Just in Time for Christmas

Tobias Carroll

You don’t love books the way Tobias Carroll loves books. Check out his Instagram (Tobias Carroll or something, you can find it if you search). He’s a fiction writer. Vol. 1 Brooklyn. He’s the man.

Why I Was Not in New Jersey for Christmas in 1997
by Tobias Carroll

If I’m going to be honest, I should probably say that things in my life went awry starting in the second half of 1997. Nothing tragic was involved, but I felt out of my depth, wrestling with a kind of sustained failure that stretched over weeks and months, sometimes receding before just as quickly leaping back into place. I was halfway through college, interning at a film’s production office in Soho. Sometimes I’d get drafted to come in on weekends to sign for FedEx deliveries. I’d sit and read Hubert Selby Jr. and wonder if I should stop being straight edge. 

The job wrapped up in the third week of December. I was pretty much done with finals by the time I received an email telling me to come down and pick up a crew jacket. This was pretty convenient: the office was south of my dorm, and south of there was a friend’s apartment near the Seaport, where I had to drop off a book that I’d been lent. I had a ten-minute walk to get to the office and I figured, why wear a jacket when I’d be getting one when I arrived? And so I was brisk in my walking–so brisk, in fact, that I began sweating. Sweating without a jacket in forty-degree weather; I probably should have gleaned that something was wrong. And then I was in the jacket, and I felt like I was gushing. Sweat ran into my eyes, blurring contact lenses and earning me some stares as I continued on. I figured I’d flush it out of me; it made sense at the time. I got to my friend’s apartment, handed off the book, got some more stares, and found my way to the subway. Hello, Broadway-Nassau. Hello, stairways up and down and unclear signage. I spent ten minutes on one platform before I realized it was the wrong one; I found my way down some more stairs, and stepped on board that train when it came. In the initial announcement, it sounded like the conductor was saying it was the E.

I was the only one on the car. I took off my jacket and folded it in my lap and felt the train move. And on we went; no stops were made for the next hour. Finally, I heard the voice of the conductor: “This is the 8 line, making express stops to Los Angeles. Next stop on this train will be Marfa, Texas. Marfa is the next stop.” And I thought, fuck this year. 

My fever broke somewhere under what I believe to have been Tennessee. Sometimes we would stop; the doors would open, and I would hear the conductor’s voice say, “Please return to the train in an hour.” And so I’d step onto these platforms under the earth and stretch my legs. There were vending machines there, and shower stalls you could rent, all automated. I’d clean up and feed myself and would get back on the train. My new jacket became my pillow soon enough; it never felt soft. I bought reading material there, most science fiction novels I’d already read in high school.

The 8 express stopped at Marfa; no one got off, and no one got on. The name of the next stop came out garbled, and it was another two days under the earth before we got there. I thought, shit, I don’t know anyone in Los Angeles; why wait even longer? Four hours later, we came to the next station, the one with the indistinct name. I stepped out of the train and onto the lonesome platform and looked around. No one else was there, either on the platform or near the turnstiles I stepped through or the steps leading above ground. Here it was hot; here my sweat was sensible. There was a newsstand and a pay phone beside the desert station. I looked at the newspapers and saw that it was January, and that was when it hit me, that I was late for so many things.