Although I went to high school in an area that was no stranger to heroin, I was largely oblivious to those who used it. Any of the symptoms that I now know as tell tale signs of usage I would chalk up to being tired, or the use of some other less-demonizing narcotic. It was only around tenth grade or so that I heard the term “dirthead” in a heroin-specific identifier. Until then, I never even thought of that drug being in that town or county of Pennsylvania.

 

I have learned over the years that it’s common nature for some (such as myself) to be oblivious DURING the moment, and see only a skewed version of what’s happening; but in hindsight it can be painfully obvious. It’s something that I closely associate with logic of the black swan theory – a concept I’m intrigued about so much that I loosely wrote a song about it.

At any rate – growing up, I didn’t realize those around me who were on heroin were on it. Living in Philadelphia, on the other hand, I have learned. Though not specific to heroin, there’s the terrible skin, the skeletal frame, the glazed over look. Specific to heroin are the sways/nods – the falling asleep in place (or who knows, maybe I’m wrong now, and these are signs of other things). I’ve seen it on the streets and on my commute, though it’s usually just in a quick passing. Today was different.

My work commute is the 105-minute bookends to my work day. Going to work, this involves me walking from my house to the subway, taking the subway for four stops, walking a few blocks to the train station, taking the train for about an hour, catching a shuttle, and walking into my workplace. Very little happens on the walk to the subway and on the shuttle ride to my building. The excitement, if there is any to be had, is on the subway or the train. This morning was uneventful. A coworker who sat in front of me on the train was slightly younger than me but balding. That was the only observation I had of the morning commute.

Coming home from work I called into a meeting, read and wrote some work emails, and screwed around on Facebook for a second before arriving at 30th Street Station, one stop before mine (Suburban Station). A woman got on and was talking somewhat loudly, especially given that we were in the QuietRide car. As she sat and chatted behind me, I saw a reflection of a disheveled woman whom I wished would shut the hell up.

She continued to seemingly aimlessly talk, though I didn’t make an effort to listen in on what she was actually saying. The train moved on and approached Suburban Station before coming to a stop, as another train had yet to depart the track we were on. For some reason my ears began to focus on what the woman was saying.

She asked what appeared to be the ceiling of the train “Have you seen a blue bag? A duffle bag with straps?” She then looked around at the people in the car. I was very thankful that I was watching her through a reflection. She asked again. No one responded because it made no sense. She just got on one stop ago, then started asking if anyone had seen her bag. She then said “Wifi doesn’t make it to the second floor. You might need to take the elevator to get to it. Do you understand?”

Again, no one replied.

She sat down, and within ten seconds had fallen asleep.

Less than a minute later the train started to finally move, and I heard gasps behind me, and the conductor loudly say “MA’AM! MA’AM!”

She replied “Oh…I’m sorry! I’m so sorry. Thank you for waking me up. I didn’t want to be that person that spills all of their prescriptions on the ground.”

What I’m guessing happened was that the jolt of the train moved her, and she dumped the contents of her clear plastic bag all over the floor. Pills everywhere, small 10mg sized pills. The conductor tried to wake her to pick up her contents.

The train stopped. By this point I am standing and watching her pick up her pills and put them back into her baggie (not a prescription bottle). The doors open, and anyone who was closer to her than me nearly sprinted to get off of the train, including the conductor. As I walk up closer to her, I see that her dark sweatpants are salt-stained around her butt, a sure sign of her urinating herself at some point in the day. As I walk by her, she asks people who are still seated, “Is this the last stop?” Being mindful of my steps, I see a pill that I’m sure she will miss because of how far it rolled away from her.

I get off of the train and the conductor, whose shift just ended, is trying to explain what the conductor starting his shift is getting into. I walk up the stairwell I often talk about via social media that homeless people use as a toilet. There’s a fresh pool of urine at the bottom, but my mind is still caught up in what had happened on the train.

Tangentially, I write short pieces about the things I see on my commute. I started using a funny hashtag “#SEPTASPILLS” just for this purpose. While most of what I post on social media relates to the absurd and gross, they are parts of a larger essay I plan on writing eventually, where I plan to start to highlight the positives and interesting elements as well as the absurd. In particular, I am enormously grateful that my commute involves me walking by a polka accordion player, various violinists, a blind tenor with a beautiful voice, and many singers with acoustic guitars. While some performers are more frequent and predictable than others, I always know I’ll see at least three performers during my commute to and from work.

