Though I’ve haven’t even been back from the Continent for a week, I couldn’t refuse an invitation to spend a night with my favorite art collective in Providence. I find a quick little side trip is often just the ticket to ensure a complete psychic return from a longer, international journey. Also, while on the Continent I passed such a lovely day on the train, I was eager to attempt to translate the experience to America’s inferior rail system. And I was promised dinner, brunch, kickboxing, and the opportunity to wrap a naked man in plaster. Who was I to say no?

Yesterday, while peaking on my daytime imbibement of espresso, Vitamin C and coca tea, I ambitiously bought a ticket on the 6:55 a.m. train. Yes! I would rise before dawn and be in Providence by mid-morning! My jet lag still lingering, I’d been waking up all week at what for me is the ungodly hour of 7 or 8 a.m. But the plans we make at noon when coursing with vitamins and stimulants are not necessarily the ones we’ll stick to at midnight, sipping bourbon and listening to Chet Baker. I cracked and called Amtrak to change my reservation to the 8:30 train. (Where could the naked man go? How quickly could plaster dry?) “You want to sleep a little later, don’t you?” drawled the customer service representative from his terminal somewhere in the rest of America. “I’m weak,” I admitted to him. “Weak and lazy.” “Well, your confirmation number is still the same,” he said cheerfully.

Finally maxed out on the day’s allotment of reading and writing, I lay in bed looking at a high, bright moon until I fell asleep. In a miraculous turn of events, I woke before my alarm, just as first light was breaking. For the first time ever, I was going to be on time for a train, plane, or bus. I wouldn’t have to rush or sprint or dodge angry people in crowded corridors. I made a celebratory pot of coffee and breakfast sandwich, watched the sun come up and noodled around, imagining myself part of that secret society of early risers I’ve heard so much about, people who get a lot done in those fresh newborn hours of the day.

Time passed. Having had the hypothetical experience of being early, I set about making myself late. With forty minutes until my train’s departure, I threw an assortment of electronic devices and eye care products into a bag and hustled out the door. How long could it take to get to Penn Station? It was rush hour. There would be frequent L trains.

Too-frequent L trains, it turned out. The line was congested, backed up. We sat in each station, doors open, train packed, iPods shuffling. Each minute passed with a high whistling noise. One might think that the chronically late person is ignorant of time, but actually, quite the opposite. The chronically late person is painfully aware of how a minute feels, and of the exact difference between two and five and ten, because the chronically late person is always parsing minutes, seconds, eventualities.

Having started with, “I’ll make the train if everything proceeds normally,” I was now slipping into, “I’ll make the train if I make a miraculous transfer to an uptown express.” As we crawled along 14th Street, the electronic voice droning on about the delay, I observed that the chime that precedes the electronic announcement that “We are being held momentarily in the station by the train’s dispatcher,” was having a distinctly Pavlovian effect on me. While at some level I am aware that I bring this–and all–suffering upon myself, on the surface I rage at all my possible enemies–trains, my fellow humans, time itself. Each time the public address system dinged and the male voice announced the obvious, I twitched, quivered, veritably growled. If the government ever wanted to turn me into a highly effective killing machine, all they’d have to do is play a loop of that dinging noise and keep announcing that “We’re being held momentarily in the station by the train’s dispatcher,” maybe pipe in my grandmother trying to manipulate me into attending a family event at a country club in Westchester, lay that over Bush giving a press conference and mix in the sound of wealthy Long Island suburbanites discussing cars, weddings and college admissions and I’d be salivating for human blood.

I did make a miraculous transfer to the uptown express train, but the crawling of the L train had cost too much precious time. I sprinted through Penn, unholstered my credit card and jammed it into the first ticket machine I saw. My train was still on the board, boarding. The machine recognized my Visa, my itinerary appeared. Was I going to get away with my latest temporal gamble? With the cooperation of the ticket machine’s touch-screen technology, I just might. “C’mon, c’mon,” I sweet-talked the machine. “Give it, giiiive iiiiit…”

The “Print Ticket” button was in my sights, but when I touched it, nothing happened. The machine freaked out. And so did the next one and the next one, until the board flipped and the train left. After a few satisfying minutes spent viciously kicking the ticket machines and howling obscenities, I got in line to demand restitution, knowing full well that the next train leaving for Providence was an express and cost twice as much.

“I missed my train because your ticket machine malfunctioned and now I would like you to put me on the next train to Providence at no extra cost,” I said to the man behind the window.

“When did you try to get the ticket for this train?” asked the man. “Because if it’s after the train is scheduled to depart the machine won’t give it to you.”

“I am quite certain it was before the train was scheduled to depart,” I said, not certain of this at all. “I would have made the train if your machines were working.”

“You know,” said the man, “we can check the machine. We can’t put you on another train unless we prove that you were here before the train left.”

“Go ahead,” I said levelly. “Check the machine.”

The manager came out from the ticket booth and unlocked the machine I had first sweet-talked, then kicked. How quickly seduction degenerates into violence and then finally, a hazy reconstruction of half-remembered events.

The ticket agent and I eyed one another warily. I could see he thought he was about to call my bluff. I squared my shoulders, narrowed my eyes and gave him the tiniest of smiles.

The manager came back, shaking his head ruefully. “Print failure,” he said. “She was in there at eight twenty-nine. Transfer her ticket to the express and override the price increase.”

I grinned triumphantly. For once, the law was on my side. The express would get me in only an hour later than the local, and I would be riding in business class. To celebrate, I went over to Hudson News and grabbed up an armload of glossy magazines, which I took to a corner of the store and perused happily until an angry person in a vest came over and kicked me out for not buying anything, but not before I learned that Britney is totally unraveling and you can wear your sundresses in the winter, if you put turtlenecks underneath.

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