As I began to walk down the stairs at the Brooklyn Union St. subway platform I felt the rush of air that comes when an express train hurries past on the inner platform. Standing at the top of the steps my shirt was pressed against my chest and my hair was lifted straight up; I imagined a billion tiny comets, rushing past me on the way to 4th Avenue.

There are famous winds. The north-bound mistral in France in the winter, the hot, sandy simoom in the deserts of North Africa. We hear more about wind now that we are warring in the desert, about the sand chewing into the machinery. I once stood under palm trees in Israel as the khamsin tossed sand through the air. The sunlight refracted through the sand amplified the colors in the flowers and the palm leaves. The world looked like a picture in an old cookbook from the age of Jell-O(TM) molds and glistening hams. That was six years ago—19 cents on the dollar of my life.

But I am already doubting the story. Was the wind really the khamsin? Was the light truly amplified? I look for confirmation online and yes, there is the khamsin (the Hebrew word for it is sharav). But no one on the World Wide Web mentions the quality of the light and I worry that I have got the wrong wind. So: I know I had a job outside of Tel Aviv in 2001, and there was a wind. The wind had a name, and I felt sand in my mouth. I do not have a name for the tiny squall of litter that is lifted by the air pushed forth by the rushing N train. Traindraft? That sounds like a software application. Subgust? Pushwind? Maybe.

As I descend I am sad to hear the express train passing. Sometimes I grab the R train and go one stop and check to see if there is a D train waiting for me. But now it is gone ahead; the local won't catch up. I want a D train because after a few minutes along its journey it leaps out of the depths of Brooklyn onto the Manhattan bridge, over the East River, with miles of water, buildings, and boats visible out the window. The commuters are like moles given wings. But it's gone.

The Union St. station breeze carries copious amounts of perfume, sweat, and hair product; it contains the coffee-breath of the multitudes. It also brings carcinogens; the very air, as I have read over and over, is latticed with invisible poisons, parts per million that will find their way through my lungs and land on my organs like bees; they will pollinate my cells and one day, a shadow on the X-ray.

But we also—they told me this in physics class—breathe in the same air as Shakespeare or Leonardo da Vinci. The physicist Enrico Fermi made his students figure out how many molecules of gas from Julius Caesar's final exhalation we each take in with each breath. The answer, according to the math, is one: each time you suck air you take in a solitary molecule from Caesar's last gasp. Also Brutus's, and billions of other more anonymous souls give their share.

And eventually, me. Breeze gone, I pay the toll and stand against a wall to wait for the local train. What choice do I have but to breathe it all in? There's obviously room in my lungs for both history and carcinogens.




Ftrain.com is the website of Paul Ford and his pseudonyms. It is showing its age. I'm rewriting the code but it's taking some time.


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About the author: I've been running this website from 1997. For a living I write stories and essays, program computers, edit things, and help people launch online publications. (LinkedIn). I wrote a novel. I was an editor at Harper's Magazine for five years; then I was a Contributing Editor; now I am a free agent. I was also on NPR's All Things Considered for a while. I still write for The Morning News, and some other places.

If you have any questions for me, I am very accessible by email. You can email me at ford@ftrain.com and ask me things and I will try to answer. Especially if you want to clarify something or write something critical. I am glad to clarify things so that you can disagree more effectively.


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© 1974-2011 Paul Ford


@20, by Paul Ford. Not any kind of eulogy, thanks. And no header image, either. (October 15)

Recent Offsite Work: Code and Prose. As a hobby I write. (January 14)

Rotary Dial. (August 21)

10 Timeframes. (June 20)

Facebook and Instagram: When Your Favorite App Sells Out. (April 10)

Why I Am Leaving the People of the Red Valley. (April 7)

Welcome to the Company. (September 21)

“Facebook and the Epiphanator: An End to Endings?”. Forgot to tell you about this. (July 20)

“The Age of Mechanical Reproduction”. An essay for TheMorningNews.org. (July 11)

Woods+. People call me a lot and say: What is this new thing? You're a nerd. Explain it immediately. (July 10)

Reading Tonight. Reading! (May 25)

Recorded Entertainment #2, by Paul Ford. (May 18)

Recorded Entertainment #1, by Paul Ford. (May 17)

Nanolaw with Daughter. Why privacy mattered. (May 16)

0h30m w/Photoshop, by Paul Ford. It's immediately clear to me now that I'm writing again that I need to come up with some new forms in order to have fun here—so that I can get a rhythm and know what I'm doing. One thing that works for me are time limits; pencils up, pencils down. So: Fridays, write for 30 minutes; edit for 20 minutes max; and go whip up some images if necessary, like the big crappy hand below that's all meaningful and evocative because it's retro and zoomed-in. Post it, and leave it alone. Can I do that every Friday? Yes! Will I? Maybe! But I crave that simple continuity. For today, for absolutely no reason other than that it came unbidden into my brain, the subject will be Photoshop. (Do we have a process? We have a process. It is 11:39 and...) (May 13)

That Shaggy Feeling. Soon, orphans. (May 12)

Antilunchism, by Paul Ford. Snack trams. (May 11)

Tickler File Forever, by Paul Ford. I'll have no one to blame but future me. (May 10)

Time's Inverted Index, by Paul Ford. (1) When robots write history we can get in trouble with our past selves. (2) Search-generated, "false" chrestomathies and the historical fallacy. (May 9)

Bantha Tracks. (May 5)

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