Daniel J. Vaccaro is an MFA Writing student at the University of San Francisco. He comes from a long line of New York neurotics, addicts
and enablers. During various life stages, he has lived in China, Europe and his own mind. He currently resides in San Francisco's Outer
Sunset where the fog and his writing practice coexist in relative harmony. More of his work can be seen at www.danieljvaccaro.com.
Ding. The door opens. The door closes.
Jon rides the train to and from work every day. Out of 261 possible working days this year, Jon works 255. That's 510 train rides.
That's a lot of train rides.
Most days, the train ride is simply about getting from point A to point B.
Jon stands in a crowded train, watches the people around him. There are so many barriers to choose from: newspaper parapets,
cell phone fences, book barricades, sun glass stop gaps, headphone fortifications and moats of poor personal hygiene.
Jon switches on his IPod.
Jon's last girl friend breaks up with him because he does not like to leave his apartment on the weekends.
There's so much to do and see, she says. We need to take advantage of the city.
Jon prefers not to leave the apartment because he's allergic to bees.
This isn't as much a breakup story as it is a break down story.
Jon gets motion sickness from reading on the train. Instead, he closes his eyes and meditates. He practices the breathing
awareness he learns at his meditation group. It doesn't work. His brain is a hive of bees.
On some mornings he half-dozes in the middle of a full train. His fantasies are mostly recollections of the people he has known,
now far away. He remembers their faces, and sometimes their names.
Inevitably, someone begins talking on a cellular phone and Jon awakes from his reverie. He sighs, and then eavesdrops on the
When there is an accident on the train line, the car stops, sometimes for as long as an hour. Jon's accident stops it for 33
It is 11pm and Jon is coming home from work. He waits 26 minutes for the train. He wants to be home already.
A packed train stutters onto the platform. Ding. The door opens and a few people spill out. Jon steps up into the car. The door
closes. He stands face to face with a homeless man, early thirties, five teeth total.
Jon's feet become interesting.
Honestly, the homeless man says. Are there any bugs on me?
I'm sorry? Jon says.
Nah. I'm just kiddin, man. Hahahahahahahaha...
Jon smiles politely and scans the train. He sees silent people. Ipods pump music into ears. Jon's Ipod is in his bag. It's too
crowded to get it out.
I've got the most amazing high right now, the homeless man says. He looks Jon in the eyes. Hidden among the pink clouds on his
sclera, the man's eyes are a shocking blue. Wish I could stay in this place forever, he says.
It's cold out there, the man says. Windy. A person could get hypothermized out there.
Yeah, Jon says.
It's real windy down at the beach, the man says. Can't sleep out there tonight. Could get hypothermized. I was at the beach the
other day with about six girls, man. It was awesome.
I bet, Jon says. He can smell the man's breath. It smells like carpet left out in the rain.
Just want to stay right here forever, man, the man says. The train jolts to a stop. Ding. The door opens.
Right here as in, right here on the train, or as in, the same mental state? Jon inquires.
The man smiles. He says, Just right here, man. But I gotta get down to the Haight to see Mike about a pack of cigarettes. One
dollar off. I'm not tryna be cheap or anything, but a twenty is precious, man. This here twenty just blew right up to me in the
wind. Had my name written all over it--Andrew Jackson. Hahahahahahahaha...
A woman next to them interrupts. She says, Why don't you use the money to buy a blanket to keep yourself warm instead of
buying beer with it? She wears a long black coat tied with a belt at the waist.
That's easy, man. That right there is easy. There's no place to buy a blanket this time a night, he says. The train stops again.
Well, why don't you wait until tomorrow morning? she says.
I am. I got at least ten left for a blanket. Is this the Haight, man?
Yeah, Jon says. Ding. The door opens and the man steps past Jon into the dark windy night. The door closes.
Jon works for a non-profit organization called The Village. The organization forms partnerships with artisans in the developing
world to ensure that their wares are sold to United States consumers at fair prices. This larger sum of money is then sent directly
to the artisans, effectively eliminating the middleman and making the world a better place to live.
Jon is their office manager and bookkeeper. He also makes the coffee.
Jon is deathly allergic to bees. He carries an Epi-pen with him wherever he goes. It is his sixth appendage. If stung by a bee, he
injects himself in the thigh and watches liquid-life squirt into his bloodstream.
