Trainspotting is a new fiction series focusing on imagined accounts of real patrons of the New York City subway. Kayleigh Roberts is on her journalism residency in New York, and the stories are based on her experiences people watching/daydreaming on the train.
If Jeff were to tell you that he has a “day job,” you’d probably assume him to be an aspiring actor or model. He is fully equipped with a square jaw, black curls, bright blue eyes and one of those Owen Wilson noses that somehow manage not to ruin a face despite looking as though it’s been broken several times. Jeff is not an aspiring model, actor or anything else, though, and besides, he doesn’t advertise the fact that he has a day job.
That’s the job he’s headed to on the train. He always takes the train even though he could afford a taxi and think nothing of it. He spends his days, Monday through Friday from nine until four, selling printer supplies — paper, ink cartridges, toner. Jeff hates paper, ink cartridges and toner. Jeff hates his day job. He goes through the motions because you can’t have a six-figure income and no employment. He keeps his insufferable day job, but he makes a game of it. He could take it seriously, could try and could probably sell more than a toner cartridge a month, but he doesn’t. He doesn’t care.
“Well actually sir, I’m afraid I can’t answer that question. You see, telling you what makes our brand the best is predicated on the assumption that we are the best. We’re definitely not.”
When he got the job, he was ecstatic. Not because he harbored a deep love for printer paraphernalia, but because it meant he could finally stop living on Greg’s couch. Consequently, living on Greg’s couch was the reason his day job became his day job. More specifically, the naked woman Jeff had walked in on straddling Greg on said couch was the reason his day job became his day job.
“Oh shit! Sorry, dude,” he had said, dropping the pile of binders and manuals on printer supplies that he had heaved home from training. Later that night — much later, because he had wandered the city for hours after awkwardly backing out of the apartment in embarrassment — Greg had offered him a job.
“Sorry about earlier,” Jeff apologized again, positioning himself uncomfortably on the arm of the sofa and wondering wear he was going to sleep tonight now that he knew his bed was tainted.
“Don’t worry about it, man,” Greg had been smiling, almost laughing. Then he added nonchalantly, “Actually, she kind of liked you. Said she had a couple of friends she thought would too.”
Jeff choked on his Coco Puffs. Normally, he would welcome this kind of news, but thing about the naked woman was, well, she was old. She was at least his mother’s age, maybe older. Well-preserved, sure, but still not his type. He hadn’t known and would never have guessed it was Greg’s type, but there was no denying that now.
“I mean, thanks,” he had said between coughs. “But no thanks, you know? If she has a daughter she thinks would like me, hook me up.”
“Yeah, it’s not really like that,” Greg laughed.
Jeff gets off the subway in Brooklyn, flimsy briefcase in hand. He makes a mental note to replace it with something sturdier, while he can still afford to. It occurs to him that this line of thinking means he’s made his decision, that he’s out. He exhales until his lungs are empty and it starts to hurt before sucking in a fresh breath of cold air. He shakes his head from side to side, jogs in place, channels Rocky. This is it, time to get serious. Time to go from day job to “career.” The word “career” catches him off guard. That’s serious. “Career.” Maybe that’s too strong a word. He still doesn’t want to be selling printer supplies forever. From day job to just job, then. To honest living. He plays “Gonna Fly Now” in his head and marches proudly off to sell toner like he never has before.
The first time was really fucking awkward. Like really. He wasn’t inexperienced, but this wasn’t like for fun. The words “The customer is always right” kept playing through his head for some reason. He closed his eyes, tried to think of something else. Someone else. She could tell and she wasn’t happy. He excused himself to the bathroom and seriously contemplated escaping through the window before he remembered they were seventeen floors up and he was naked.
“Come on,” he thought to himself. “She’s not unattractive…for an older woman.” He splashed water on his face, as if this would in any way fix the problem he was having, which had nothing to do with his face. “Pretend you’re Ashton Kutcher,” he told himself, then, thinking better of it, “No, don’t do that, that’s worse. Dustin Hoffman!” Inspiration struck. “Yeah, you’re Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate and this is sexy and cool and if people were watching, they’d see you framed through her leg and it would be awesome.” Invigorated and confident, Jeff marched back out into the bedroom and pretended he was Dustin Hoffman.
Not only is he selling printer supplies, he’s selling the shit out of printer supplies. He was surprised he even remembered the contents of those manuals, but he knew it all. He could answer every question. The corporate buyers he’s meeting with are hanging on his every word. They’re ordering three times what he’s sold his entire time on the job so far. He is a genius. He is unstoppable. He realizes that even if he replicated this success every single day on the job, he still wouldn’t be able to afford to keep living in his apartment.
He leaves the office with his order forms to process and gets back on the train toward Manhattan. He doesn’t want to go back into the city. The closer he gets to Midtown, the closer he gets to having to make a decision.
“So, what? They don’t know anyone else?” Jeff asked Greg a week ago when his dates had run out.
“Well, I mean, yeah, but I don’t know if you’d be into it.”
Not into it? He was Dustin Hoffman. Older women had become his specialty.
And Greg tried him. Greg had tried a lot of things, apparently. Jeff sits on the train, weighing poverty against dignity, values and sexual orientation. Greg needs an answer by tonight and he would rather not. He can’t imagine saying yes, but he can’t imagine struggling to sell printer supplies and moving to Astoria either.
The train stops in Times Square and Jeff exits. He’s known all along that it was going to come to this. He asked Greg about it the first night.
“No, dude, of course not,” he had assured. Did going along with it mean he’d made the decision a long time ago? No, he didn’t have to do it. He was Dustin Hoffman, it was a game. But then, he thought, Dustin Hoffman got fucked in the end too.