#54 The Downtown Trains Are Full With All Those Brooklyn Girls
A fellow storyteller posted this great essay about New York City on Facebook this week. It was in response to that d-bag hedge fund guy who proclaimed New York to be “dead” and the swift online backlash of irate city-folk (present company included) who told that guy to go to Cleveland. The essay is so perfect I joked that I might just copy and paste it on this blog. Alas, I’m left to write my own stuff and not shamelessly plagiarize from others. I feel grateful I didn’t have this much of a moral compass in grade school, when I’d copy the entries in the World Book Encyclopedia word for word for my social studies reports.
The thing that’s got me feeling romantic about NYC is, of all things, the subway. I missed the subway during the initial months of COVID lockdown. For all its problems — and there are so, so many— the subway is the cheapest, most efficient way to get around the city. And, it’s an endless source of cocktail party fodder.
Early COVID subway selfie. Why, yes. That IS a paper towel mask.
I found this note in my Evernote app today.
"Crazy subway stuff (icicle guy, Jesus/hallelujah guy, bucket man, beans lady).”
Icicle guy: There’s not much to say except that this was a guy just casually holding a huge icicle shaped like a lightening bolt. Sort of like this guy, minus the tights.
“Jesus,” The Preacher: a well-dressed and good-natured man who roamed the Upper West Side, holding the bible and chanting: ‘Jesus! Jesus! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Glory! Glory! Glory!” Then he’d laugh, his throat full of the Holy Spirit. Usually, I’d hear him well before I saw him, his joyful voice carrying around corners and end-to-end on a subway platform. Once I saw him up close and his voice was raspy and tired. I worried that he’d caught a cold or a bad bronchitis. But as I passed him and continued up and out of the subway, his voice grew louder and louder. I noticed this whenever I saw him — a whisper up close, a triumphant call from afar. The Times wrote about him once.
"Bucket Man," Unclassified: Very tall, stout guy with a full beard and mutton chops and Jeffrey Dahmer glasses and dressed head-to-toe in dingy and mismatched whites. Instead of a hat he wore a large white bucket on his head, the handle of it resting on his chin like the Queen’s Guard. Although I usually saw him on the 1/9 train, the first time I saw Bucket Man was in a very crowded CVS, waiting in line at the pharmacy. No one gave him a second look which I soon learned was the agreed-upon code in NYC. You do you, Bucket Man.
"Beans Lady,” Mother of the Year: Before 9/11, the Broadway local line was known as the 1/9 train* and it was so crowded that I often had to wait for 3 trains to go by. One winter morning, I shoved myself into a barely standing room only car, my face in another rider’s armpit, hoping that I might catch a break when we got to the next express stop and maybe be able to snag a seat. A woman and her middle-school aged son has also gotten on at my stop; they were standing near the doors - the boy facing away from his mom. The doors finally clanged shut and the train lurched out of the station and slowly chugged along.
Immediately, the woman started sighing loudly and complaining about the heat in the car. “WOOO. It’s hot on this train.” She started to zip and unzip her ski jacket as if the action might provide some sort of breeze. Her son ignored her.
“Oooh. You know, I don’t feel so good.” Oh, no. Not a sick passenger. Sick passengers are the bane of the Straphangers existence. “I don’t know why I ate that whole thing for breakfast.” The boy now looked down at his feet. The other passengers started shuffling their feet like nervous horses. In these days, almost no one wore headphones on the subway and there were no cellphones, so we were a captive audience.
The woman started fanning at her face with her hands and making noises signaling intestinal discomfort, “Woooo! I shouldn’t have done that. Wooh! Wooooh!"
"I shouldn’t have eaten that WHOLE CAN OF BEANS WITH A FORK.”
At this, the other passengers tried to move away from the woman, but there was no space. We were packed in with a woman possibly about to blow. I’ve never known New Yorkers to be afraid of anything, but we were facing a potentially catastrophic gas bomb fueled by canned beans. The stakes were high. I had my eye on the kid. He was shaking his head, mortified. He looked up and shouted: “I DO NOT KNOW THIS WOMAN.”
The mother responded, “Son! Don’t renounce me! WOOOOOOOOOOH.”
Just then, the doors opened at 96th street and the passengers nearly tumbled out of the car. I hadn’t smelled any killer farts so I stayed aboard the train and watched as the woman proudly claimed a wide open bench for the two of them. The boy hid his face in his coat and stayed that way at least until I got off at Times Square.
Mask redemption. August 2020. I am not above pulling a "can of beans" ruse to get a seat.
*The 9 train was discontinued in 2005