Jon joins a Buddhist meditation group. At the introductory session, the leader of the group asks Jon a question.
Are you alive? he asks.
As far as I know, Jon says. Nobody laughs.
We are hardly ever fully alive, the leader says. His name is Tian Sup Shoo, but he looks more like a Bill. He is able to cross his legs
so that the bottom of his feet face the ceiling. There are three others on the floor of his living room and a dog named Wookie.
Wookie sometimes snores during meditation.
We are rarely alive right now, Tian says, encircling the room with his arms. We cannot let go of what happened in the past and we
cannot let go of what we plan to do in the future. If we live only in the past, and in the future, are we ever really alive?
Tian takes a long breath. He says, We awake to the present moment by paying attention to our breath.
Jon learns to focus on his breathing, to try and slow the flow of thoughts.
He tries. He tries. He tries.
In grammar school Jon learns how to draw a straight line. His teacher tells him that there are infinite points between point A and
point B. The same cannot be said for the train line.
When a seat opens up near Jon, and no one else bolts for it, he takes a moment to decide whether that particular seat is a good
fit for him. He begins by assessing the size of the person with whom he'll be sharing the seat--shoulders and legs mainly. How
likely are they to cross the invisible gray line demarcating his personal space and make contact with his body?
Satisfied with size restrictions, he evaluates their overall health. Has the person coughed or sneezed since he or she entered the
train? Do they seem on the verge of vomiting? Are they covered in any visible rash? Are they going to nod off and end up on his
With the health test complete, Jon determines where the potential seatmate will disembark. He does so by plugging variables into
a complex formula, the specifics of which he refuses to disclose to even his closest relations.
If Jon deems that the potential seatmate will not be getting off too soon, and thus not disturb his meditation, and they are in
compliance with all other requirements, he takes the seat.
Jon signs up for a community college class called "Science Fiction, Fantasy and Suspense", but it is canceled at the last minute
when the professor dies unexpectedly in a jousting contest.
Jon's life begins when he squirts from his mother's womb. His life nearly ends when, at age 31, he is hit by a train.
The police report says it was an accident, but at least one eyewitness disagrees.
Jon has close to four hundred movies in his personal collection. Among these are "Feathers and Leather: The Story of the Village
People", "The Village" and "The Village of the Damned".
The train line that Jon takes to work runs from the Caltrain Depot in the Mission Bay district of San Francisco to Ocean Beach in
the Sunset District.
The train's sole purpose is to get from point A to point B in a timely fashion.
Jon sneezes 4-6 times during every meditation session. He believes it has something to do with Wookie.
Bees kill more people each year than all other venomous animals combined. Each year 50 - 100 people die from bee stings. In
comparison, only 5 - 15 people die from snake bites.
One evening Jon finds a seat near an old man with a white frizzy beard. If Santa Claus had visited San Francisco in the sixties and
never made it back to the North Pole, he would look like this man. Suspenders make tracks across the globe of his belly and a red
velvet sports coat plus white scarf complete the effect. He carries a black bag that doesn't seem big enough for toys.
Jon yawns and can't get his hand up quick enough to keep it private. The old man leans toward him and motions to the security
camera with this thumb.
Yawn police, he says. They're after gapers. Yawn bubbles have a tendency to spread from one person to another.
Jon smiles, too exhausted to care.
See, he got it now, the old man says, pointing to a teenager not too far away. The teen has post-yawn-wet-eyes that hardly
seem capable of staying open.
I'm feelin' it, the teen says.
Won't be long before it propagates to the seat behind you, the old man says, and then the next, and so on until everybody on
the train feels tireder than they did when they got on.
Watch out for the yawn police, he says. They'll get ya.
Jon closes his eyes, careful not to yawn again.
Jon joins a Bible study group. The Bible feels like home to a lot of people named Jon, at least those with the traditional spelling.
At the first session, Jon reads from the bible. He acquits himself well and even enjoys the passage. In it, the protagonist, Jesus,
walks along the Sea of Galilee and runs into two young men casting nets into the water. Follow me, Jon reads in his best Jewish
accent, and I will make you fishers of men. The two men then leave their things and follow Jesus.