After getting off the train this afternoon, as I walked towards the Broad Street Line City Hall stop, I walked by a guy playing acoustic and singing. He’s newer, in that I’ve only started seeing him in the last couple months on my commute. He’s got a great voice, and plays guitar and sings with passion. Most of the guys who do this perform covers, and so does this one. Today he was playing something I couldn’t quite put my finger on. I was thinking to myself, “Oh, well, he’s older, so maybe he’s playing an acoustic version of a 70s or 80s song”. As I walked away from him, repeating the words of the chorus he just sang as I tried to figure out what that heck it was, I saw that he was balding too. By the time I got on to the subway, I realized that the guy was playing a Weezer song; and that the guy was very likely my age.

On my commute to work, a balding coworker is my perceived junior. After a day of work and a somber and depressing happenstance on my commute home, a balding singing guitarist is my perceived senior. I can’t help but think that I’ll see more in this once I’m further removed from the moment of it.

 

 

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Among the many, many interesting Philadelphia interactions I’ve had in my life, this is one of the more interesting ones – with an unusual Philly music history spin.

Always on the search for broken down cheap Ibanez guitars, there was this pawnshop I would frequent in south Philadelphia – in a somewhat shady area. The owner was a man in his 50s who was undeniably mentally handicapped. He would tell me stories of how people rip him off, and how his family stole millions of dollars from him.

He wasn’t all up there. He tried to sell me a knockoff Chinese Gibson Les Paul that was clearly a fake to anyone who knew anything about guitars, saying that he’d give me a good deal. I asked him if he knew that the guitar was a fake, and he said he was just trying to see if I knew. Right. Mental shortcomings and all, the guy was interesting to me –  as was the prospect of someday coming across a good guitar in his pawnshop.

Amongst the regular junk in his shop, one day he had a pile of sealed mace sprays haphazardly dumped into a display case. I asked him what they were and he told me they were for women who didn’t feel save in the neighborhood, and he gave me two for “my girl and my mom”.

Another time I was in his shop I asked him about this tattered old small piece of luggage that was covered in tour and concert passes from the 1970s. It was obviously from a band member who had toured with O’Jays, Commodores, and some other acts. It was covered in a layer of thick dust. When I asked him about it, he asked if I wanted it for free. I said sure, and left the shop with it. Today that piece of luggage sits in our basement music room.

BlueMagicCase

 

I went to take a look at it a bit more carefully today to see if I could figure out who owned it. After looking at the passes/badges on the luggage itself, and the small amount of contents still left inside, I was able to narrow down the original owner to one of four guys. I was able to figure the band the member was in.

BlueMagicPass75

 

There weren’t many clues inside, but they all made sense once I figured out the band. The band was a 70s Philly R&B/Soul group called Blue Magic [Here’s their Wiki page]. Within that page is the mention of their 42-week world tour, which had a ten-day stint in the Philippines (how serendipitous, considering my bloodline). Within the luggage was contents from that particular 42-week tour, including handbills, luggage claim from the flight home, a pay stub, and a girl’s phone number written on the back of a color film packaging.

BlueMagicInsideCase

 

Crazy people can be crazy. Sometimes they try to get pity from you; or try to sell you a piece of junk. Apparently, other times they give you mace for your family’s safety; and unknowingly (or uncaringly) give you a piece of music history.

BlueMagicPass
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Fred S. was a guy I met nine years ago, in 2006. He had an established Craigslist and eBay business that focused on computers, software, and electronics. I wrote about him in my book, Please Excuse This Mess (not yet published), though in the book I viewed him through a fictional character’s eyes, and with a different timeline since the book takes place in the recent past. In Please Excuse This Mess, I said:

About six years ago I was selling some personal electronics to raise money. I met a guy on Craigslist who wanted to buy a mini laptop-like device I had, made by NEC. I met him at his house in west Philadelphia. He was a very aged looking man, looked to be in his late 50s, and had a salt and pepper beard. He invited me into his row home.

