I used to have a plastic razor. It had no blade. It was the kind of thing you'd get at a drug store for someone's kid when you had no idea which cartoon mascot they were into. I think I got it in a goody bag at a birthday party, mixed in with a bunch of chocolate discs wrapped in gold foil, a plastic race car and a handful of colored balloons.
I used to wait for my dad to get out of the shower, then stretch to reach the mirror so that I could wipe away a clear spot like he did. Then I'd ask him for the shaving cream, and then he'd wipe it off of the counter after I'd made a mess with it. Then, I'd shave. Like he did. My razor was red. My dad's was black. They were the same as far as I was concerned.
We'd start at our temples, working our way down our jaw lines and then to the delicate area around our noses and mouths. The fluffy, white suds peeled off in clumps like clouds. He would rinse his razor in the sink, and the clouds would melt away, running down the drain in white swirls. I just let mine pile up on the counter for my dad to wipe up later. To me it was the same. I was shaving, he was shaving. It was that simple.
Sometimes, when somebody would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I'd say I wanted to be a race car driver. Those were the days that I'd get behind the blue, plastic wheel of my table-top dashboard and feel the imaginary tires gripping the imaginary road on the imaginary track. On the days when I'd lay on my back in an upturned chair while wearing my brother's football helmet, I'd say I wanted to be a rocket ship pilot. On the days I shaved with my father, I'd just say "dad."
Since then, I have become none of those things. I know how to shave for real now, along with a few other things, but somewhere along the way I've filled my hands with the tools of adulthood and left no room for the dreams of a child.
It hit me one day while I was riding the subway that the transition had been completed when I wasn't even looking - that I was no longer the center of the universe, no longer capable of accomplishing anything, anywhere at any time. That I wasn't, as I once believed, destined for greatness, but instead just one more sweaty body in the sea of vile humanity.
I was on the T, which is what they call the subway in Boston. Not sure why. It's been suggested that it stands for "transportation" but that's a lie. Nobody knows what it stands for. They intentionally named it "The T" with no official meaning behind it whatsoever. It's a metaphor for life, perhaps. That it can mean whatever you want it to, which, for a subway system, is a little pretentious. Therefore, perfect for Boston.
Aside from the stupid name, the T is like any other subway. You walk down some stairs, you get on, the train goes somewhere, you get off, walk up some more stairs and you go about your day. As long as you don't have to think about it, you're fine. The second, however, that you're allowed to consider the fact that you're in an aluminum cage, pressed in with a hundred or so people whom you've never met, careening down a hundred year old tunnel, with an underpaid, overworked high school dropout behind the wheel, in the dark, on a wobbly set of tracks (one of which carries enough voltage to make the Governor of Texas whimper with envy) you're screwed.
Suddenly the absurdity of life, mass transit and everything crashes down on you and you realize that you've somehow gotten on the wrong train. Figuratively. Literally, too, if the train in front of yours hasn't also stopped.
The first time that happened to me was on the Red line. I was literally traveling from one end of the line to the other, when the train suddenly stopped moving about fifty feet below the streets of downtown Boston. Suddenly all hundred or so of my fellow passengers and I could smell each other in more detail than we'd ever hoped possible. The A/C had conked out. And so had the lights.
We were suddenly, each of us, alone in the company of strangers; breathing each other's breath and wondering for perhaps the first time who it was that had thought traveling in this manner was a good idea.
The conductor came over the intercom. He said that there was a switching problem, and that we'd be underway shortly.
"Switching problem?" said my stifled conscience, choking on adrenaline. Switches are relatively simple. They are either open or closed. Since our train was supposed to be going, but was not, it seemed to me that our switch should have been closed, but for some reason was open. Simple problem, mechanically speaking.
"Well, then," thought I. "Guess I'm gonna have to go out there and close that switch!"
I got about half a second into this thought when, while reaching for my crowbar, I realized that I had no idea what the hell I was doing. Switching problem in video game vernacular means: Go to the place indicated by a glowing dot on your map, fight some monster with the weapons and ammo provided along the way and then press the "interact" button, which will cause your character to flip the switch.
Even if I were able to open the train doors and then jump down onto the tracks without losing a testicle, the odds of my finding exactly where the problem lay were slim to none. Besides, I couldn't remember what my "interact" button was for the life of me, and aside from a few confused and perhaps angry MTA officials, there would be no monster down there to fight, no crates to kick open and definitely no multiplayer option.
Therefore, I was pretty much stuck sitting in my seat until somebody, somewhere figured out what to do. If someone with a crowbar and an enviro-suit came along I might be able to offer them a hint or provide some much-needed in-game comic relief, but I was otherwise useless.
And what I realized at that precise moment is that somewhere out there exciting things were happening, but that I was not a part of them. Would never be a part of them. That I was the frightened airline passenger to be saved, the random driver to be swerved around and the citizen of Earth oblivious to the fact that a meteor might be rapidly approaching. That I was the NPC of life.
Then, after agonizing over that for a few minutes, I realized that I was glad of it.
I played a video game once that strove for utter realism. It was called Robinson's Requiem. It was the worst game I've ever played. Not because it missed the mark. Quite the contrary. The game was brilliant. If you've ever wanted to know how long you would survive after your space ship crashes on a desolate planet, go check it out. The answer will more than likely be "Not very long."
I'd be willing to bet that when the Discovery astronauts looked underneath the shuttle and saw that some of the gap-filler stuff was coming loose from between the tiles of their heat shield - and that they might burn up during re-entry because of it - that they didn't say to themselves "Oh boy! Looks like we've gotten ourselves into another dramatic situation! Suit up, Steve! "
More likely they said "Holy f***! What the hell are we paying these guys for? Can't even build a damn shuttle right! Okay then. Guess we're going out there to fix it. F***! F***! F***! S***! Where's my "… where's my damn screwdriver? There it is. What the hell was it doing there? Did you move it, Wendy? How many f****** times do I "… forget it. Forget it. Just go make sure the Russians don't take my iPod while I'm out there alright? Damn cosmonauts think everything belongs to everyone. Alright then. Here we go "… Jim, if we're not back by noon, call the president and tell my wife I "… yeah, you know what to do. God dammit! I hate this job."