Afterwards, the group discusses the passage. One man says that Jesus is the destroyer of death.
Jon is reluctant to share. He thinks Jesus is a frustrated fisherman trying to start a worker's movement.
In third grade Jon participates in a spelling bee. He is eliminated early in the second round on the word Accident.
In third grade, Accident is a trick word.
The Village People is a band to which Jon is secretly devoted. He keeps all of the band's eight CDs hidden under his bed.
Sometimes he imagines himself on stage performing the intricate movements that accompany the song Y-M-C-A. In this vision, he
wears tight shorts and a yellow hard hat. The crowd cheers wildly.
Imagine the sea, Tian says to the group. Each of us is a tiny ripple on the surface. We each have our own size and shape and we
each make our way toward the shore in what seems to be our own path. But truly, he says, we are all part of the same ocean, the
same source. And if we look deeply inside ourselves, below the surface of our own egos, we can touch everyone, and everything.
The ocean makes Jon think of sharks.
With a spy camera on the train, Jon is never alone.
Jon's accident shuts the train line down for 33 minutes. Had he been on the train instead of on the ground in front of it, he would
have been upset for the delay.
Do you know what time it is? a young woman says to him.
Um... yeah, Jon says, digging into his pocket for his cellular phone. About nine-thirty.
Man, she says. I've been waiting for the fucking train for thirty-five fucking minutes.
Yeah, Jon says. It can be a long wait this time of night. He stands on the curb with both hands in his pockets. She sits on the
stoop and rummages through her bag. Her clothes look handmade in the nouveau hippie style. One hemp sandal taps cement
sidewalk. They're waiting for the train at the Carl and Cole stop in the little dog park just beside the tunnel.
Do you smoke? she asks. She holds a joint between two fingers.
Excuse me? Jon says.
Do you smoke up? she says. She wipes her hair away from her shoulder.
Um... no, not really.
Oh, she answers. I don't usually smoke before I get home, but I've already been here way too long... seen three trains come in
the other direction. She lights the joint and begins to puff on it.
Yeah. It can be a long wait, Jon says and hopes the train will come soon.
You work around here? she asks.
No. Just coming home from a... kind of, meeting.
Like AA or something?
No, no, no, um... like a, meditation group.
Cool, she says. What kind of meditation do you do? Smoke drifts up into the starless night. Jon tucks his hands deeper into his
Well, honestly, I'm just kind of starting out, but it's mostly just about paying attention to your breathing.
Nice, she says. I wanna meditate, but my mind's all over the fuckin' place. Some of my friends are really into it though. Here comes
another fucking train. Can you believe this? she says.
She stands up to holler at the train passing in the opposite direction. Send one this way, she shouts. The driver ignores her and
the train disappears into the tunnel.
She takes a long toke and says, Ya know, this always happens when you just wanna get home after a long day.
I know the feeling, Jon says. You wanna not have a car in the city, but then you have to put up with this.
Yeah, she says. I work down on Haight in one of those little organic markets. You ever been down to one of those markets?
Probably passed it a bunch of times, he says, but I haven't been inside. Wait. I think I hear something.
The lights show first out of the darkness. The train follows, rumbling to a halt in front of them. The door opens and people
descend the stairs. The young woman puts her joint out on the sidewalk and comes up beside Jon. They enter the train together.
Under the lights, Jon gets a good look at her. Her blond hair dangles around her shoulders. Periwinkle eyes gaze out at him from
behind sun bleached lashes. He imagines her falling asleep in the crook of his arm. Outside the window, shadowed scenery rushes
What stop are you? she asks, moving closer to him. They are closer to one another than they need to be in the half-full train.
Early thirties, he says.
I gotta go all the way down to forty-sixth, she says. I live with a bunch of friends down there, but only for a few more days.
Are you moving or something? Jon asks. Everything about her is small, including her hands, and fingers, and nails.
Yeah, she says. A couple of my friends and I bought a little plot of land up in the foothills. We wanna try and have our own farm,
ya know, be like totally self-sustainable and everything.
Huh. That's pretty cool. Have you farmed before?
Well, I grew up on a farm in Minnesota, but I don't know too much about it really, she says. Her teeth are crooked, and perfect.
She says, I figure I'll learn quick enough though. Plus, my role will be primarily working with the bees.