 We ended up talking about computers for hours. For income he worked exclusively from his home, buying and trading various computer parts and electronics and selling them on eBay and Craigslist. He also was a hacker and torrent-enthusiast, so he also sold pirated software. In fact, in lieu of my asking price he offered me discs of programs and less cash instead. Here, six years later, the Adobe Photoshop/Audition/Premier-Pro, Microsoft Word/Excel/Powerpoint, and Windows XP I use to this day are all compliments of him. Best trade I’ve ever made.

 Over the years we kept in touch, sort of as a friendship, sort of for mutual benefit. He would get a guitar in trade for computer equipment, call me, I’d come over to evaluate it, give him some ideas of what it’s worth – and one time even take it home with me to restore and return to him to sell. I would email him anytime I had any PC or Mac questions. He saved a crashed MacBook Pro that I borrowed from someone after the hard drive corrupted; which saved me hundreds of dollars from paying that friend back if it stayed broken. I brought him a bottle of whiskey that night. We were up until 4am, and I had to leave for work at 6am.

 The guitar I restored for him was a 70s Cheri asian-made Strat copy. He got it for next to nothing, I restored it, strung it, and set it up; and he ended up trading it for an iPod.

 I remember some of these details because I’ve been going through my old emails and read the threads in which we talked about some of those instances.

 Fred was a genius. Brilliant with computers, with buying/selling, with anything electronic. He was also a loner. That very much spoke to me. I sometimes looked at him as a picture of what my life could end up like, and I wasn’t disappointed.

 We definitely had similar reclusive tendencies, and could also seemingly smother those whose company we enjoy – which could push them away. The last chain of emails I have from Fred is on a day when he emailed me nine times. I remember that day because I was getting the emails on my phone and was getting annoyed. Ha!

 Each time I’d visit Fred I’d note that his house was probably how my house would look if I were his age and intelligence. No nonsense. No clutter (except for his computer parts). Home made home-security system composed of webcams on his home network. In his bedroom on the second story was a bed on the floor with canned food surrounding it, as well as a cross bow and several knives, and the NEC mini laptop I traded him years ago (which he used as a modified alarm clock). A couple cats.

 He didn’t fuck around either. He showed me some scars he got from fighting. Some stab wounds. He told me of the times he’s stabbed men. He was not a man to be fucked with. Not earlier in his life, at least.

 Each time I’d visit Fred he would be in worse and worse shape. He was dying of lung cancer. He was still smoking because he knew he was beyond the point of no return. The act if him coming down the stairs and answering the door would require him to sit down for ten minutes to compose himself. Ten minutes of heavy breathing breaking up the awkward semi-silence. We’d then walk up to his workshop that doubled as his bedroom. Another ten minutes for him to get his breathe. Then he’d have a cigarette.

 Two and a half years ago I met up with Fred for fun; no real purpose – just to bullshit. We talked about computers. He needed a ride down the block to grab a pack of cigarettes. It was too far for him to walk. I drove him there and back before I left. We talked about life, goals, and debt. He owed the IRS hundreds of thousands of dollars, but they deemed him as someone who would never be able to pay, so they stopped pursuing him. His income was under the table anyways. Go Fred. I respected him as an elder, and also as someone who could be me years down the line. Because of that latter part I hung on his words of wisdom and reflection. That day he gave me a pirated DVD. It was some alien movie I can’t recall at the moment, but I remember the parts of the aliens talking and the subtitles being in Russian. Hilarious.

 After the day I dropped him off after picking up cigarettes we emailed each other back and forth a few times. A little less than two years ago, according to my Hotmail Sent folder at least, I emailed him but he didn’t reply. I remember thinking the worst, but just dismissing it. I then emailed him three months after that saying we should catch up. No reply.

 So much happens in life that you don’t dwell on unreplied emails. I didn’t realize that it had been nearly two years since I last heard from Fred. I sent him another email tonight. The subject was a silly phrase: “Long time, no hear from!”. The email was returned as undeliverable. His email account had been closed. A sinking feeling started weighing in my gut. This was the first in a series of steps confirming what I had already supposed had happened.

