This sucks. Everything sucks. I wish that this next train would take me from New Brunswick to New Delhi
December 22, 2005
If you’ve ever waited by yourself at the New Brunswick train station past 1 AM, then you know that you’re bound to feel a little shitty, no matter what. The worst time runs more or less from November through the end of February; those nights when it is freezing, but I mean freezing, cold out. That still winter air gets under my jacket by the waistline and over my collar, seeping underneath my sweater and shirt. It’s actually happening right now. I can’t take a deep breath because I might start to cough, and my head is now starting to constrict at the temples, the way it does when I’ve eaten too much cheap Chinese food. Depending on the dosage, MSG alternates between making me feel very satisfied and absolutely terrible.
Right now, as in 1:47 AM, I am waiting at the New Brunswick train station by myself for the 2:35 local from here to the Princeton Junction train station, a $20 cab ride, and then home, and I am wondering where all those random winter accessories that I perennially buy and lose are right now. The cold numbing my right hand is making me twist the cloth of my ripped jacket pockets a little tighter around it. Can’t feel either of them anymore. I should really get these useless fucking pockets sown up. The train is not going to arrive anytime soon, and there is no one, not even a bum or a junkie, hanging around this platform. I am alone, all alone, and I’m cold, and I feel a little ill now. November 7, 2005, marks this city’s first official ‘I’m in a World of Pain’ Night.
A good third of the time, New Brunswick has a tendency to match my mood. At least my insular experience of it: College Avenue on campus, George Street downtown, French Street on the Mexican side of town, which is a few blocks away from campus and is another world that most kids that go to school here will never, ever know about.
Of course there are a few variables in the equation, like if I get a look from a pretty girl or run into a friend, read an interesting piece of literature or get something for free. But when I’m out and about, my superficial mood has everything to do with my surroundings. And most of the time, I find myself wishing that there was more to this town.
For example, I wish that French Street had better food and a decent bakery or two; this section of New Brunswick is worlds apart from some of the livelier and happier Mexican neighborhoods of southern California, where you can get some delicious and cheap meals wherever you go, and freshly baked sweets and toasted tortas are never far away.
The Mexican (and other) immigrants of New Brunswick work hard and they work well, just like my parents did when they first got to the USA and still do. They keep things running in the hospitals and expensive restaurants, cheap college takeout spots and dry cleaners, but for all that there isn’t one restaurant on French Street that does their cuisine justice, and I should know, being addicted to it since childhood and all.
I also wish that there was a place where I could buy a nice pair of shoes or a dress shirt or two at a decent price, so I could skip the biannual commutes to the 14th St. Zara in NYC. I wish there was a bookstore where I could sit down comfortably and read without distraction or interruption, and that a different bum would try to hustle me instead of the man who I saw getting out of a Lexus once who pretends to be deaf and peddles the deaf alphabet on pieces of paper that made him a dollar apiece, the bastard.
And I wish there was a goddamn Taco Bell within walking distance, and a grocery store around campus with good meat, and a record shop where I could look for albums by artists I’d never heard of with cool cover art. But like I said, my mood matches up with the general vibe of the city itself, especially in the wintertime. When I’m stressed, everybody looks stressed. People talk less and walk faster, eye contact is hard to come by, and it’s seems that everyone is just one miscommunication away from confrontation.
There really is no such thing as a great day in New Brunswick during the winter. You take what you can get and try to appreciate it, like when you catch a Rutgers bus right when you need to in order to get to a class on time, or when you get a chance to scare the shit out of some unsuspecting pigeons with a dramatic soccer kick.
On better days, there’s a sliver of blue sky in between the mashed up, dirty gray clouds, the blackened snow and ice have almost melted away, and the college student-oriented restaurant owners on Easton Avenue are happy to see their regulars, including me. Even the indifferent Turks, who take 30 minutes where they should take 10 (and never seem to recognize me despite the fact that I’ve been eating their food for the past four years), tell me to have a good day when I’m done paying for my order, which they probably messed up because they could care less about any of their countless customers with a rice-based diet who have few other options when it comes to getting a decent meal.
And despite all of her imperfections and the fact that I am without a doubt leaving her for good, Ms. Brunswick does matter to me. Sometimes, when people take liberties with her and say hurtful things, I feel the need to stand up and defend her. Mario Vargas Llosa called New Brunswick the ugliest city in the ugliest state in America; that made me kind of mad. I did not think that was the fairest appraisal. Not that the description is that far off from the truth, but still, why add to the flavor?
What I will say is that the weather certainly makes a difference, because this town can’t carry the burden of providing a good environment all by itself. Maybe that would not be a fact of life here if 80 percent of housing here (about 80 percent of the city itself) wasn’t rundown, tenement-style crap from the ‘oil heats best’ era… and if I had never lived in such housing sophomore year.
Let me return to the reality at present. I am, as I was previously, freezing my ass off, as well as falling ill and asleep, in one of New Brunswick’s monuments to its own self-imposed mediocrity and wasted potential: its shitty train station, with thousands of daily commuters, which closes its doors to the “I’m freezing my ass off” public before 9 pm and leaves them at the mercy of the urine-scented gusts of (bitterly cold) air. Oh God, that is urine. I thought I was alone, but apparently someone on the platform took a piss in my general area and then disappeared unnoticed. This sucks. Everything sucks. I wish that this next train would take me from New Brunswick to New Delhi. I love this place, but I am so done with it.
And if I don’t die tonight, I will make sure that my next four years of school take place elsewhere. Not like this town will in any way, shape, or form notice my guaranteed absence or learn from it. A recurring theme in my Spanish Golden Age drama class is “Yo soy quien soy” (I am who I am); if Ms. Brunswick could talk, that is exactly what her terrible ass would say, whether now or years from now when I come back and see that despite the new skyscrapers and the university reconstruction, she continues to yawn at the prospect of accommodating anybody with a meager/student bank account.
Rutgers University, her kid sister, will follow suit. Remarkably, this college actually integrates your entire undergraduate education into one big four-year course on dealing with big, sweaty piles of bureaucratic bullshit, administrative intrigues, and appreciating the aesthetics of ‘value engineering’ and improvised facilities. Our president is only working here because he did a fabulous reenactment of Bill Clinton with Monica Lewinsky and had to leave his old school because of it.
Meanwhile, he has done his best to represent the Rutgers traditions, getting pulled over for hitting a car while driving “with alcohol on his breath”, getting mugged outside a liquor store, and being paid more than any other university president in the country, house AND car included. I don’t know whether to be embarrassed because of him or to become his devoted disciple. Livingston campus, which is home to a significantly disproportionate number of Blacks and Latinos, was designed by an architect who also designs prisons, and yes, it shows.
As for my campus, at least ten of those tenement-style houses double as academic buildings on College Avenue, yet I still love it here. Why? A lot of reasons, but in general, because 40,000 other kids like and unlike myself deal with the same shit and, like myself, they get creative in their attempts to make the best of it. My friend says that this whole rant is just an everyman’s case of senioritis, but my pre-med senses tell me that influenza is the more likely candidate.
I refuse to wait for this train any longer. I am going back to my apartment to sweat out this newly-acquired fever and talk to myself in Farsi throughout the unnervingly semiconscious delirium that I know is coming. My apartment building is only one block from the station. At least something ended up working out for me; I’d say that this morning is off to a good start.