A man wearing a sweater and tie under a tan topcoat got on the southbound Red Line train at Fullerton. Boarding was a chore because he was bringing with him ten big bags–some of them made of paper, others cloth–all stuffed with old newspapers and other papers. He lifted these bags into our car two at a time and placed them on the far side by the door. Then he took off his tan topcoat and draped it over the bags. A few minutes later, as the train approached the station at State and Chicago, he put on his coat and moved the bags across the car to the door.
I asked what he was doing with the bags.
“What are you doing with that?” he said. I thought he meant the newspaper in my hand so I said I’d be throwing it away.
“No. Hanging from your shoulder,” he said.
My briefcase. I said I kept my work in it.
“The same with these.”
The train had stopped and he was lifting the bags onto the platform two at a time, while other passengers stepped around him. Do you do your research alone?
“What difference does it make if I work alone?” he said.
Just the day before I’d noticed a woman making her way downtown on the Red Line. She’d been managing just as many bags as he was, and hers were equally nondescript.
“Don’t compare me to anyone else,” he snapped, and the doors closed.
The odd thing was that there was someone to compare him to.