 I started looking around the internet. I found out that he died six months after the last email I received from him (on that day that I received nine emails from him). He died of lung cancer. The first bit of my research, actually, was a family member running in a lung cancer marathon and referencing his memory as one of the causes she was running for. Most people feel pride in a person when they see something like that. I felt contempt as it was the first positive sign that I had that he was dead. Up until that point he could have just closed out his email, but her running in his memory was proof.

I’ve spent more time dwelling on this than I did thinking of either of my grandparents’ passing. That’s probably because I liked him. That’s probably because he was a potential future me. I don’t know.

 He died before I sent those three unreplied emails. He died alone. Few friends. Not much family. No significant other. A couple of cats, packs of cigarettes, and a house of computers.

Install Disc

This is one of the install discs I got from Fred (marker covering up the key).

Most of what I said in the Please Excuse This Mess excerpt above is actually true, sans the personal musings that belong to the fictional charter himself (grammatical errors and all! Haha!). In fact, the “friend’s” MacBook that broke was, in real life, my wife Maria’s; and we did sit up until 4am, when I had to work the next day.

Today is January 31, 2015. It’s been five years since he’s passed (he actually passed in 2010). Thoughts of Fred come up again as I’m getting ready to update my mother’s laptop and my Parallels Windows XP with the updates still provided to Microsoft Windows XP institutional clients.

Microsoft stopped providing updates to the vast majority of their Windows XP clients in April 2014. It was the end of a twelve/thirteen year era. Microsoft agreed to continue to provide patch updates to their institutional clients, which includes banks that utilize Windows XP for their ATM machines; and apparently a local Philadelphia university, the pirated install disc I received from Fred nine years ago.

XP2015

As I wait for my mother’s laptop to download and install all the updates, I think about how I doubt this is the legacy he wanted to leave behind. I also doubt he was the kind of guy who wanted a legacy at all. But at any rate, here – five years after his passing, I’m left here thinking about him. I’m updating Windows XP. I’m looking up old emails from him and finding his old Facebook page that I didn’t know he had. I’m writing an essay about a friend I lost and miss.

Fred

Fred

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Ingenuity and creativity were born out of necessity for me in my youth. Like many, my family did not have much when I was growing up, and whenever we seemingly did run into good times, they were both short lived and squandered. In fact, before my teens, I had learned how to drain the hot water tank in our house when we no longer had running water being supplied to it.

My socioeconomic status growing up was what attracted me to DIY culture, which was finely intertwined with the punk rock music scene in my area. Sure, there may have been times where I had a safety pin that was not absolutely necessary, in terms of utility or functionality, but I was a young teenager still trying to find where he fit in this world. For the most part, though, the times where I had what looked part of a punk rock uniform was actually entirely for purpose: like my blue JanSport backpack hand-me-down from my older sister, which was, indeed, falling apart, and safety pins were the only way I knew to hold it together.

[Disclaimer: This is before pop-punk, bright colored shirt Brian – a time in which the start corresponds to my friends’ and my immersion into the pop-punk/punk-ska scene. This was simultaneous to the fortune of me having my first job, which lead to my choice of thrift store and skate-brand clothing to be purchased with my own earned income. This is an entirely different story altogether. Unfortunately, the term “fruity booter” is also part of that same story.]

This ingenuity has come in handy in the nearly two decades since I first felt sheepish about needing creativity in lieu of spending money. When on tour somewhere near the east coast with my dirt poor punk/hardcore band, our guitarist, Ryan, had a handle break on his guitar case. Sure, a handle could be a $20 part, but finding a music shop that sold it, derailing a planned route and day (this was road-atlas-touring and MapQuest-touring days, not GPS-touring days), and shitting $20 is not something a DIY band member can easily do. We did, however, have a roll of duct tape, so I fashioned a guitar case handle out it. And it was not a sub-par handle, either. I put a great deal of thought into it, and found a way to make it nearly as functional and comfortable as one that could be bought for $20; all while sitting at a venue before a show. That handle finally broke in 2014 in LA: nine years and countless shows through many US tours and three or four Europe tours after my repair job; and four years after our band last played a show together.

