Such a pretty day. When I came out of the Underground station the sky had filled with these tiny white, flat-bottomed clouds, as though they were puffs of steam that had popped up from the chimney of some hidden machinery. It was a pleasure to reach the outdoors. Jumping onto the train I caught the eye of a raddled punk, crouched over his big brown dog. He was petting and soothing the animal, lovingly. I smiled and he smiled. The doors slid shut. But what was that… awful smell? Oh, god, it’s the hound. A guy in workout gear looked over and made an expression of disgust. I looked about me. People were wrinkling their noses. The smell filled the cabin and was unendurable.
I got up and slid down the far end of the train carriage. Within seconds that end of the carriage was full, as though the track had tilted: the punk and his dog sat up on a vinyl bench by themselves, unsurrounded on all sides. The dog was emitting these edgy, whining noises. Everyone looked strenuously away, in a body, as though they could dissolve him by pretending he wasn’t there.
The punk guy shrugged at me, the only person making eye contact. “Der reitet nicht gerne,” he said. He doesn’t like to ride. I said, “Tcha…” I was revolving in my mind the most inoffensive way to mention it to him, trying to translate: dude, your dog really reeks.
The smell was unbearable, a creature rotting alive, I was breathing in little shallow gasps. We pulled in at the next station and the carriage emptied within seconds. Seven people ran pelting down the platform and leaped into the carriage behind. There they stood doused with disapproval, that righteous German indignation people can excite by basic inconformity. Even in a punk city, even in Berlin. I followed, laughing helplessly. Och, the poor old punk with his mangy, stinking, poor terrified animal. The long-term neglect, the isolation. You know that kind of released and loose laughter that feels like crying, feels almost like sex. It was kind of sad but wonderful and could only happen here. All the way home I was remembering him and the confederacy of perfumed people locking him out of their secret, hidden glances. I remembered and kept glancing out the window and smiling to myself. The poor smelly dog and his misery, the poor old drug-fucked oblivious punk who maybe thinks people reject him because he’s rejected society, thirty years ago, with his haircut and his piercings. Making up his stories to himself of why people can’t bear him and will not come near. An almost unbearable ecstasy of shame pierced me, that I had not spoken, that my German is laborious when it counts, that I couldn’t find the words. Berlin, decorous and louche at once. You big old mess of freaks.