Illustration by Sara Drake.
I wrote a new short story called "Milton Friedman Switches Trains." Read it after "The Jump."
Milton Friedman Switches Trains
Milton steps outside the “Loop” when the doors open.
Transit is generally pleasurable when Milton reads a book. Reading a book means Milton is looking at a book. Leaving the “Loop” train, Milton sticks his book underneath his arm.
Walking from the “Loop” to the first escalator toward the Pink Line, Milton passes a couple who are aging badly. They are fresh from O’Hare with baggage in tow. They don’t know where they are going and point in different directions.
Closer to the escalator a woman much younger than Milton excoriates herself under her breath, irked. She has a style of jacket on that, while kempt, seems temporally dislocated. She knows exactly what Milton will say before Milton says it as others have a way of saying the same. She asks Milton for money to make a connection.
On the escalator Milton just sort of stands there. Over the Public Announcement system a voice alerts Milton to something Milton has already been alerted to: Nine express bus routes will be eliminated February 12th (his son’s birthday). All other train and bus routes will be reduced.
At an open area between escalators, a group of Europeans solicit the help of a CTA employee. They can’t figure out the pay mechanism on the ticket machine and stand huddled behind the turnstile. Blackened windows allow Milton to see outside. It is snowing. He reflects back to the past week, when it last snowed, and whether his footwear held up sufficiently.
Milton passes a silver government sign nailed into the wall tile: “American Recovery and Reinvestment Act” for the Dearborn Blue Line. Milton calmly notes this. No one is around really. And no one has looked at this sign before.
On another escalator Milton looks into his reflection on the blackened windows. Milton is not sure what his look is anymore.
Milton comes to the end of the last escalator and passes an unpopulated hallway. Milton looks down it. Milton sees a man asleep, leaning into the wall tile with his legs far out in front of his body. Milton looks again and confirms that this is what he is looking at. Milton is looking at that.
Turning away, Milton passes a huddle of young people staying inside to wait for their trains. Milton goes outside and finds one of the enclosed areas. It is three pieces of metal with a heat lamp. The heat lamp is orange. It looks warm and yet it is not warm. A young woman standing across from Milton projects a quiet maturity, like she is too young for a responsibility that has been sprung on her but she has accepted it and wears it with an equable pride.
Milton watches the badly aging man from O’Hare walk to the edge of the tracks. He flicks his cigarette performatively, overemphasizing his movements. The action seems planned. His only audience is the young woman with equable pride, Milton, the man’s badly aging wife, and their baggage.
Five pigeons in front of Milton engage the remnants of a pizza crust. Four gray pigeons block out a light brown pigeon. One gray pigeon tussles with the largest chunk. It is too big for one gray pigeon to ever hope to eat.
The planks of wood underneath Milton’s feet are also gray. Milton remembers that they were originally light brown. Green pigeon excrement, masticated by heavy heeled Chicagoans, transformed the color, texture, feel, face, smell, soul, and idea of the wood. The grain is now more shit than dead tree.
Milton thinks “is this what this is.”
Milton steps inside the “54th/Cermak” when the doors open.