RyanCase

Over the years, I have kept the DIY creativity and ingenuity close to me, as well as a keen eye on things like reuse, recycle, up-cycle, and waste. I keep these characteristics close out of both the habit of them as well as the consciousness of my impact on this world (which itself is a byproduct justification of growing up without).

Aside from cathartic release, I mention all of this with purpose.

You know how people attach water bottles to their backpack? The other day I saw a hipster who took a glass Smuckers jam jar and affixed it to his empty-looking messenger bag by intertwined wire. He also fashioned a metal electrical socket into it as a patch on the same bag.

16 year old Brian may have thought this hipster guy in his mid 30s was cool, innovative, and clever. “Fuck the man…AND soap!” is what I would agree with, in thought.

32 year old Brian thought he was an attention-seeking “Oh, look at me and how eco I can be” ass.

It’s slightly unnerving to see something that is born out of necessity turned upside-down into some level of fashion. Case in point: 1) If one can afford an expensive messenger bag they can likely afford a BPA-free water bottle with carabiner from a dollar store; 2) If one were concerned with reuse and not-needed extra expense, why wouldn’t they place their up-cycled jam jar inside of their empty bag?

It’s not the first time I’ve been simultaneously perplexed and angered by fashionable faux thriftiness. I see it in distressed jeans. I see it in “road worn” or “aged” or “distressed” guitars. I see it in fake vintage aged throwback tee shirts. “Pawn Shop Series” guitars. Trucker hats. A culture of pretending to be something it’s not.

Or maybe I’m overanalyzing it, and I need to lighten up. Maybe creativity, ingenuity, thriftiness – maybe it’s over?

At any rate: I can’t wait until Urban Outfitters copies this hipster’s unnecessary fashion; and the shelves of plastic faux mason jar water bottles are replaced by faux repurposed jam jar water bottles.

#UpThePunxJellies

Not Water Bottles
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As I’m working through the process of being better at blogging, I decided to do a 2014 roll up of some gems I posted outside of my blog. Goal for 2015: post IN the blog.
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September 2, 2014

4:01pm
Woman on cell phone in train, breaking up with boyfriend. Only person talking. Among many gems being said: “It’s like we’re a thousand miles apart; one here and one in China.” That sounds about right.

4:03pm
She’s kicking him out of the house too. This rules.

4:05pm
Ahh!! And now the division of material goods! Who gets what in the break up?

4:05pm
“Before i met you i didn’t know what stress was. Ever since you i’ve been nothing but stressing and crying every five minutes.”

4:07pm
I really don’t get it. If a girl wants to break up, why should it take this long? If a guy is getting dumped, why don’t you take it and quit trying?

4:07pm
I hate people. Why doesn’t she just talk to herself via facebook posts, like normal people.

4:10pm
She got off Overbrook. Party’s over.

4:10pm
I wonder if they’ll work it out…

4:17pm
As ridiculous as this event was, i have to admit that i am both perplexed and slightly in admiration of those who give so little shits, and can openly dump their loser significant other, and have no qualms talking feelings, sex, living conditions, and problems at full volume with no regard for others, nor their judgments.
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April 22, 2014
I’m fairly certain the guy sitting next to me waiting for the train either just wrestled with unbathed junk yard dogs, forgot how to wipe his ass, or just shat himself; or some combination of the three.
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May 22, 2014
I don’t think AT&T thought this all the way through.
Duck Boat AT&T
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May 30, 2014
These actions, when on their own, are perfectly acceptable; however when they are in concert they make for an awkward interaction:

1: Walking behind a mother walking her child to school.
2: Having chapped lips, and therefore licking them.
3: Realizing your belt is too loose; adjusting your belt’s tightness.
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July 18, 2014
My wife’s (maria’s) social media manager (maria) told me that my social media director (maria) and overall social media presence are awful. I promptly fired my social media director (maria) and hired my wife’s social media manager (maria), who i hope to see naked someday. I hope that solved all my problems.

[full disclosure – Maria is my wife]

Maria Colorado

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October 1, 2014

8:29am
Call me elitist, but i don’t think those who leave a film behind on seats should us public transportation.

8:51am
It’s not an exaggeration either. There is a physical residue left behind. It’s hardened and clumped, and looks like bug droppings.

