off, 3mm white, bald third, slipping of lip. Always same place on tram, the watching place. Turns, inspects, thin heavy bridged nose, narrow nostrils, dry skin, crackling.

Heavy feet drag, lighter flick, expulsion, slide, rustling jacket ... silence-muffled trains, announcer 'Gleis 5'... now overlapping. Walk - swinging hips, pushed forward, right back, right forward, left back, opposing shoulders, bag deep stretch.

9 April 1997 (The Slider): I missed tram... he smirks.

9 April 1997 (My Cigarette Log): 7:45, 8:10, 8:23, 8:35, 10:02, 11:03, 12:33, 1:05, 2:13, 3:54, 5:10, 5:33, 5:55, 7:42, 8:30, 9:40, 10:30.

10 April 1997 (My Cigarette Log): 6:55, 7:41, 8:01, 8:20, 8:35, 10:02, 11:41, 12:36, 1:12, 3:30, 4:48, 5:35, 6:00, 6:30, 7:35, 9:05, 9:50, 10:35.

17 April 1997, 8:04am (Beer man): Tuborg and glass. Gold pocket watch... routine... hand resting up head. Looked really tired.

5 May 1997 (Beer man): Lepracorn cap with feather, drunk, quarter inch stubble, grey-white, bottom lip wet and hanging. Face is sunken, awkward balance. Leans for support, overhanging regular, collective stares, no plastic bag.

Off, slow shuffle begins, unassured with his drunkenness, on to 782 (bus), up the back, lost.

7 May 1997 (Beer man): Waiting for train, carries long with scraping rasps, long string of flem, head hung forward, desperate for umbilical release. Lip wets, chorus of stirring, sniffing and train hum. Vibrations under foot, voices muffled and overlapping, skillsaw, ding dong.

A long, shallowing series of coughs, continuous, an occasional accelerant and occasional result. Spark attacked, flick, inhale, flick. Struggling for combustion. Off - flesh is lost, skin curls in folds and crevaces, deep and full of age. Guttal squint, protruding open jaw. Sits silent, leaning on rail.

13 May 1997 (Beer man): Ohligs Bahnhof - with woman, red jacket, pale yellow socks, deafness stretch. His: left side, face up, squint, glasses, her arm through his. 'Opladen, Schlebusch, Mulheim...'. Face looks scarred, burnt with quick age. She: in grand motherly whine, smoking rasp. Hair, shoulder length perm.

13 May 1997 (The Slider): Suit jacket, no hat, quick step, bag hung heavy, to unknown carriage... smiling.

4 June 1997 (Beer man): Moves slow, hat is stained with greasy brown wet, mouth twitch, teeth exposed, slows to stairs (Opladen) and holds rail firmly whilst descending - alone.

1 October 1997, 8:43am (Beer man): Caught a glimpse whilst getting off. On bus, little fresher, still coughing and sniffing, more spring. Going to Hilden. Right hand drags a little behind torso, receptive, upturned. Watched the name change and waited for the opening. Frustrated to back then front. Sits quiet but disturbed by sniffs and coughs.

13 October 1997 (The Slider): Sits and is surprised, facing forwards. 18+ female sits beside him, free across, is disturbed and frustrated, mumble, grumble, mumble, grumble. He changes directions, she leaves, he changes again, more frustration. Now young Turkish across, from contempt to conversation. Off at Opladen, quick before the halting.

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