by Anthony Ausiello ~ Westfield, New Jersey, USA

Just as the subway doors start to slide shut, a chubby man-child clad in purple corduroys and a Sandman t-shirt two sizes too small leaps up from his corner seat on a south-bound D train and wedges himself between the closing doors, shouting, “I hate you Joseph Gordon-Levitt! I hate you.” The doors finally shut, expelling the man like the head of a squeezed zit onto the platform. He remains standing on the same spot he landed, face pressed dangerously close to each passing window as the train pulls away. A final, muffled “I hate you” trails off as the platform recedes and the train plunges into the darkness of the tunnel. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the actor, remains frozen in his seat while his eyes scan the subway car from left to right then back again. His last breath swirls timidly, trapped at the edge of his throat, as if its release would solidify the last several surreal moments into reality.

His morning started poorly. Going to the gym, the one conveniently located just around the corner from his Upper West Side apartment, is how he likes to begin his day. More so, it is how he needs to begin his day. A vigorous workout clears and focuses his mind. Restores him. But this morning, he found the doors of his gym locked, and worse, bandaged shut by reams of police tape. Then the heavens decided to rip open and unleash a thunderstorm of biblical proportions. An empty cab was nowhere to be found. His gym has a twin branch downtown on West Broadway, but he hates going downtown, hates the subway, certainly hates sitting drenched on the subway. And now there’s this guy that just shouted at him and jumped off the train. He lowers his gaze and exhales, satisfied that the outburst astonishingly hasn’t drawn any additional attention. New York City, he reflects, just another crazy.

“People need to be honest about their tolerance to risk aversion,” a whisper into his ear, startles him. He wonders when the seat next to him became occupied. The passenger beside him, a young man of similar height and build, but dressed in an Italian suit, a crisp white monogrammed shirt with french cuffs, and regal purple silk tie fastened in a perfect windsor, leans in a little too close and in a more conversational tone continues, “If I can be perfectly frank, I’d like to be able to start just one goddamn day without an irate client screaming at me. You play the market at all?”

“I’m sorry, what?” Joseph Gordon-Levitt replies squinting in confusion. The other passenger locks eyes with him and repeats, “The market, you play the market at all?”

“No. No, I don’t,” Joseph Gordon-Levitt answers, shaking his head, slowly leaning back away from him.

“You should,” the other passenger states matter of factly, lowering his chin in emphasis, “If you can handle it, that is.” He begins to turn his head away then snaps it back, adding, “You have to know yourself. Not like that guy,” The lights flicker and the train jolts to a sudden stop.

“What are you talking about?” Joseph Gordon-Levitt asks, his voice rising.

“That guy,” the other passenger explains, gesturing at the doors with an outstretched finger, “Client of mine. Ex-client, I suppose. Worth millions. Wouldn’t think it to look at him, right? Can’t go on appearances. Last thing you should go on.” He takes a breath through his nostrils. “Made him a little money, then lost him a lot of money. Happens.” His eyes widen. “But he’s the one who told me he wanted to hunt the white whale.”

Joseph Gordon-Levitt stares into the eyes of the other passenger, exasperated, mouth open wide but silent as if waiting for some rational commentary of the scene on hand to spring forth, but before any illumination emerges, the other passenger reaches two fingers into the inside pocket of his suit jacket and with a flick of his wrist extends a business card. Joseph Gordon-Levitt watches his hand rise and take the card. He looks down at it. It reads: Joseph Gordon Levitt (unhyphenated), Vice President, Argo Securities. Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the one with the hyphen, looks from the card to the passenger’s monogrammed sleeve where the script letters JGL further confirm his identity.

JGL leans forward noticing Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s purple nylon gym bag and asks, “You work out?” Joseph Gordon-Levitt nods. JGL smirks and nods also. He inquires, “What’s your thing? Free weights?” And he makes two fists and curls them both up to his shoulders. “Spin?” He pedals his impeccably shined shoes in two quick revolutions. “Zumba?” Shoes drop to the floor, slide forward and back in a tight Latin shuffle. He adds a quick shake of the shoulders to finish. He purses his lips for a moment, shakes his head, and says, “Not me. I want exercise, I either work or fuck.”

With that the train lurches forward, continuing on its path. JGL turns back, the exchange over as abruptly as it began. He faces forward and stares out the window opposite them. Joseph Gordon-Levitt does the same. Their reflections fade and reappear repeatedly, as the black tunnel walls streak by and the train descends. ■