I leave 190th street and a municipal elevator rockets me into the ground where I meet one of those subway trains that wend their way under the earth that I have been riding for much of my life and much of my parents’ lives and much of my grandparents’ lives and much of my great grandparents’ lives. I ride the elevator with a freshly groomed Scottish terrier who is interested in me and his owner who is not. I use a new technology to pay my fare, not a token, not a dime, not a metro card, but my telephone, and if you had told my grandmother that one day we’d use our phones to pay for the subway, she would have been. . . What’s the feeling when you don’t even own a piece of technology, the telephone exists at the corner store, and when your father disappeared for a few days, and then called home from Atlantic City, and then asked to talk to you, his daughter, not his wife, and so your mother, my great grandmother was furious at him, and then a lifetime later your beloved fifth of ten grandchildren summons you from a peaceful rest in eternity to tell you that now he can pay his subway fare with his telephone? My grandmother Pearl died in 2005, a few years before the iPhone, but then again, I bet she could see the writing on the wall, she was a smart cookie.
I take the A express down to West 4th and I make my way through the frozen night to the east village, to Little Poland, where I meet two friends and eat two holuptzes, but they’re covered in mushroom gravy! It’s delicious, and I wonder why I grew up with sweet and sour sauce on my stuffed cabbage, why I miss it, even now that the mushrooms are delighting me; why I need that tang, and the hot burst of the rehydrated raisins. We talk about movies and mental illness and part ways so they can take the Q to Ridgewood and I can take the F to the A to Washington Heights.
Waiting for the A, I see a strange sight, a young man has sat on the edge of the C train platform, just opposite me, dangling his legs over into the shallow precipe the train will rush through and if he doesn’t move his legs, they’ll be severed, or he’ll be dragged under and he’ll be dead and the train will be delayed. Eventually others notice the young man calmly sitting in peril, and they whisper to themselves and nervously eye the man, the board that says the C train is getting near, their train, which may be delayed by this horror, which may shower them in gore, they’re so close, and otherwise make them complicit, so a few of them surround him and start shouting. They shout “you need to get up” and I do not hear what the man says in response, something like “you need to get out.” An argument ensues, the C train gets closer, and closer, it is now visible to me and people are shouting and it honks its terrible honk and someone has moved as if to grab the man, but the C train has stopped now, and now he’s up, the train pulls the rest of the way in, and the man is asking for money. Angrily the people who tried to save his life, save their subway journey, sweep past him into the now open doors of the train, and a few stop to give him money, and he gets on the train too, still begging, he holds the door open for a moment, costing the train another second, and then the door closes and the C train takes off. Some people look on and think a tragedy was averted and some people look on and think a scam took place, but all I can think is, he had to sit in front of an oncoming train to get people to care who he was, to get his money, and it’s so cold, oh life is hard, it’s so hard, it’s so hard.
I wrote this on the A Train to 190th street making local stops, hearing Spanish swears and the sweet snores of the man spread out over three seats asleep on his sneakers and the grumbling cyclist who hates the announcements of delays and curses the driver of the train and the driver of the train announcing our delays. It is a quarter past midnight in the subway in New York City. I’m almost home.