I can’t remember the first time I came down here. Or which train I took. I don’t remember scanning my Clipper card, walking down the escalator, or choosing the correct side of the track to stand on. I certainly don’t remember doing any of this with any forethought of the process — or, without knowing what a Clipper is.

Maybe it’s because there are more than a handful of these underground stations; all of them alike. Things happen down here. But it all seems designed to inspire obedience. The smell, the still air, the fast walking, the monotone female voice foreboding the arrival of one and/or two car trains; all similarly indistinctive.

The truth was, I’d been having a rough go of it. A foggy patch, though I hadn’t yet coined that term for it.

Not to be a downer, but I don’t believe in fate. Not with a capital “f” or any incarnation of something deemed “a fateful event.” Life is full of meaningless coincidences. But instead of experiencing them passively, we assign them meaning out of … I don’t know … boredom.

There was a coincidental encounter I had on a train down here one time, though.

Robert Waters (no relation to John).

With all the trains running through all these indistinctive tunnels — and all the people being ushered along by the monotone female voice — I ran into Waters, a guy from my hometown — nearly 3,000 miles away.

Always the collector, he had come out to accumulate sounds. Like me, he was one who’d made himself up. Or, to be more accurate, was in the process of doing so. I’d been here longer. And so, my self was arguably more cemented; though this foggy patch threatened to unravel all that I’d become.

I was on the N-train heading east toward the city. Waters said he’d been renting a place at the Boyd Hotel on Jones Street. I remembered it for the woman out front, wearing a trash bag as a blouse, and speaking in the language and at the volume of the neighborhood who’d tried to grab my ass on the way in.

Waters laughed when I told him I didn’t have any leads on new sounds.

“Broken glass? Screams? Firecrackers?” he asked, as he pulled out a Klean Kanteen from his backpack, unscrewed the lid and passed it over to me.

I shook my head and, without making eye contact, took a sip of the brown liquor from the Kanteen.

“How are you liking California?” he asked.

“I’m in no mood to talk religion,” said I.

Waters looked around, smiled and pulled his tuft of blonde hair back, revealing his high hairline as he left his hand resting on the top of his head.

“Wanna come by and see what I’ve gathered?” he asked, catching his reflection in the empty blackness of the train’s window.

“Hell, yeah,” said I. Perhaps this was a chance to lift the fog for a bit.

Stories Inside the SHADES OF GREY Special Feature:

The Difference Between
My Sister and Her Photograph

by Tim Gilmore 
by Mark Ari 
I Have Been Asleep
For a Very Long Time

by Sal Bilheimer 
Gathering Sounds
by Matthew B. Shaw 
In the Sun Too Long
by Hurley Winkler 
Oxygen and Apologies
by Carl Rosen