8:52am
Also, as some point, they kissed someone through the window. Or just kissed the window. Either way, there are greasy nose, lips, and chin marks left behind.

8:56am
Proof.
Septa Print
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October 18, 2014
For Maria ‘s social media talk at PAFA today, i told her she should open with: “My artist social media campaigns focus primarily on Friendster, MySpace, and AIM away messages.”

I really hope she remembers to mention site building with free tools like Geocities and Angelfire, as well as communicating with fans on ICQ.
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November 18, 2014
Yesterday evening: walked through two unique urine streams in station. This morning: wiping off dead skin flakes from train seat. This evening? I can’t wait to see.

There’s something to be said about being grateful that you only stepped in bodily fluid. I thought i stepped in feces at first, but piss? Ah, the rain just washes it away.
______________________________________________

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8:08am
I honestly can’t tell which is worse: stepping in spilled coffee and having a sticky shoe for the rest of the morning; or stepping in bodily waste that comes off within a few steps.

Septa Stories

These were the quickest examples i could find. There are plenty pools of urine, but it’s the smell that identifies those.

6:07pm
Saw these on the commute home; different vomit and pool of urine. The locations change (to predictable areas), but the frequency of coming across these bodily releases remains constant.

Stories of Septa
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January 6th. Upon boarding the Broad Street Line at Tasker/Morris, I chose a seat that would tell me more about myself than I was prepared to learn that morning.

I felt eyes looking near me, but not at me. The lady sitting in front of me, perpendicularly, kept looking up frightened. Then, from behind me, I started to hear the sobbing, and the words “oh lord, just fuckin kill me.”

At first I thought this was a nutjob whose crazy crying rants I would have to ignore for my duration of the ride. It got much worse.

“You said you fuckin wanted me dead, then fuckin do it. Just fuckin kill me!” By Ellsworth/Federal, I realized she wasn’t trying to talk to her lord, rather she was using his name for dramatic effect. I thought she was on her phone, crying out to some wayward lover who had done her wrong.

“You posted on that facebook group message that you wanted me dead, well just do it!” I refused to turn around. I never did see what she looked like. What I did see were the looks of concern on the other riders’ faces. Although it was not the “oh, this poor girl” looks of concern. It was “oh, poor me, to have to witness this” kind of looks.

Before the next stop, I realized that she was sitting next to the person she was talking to; and it was not a phone exchange. Things got tense when the talking in the crowded car was almost only her sobs and cries to end her life.

We stopped at Lombard/South. A group of people squeezed in, obstructing people’s view of the show. I wondered if I blocked some’s view when I came on. Now I understand the tension I came into.

Context clues. I could tell she pulled out a knife by the way people gasped. “Just fuckin stab my throat! Fuckin do it!” The lady in front of me tried to get off at Lombard/South, but couldn’t make it to the door. People had the look as if they almost wanted to help. No one did. I kept my eyes out the window, occasionally watching reactions in the reflection. No one was recording video on their phones; I found that odd. I also found it odd that I found that odd.

The couple made their way to the door further behind me, their play’s dialogue fading. They got off at Walnut/Locust. The lady in front of me, I think Walnut/Locust was her real destination, but she stayed on until City Hall. No one said anything. We all had some stench of guilt on us for watching while doing/saying nothing. Voyueristic shame. I especially felt detached from the world, as I was thinking of how unnecessary the entire ordeal was; how I can’t understand how one can be so emotional about something so petty, in the grand scheme of life. But I’m not in that moment that she is.

I get off at City Hall, and start walking towards the green stairs to Suburban Station. I walk past two older ladies talking, either unmoved or unaware of what happened in the subway car I was in. Speaking of Christmas, one says to the other, “It was just money in an envelope. That’s all they really want.”

IMG_7903.JPG
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12:36pm
Frustrated with the commute to work? I recommend working on a holiday and taking public trans while hundreds of drunk assholes are arriving in town to see the mummers. Puts the normal commute woes into perspective.

12:37pm
Oddly enough, i observed no fewer nor greater pools of urine than normal in the train station.

12:43pm
I’m setting the bar lower. My goal: don’t step in human urine, feces, blood, semen, or vomit on my way to/from work – all of which i did many times in 2014.

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