Bees? Jon says.
Yeah. It sounds weird, but I've always wanted to be a beekeeper, ever since I was a little kid. So we're gonna get some bees and
I'll work with them, extracting the honey and everything.
Wow, he says. I couldn't help you there. I'm actually really allergic to bees.
Really? she says. I think I am too, actually, but I just feel like if they get used to me being around then they'll eventually stop
stinging me, ya know. Ha. I guess you just have to be one with the bees, she says. She giggles and leans closer to him, their hips
almost touching. She smiles. He's not sure how much of this exchange is a result of the pot she smoked a few minutes earlier,
but he feels warm and almost happy. The train cruises down the street.
So yeah, I'll be headed up there in like six days or something, and hopefully, I'll be up there for good.
Six days. Wow. That's so cool, Jon says. He rubs at his widow's peak. I've got just one more stop here, but, best of luck with the
Thanks, she says. I'm Kerry by the way. She extends her hand to him. It was really nice to meet you.
Jon takes her hand in his. It is moist and he shakes it a second too long.
Yeah. You too, he says. Take care of those bees.
Ding. The door opens. The door closes.
It may be old fashioned but Jon believes that people get paid what they're worth. Jon gets paid very little.
Jon tells his last girlfriend about his decision to join a bible study group. She sneers.
Christianity, she says, is a form of brainwashing.
A clean brain, Jon replies, is better than a dirty mind.
When Jon first learns that there are spy cameras on every train, he is a little frightened. He does not like the idea that someone is
always watching. It seems fascist to him and he fantasizes about writing a persuasive letter to the Transportation Authority
demanding his right to privacy as a citizen of a free country.
In time, however, he comes to recognize the value in the cameras. If he is mugged, for example, no one will come to his aid, but
at least there will be an entertaining video of the event.
Jon thinks: it takes a village to raise a child, but one child, given enough gasoline and a match, can easily raze a village.
Bees are flying insects closely related to wasps and ants. They are a monophyletic lineage within the superfamily Apoidea. There
are slightly fewer than 20,000 known species of bee, in nine recognized families. Among these families, many species are highly
Tian, the leader of Jon's meditation group, says that life never moves from point A to point B. There are infinite overlapping
moments. He says, Every moment of our lives, every moment of our ancestor's lives, and every moment of our successors lives
are inside of us. Human beings are a collection of moments.
Even at his age Jon has an occasional break out of acne.
This isn't as much a break out story as it is a break down story.
Jon listens to his IPod as he walks down the street. This is what he hears:
It's fun to stay at the Y-M-C-A.
It's fun to stay at the Y-M-C-A.
In his mind, Jon sees himself on stage. He wears his tight shorts and yellow hard hat. He forms the final 'A' with his arms to the
delight of the crowd.
Jon is struck by a train.
He is flung twenty-five feet on hard concrete and lays sprawled out on the tracks. The train shrieks to a stop.
He can still hear the crowd cheering.
On the outside, Jon appears as he has for most of his life--a young man just trying to get somewhere. There are no visible
scratches or cuts. But on the inside, he bleeds.
Jon likes to fall asleep with the television on. The pictures blur in his eyes, as he squints and finally releases his eyelids. Voices
push him off into a tranquil ocean of sleep.
Sometimes at night, when two trains follow one another closely, and Jon happens to get on the second one, he has an entire car
It is cold in the empty car and he can see himself in the windows. His face is longer and skinnier in the distorted reflection, and
Outside, there are lights on in apartments. Some people keep their shutters closed. Others like their personal dramas played out
Jon watches the apartment windows. Now a woman washing her hair in the sink. Now a man smoking a cigarette at a bare kitchen
table. Motionless silhouettes against television blue light.
At each stop, the door slides open to let in the night air. Jon holds his breath and hopes for someone to climb three steps and
drop into the empty orange seat nearest him.
If by some stroke of luck, Jon is ever elected president of the Transportation Authority, his first act in office will be to make all of
the train lines circular.
Instead of reversing course, they'll circle round and round and round and round.
Ladies and Gentlemen, this is going to be the final stop. All passengers must exit the train here. Again, this will be this train's final
Ding. The door opens. The door closes.
Daniel J. Vaccaro