Trains and Kismet

A Schmitzian tale of fate

Mary and I were sitting in a Chinese/Japanese restaurant in New York City, drinking Tsing Tao and Sake, trying to figure out how we would be getting home. We had come to the city from our home to see a Picasso exhibit at the Guggenheim and to visit the Natural History Museum. While searching for a Mexican restaurant we like, we were pleased to find this place because Mary prefers Chinese food (which I don't really like) and I prefer Japanese food (which Mary dislikes). Using my handy subway map, I figured out what transfers we would have to make to get to Penn Station for the 7:02 New Jersey Transit train to Trenton, where our car was. It didn't work out the way I had planned, but the strange sequence of events that followed led to an incredibly bizarre coincidence.

We left the restaurant and headed for the subway, only to find that the uptown entrances we needed to use were inexplicably blocked by police tape, so we had to use the downtown entrance. Unlike most subway stations, there was no way to get to the other side of the tracks from the downtown side, but a sign told us that if we went two stops down, we would be able to transfer to an uptown train.

We waited a few minutes and a train came. We went the wrong way for two stops and then got off at the station, and we walked over to the uptown side of the tracks where we caught another train going the right direction. When we finally got to the station, we found construction barriers everywhere, and confused people wandering in all directions. Several of the exits were blocked, but finally we found the sign to the third of our trains.

Finally, a train arrived on the tracks at the other side of the platform. I misread the sign on the side of it, and we got on.

We arrived on the platform as a train was leaving to find a man playing an enormous bongo, and the sound was resonating on the tile walls so that it seemed crushing. We moved as far from the bongo man as we could, and waited again. Finally, a train arrived on the tracks at the other side of the platform. I misread the sign on the side of it, and we got on. When I realized that we were now heading in the wrong direction again, we got off a few stops later. By then, it was impossible for us to catch the 7:02 train, so we would have to catch the next one.

Like the first station, this one had no way to get to the other side of the tracks, so we had to exit the station, go up to the sidewalk, cross the street, and then pay our fare again. After doing all this and waiting, we finally got on a subway train going in the right direction.

After transferring again and waiting for another train, I looked at the New Jersey Transit schedule and saw that the next train for Trenton was leaving at 7:32, and the time was now 7:25. I was also dismayed to realize that the next train after the 7:32 was an 8:32, giving us an hour to kill at Penn Station. We would probably never make it to the early train.

We arrived at Penn Station at 7:30 and ran for the New Jersey Transit tracks. We tore through the station as we heard the "all aboard" call for our train, following a group of people who were also trying to get on the 7:32. We got to the train as one conductor was telling another one "let's go," and we squeezed through the door with a dozen other desperate people. We had made it. Unfortunately, by now nearly all the seats were taken.

"Seats in the rear," a conductor said to us, as we headed through the train. We went through seven or eight train cars before we found two unoccupied seats which were close to each other--we weren't able to sit together but at least we weren't far apart. As we were sitting down, I was astonished to realize that the man Mary was sitting next to looked exactly like Mark Sonnenfeld, the poet who has singlehandedly launched a guerrilla attack on the literary world with his chapbooks and broadsides. Many of my readers have contributed artwork to his publications.

We sat down, and I leaned back and whispered to Mary, "the guy you're sitting next to looks exactly like Mark Sonnenfeld."

Mary looked at me skeptically, but finally I was able to goad her into asking if it was indeed him. "Excuse me," she said.

"I understand--you want me to switch seats with him," the man said, and began gathering his things.

"No. . .uh. . .are you Mark Sonnenfeld?" she asked him. He was somewhat startled by this and paused for a moment.

"Yes, I am," he said in a bewildered tone.

"My husband knows you. He's Ken Miller of Ask Alice." Mary and I stood up and switched seats and I got to meet Mark Sonnenfeld in person for the first time.

Mark and I have been corresponding for a few years now. He had been in New York handing out flyers of his poetry in Washington Square park. Sometimes he performs impromptu poetry readings in subway stations as well. We talked about poetry and mail art, discussing our mutual correspondents. It was fascinating to finally talk to him in person. After an hour or so, we said goodbye and he got off at his stop.

All the unusual subway-related events made us arrive at the exact right moment for this meeting. Had we been in any other seats on the train, we probably wouldn't have talked to him. Also, considering that most of the people I correspond with don't send me pictures of themselves, but Mark has printed some in his chapbooks from time to time makes it even more odd. In addition, I'm very bad at recognizing people, but I knew almost immediately it was him. Truly, fate was at work.

© 1999, Ken B. Miller & Contributors as Listed. | Reproduced from Shouting at the Postman #34, April, 1999 | 4599

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