Friday, March 16, 2007

Couple, Ten Years Ago in New York City

This is one of those odd stories that only happen in New York. I was reminded of it just yesterday when we were in the midst of an oppressive rain here in Joshua, Texas and my daughter, 9, asked me to recount it in all its lurid details. I did and she laughed her head off. Then she asked me if I had put it on the blog. I told her I hadn't. She suggested I should. So here it is--and forgive me if you can.

Couple or ten years ago in New York City. It was a day in late Spring. It started off chilly and rainy, so people throughout the city were wearing either winter coats and carrying umbrellas or their Burbury rain coats. As the day wore on the rain continued but the temperature rose, so that by the evening rush hour everything and everyone in Manhattan--and probably the rest of New York--was damp to the bone. The whole city sort of smelled like a wet dog.
I left the High Times office and headed down to Union Square to catch the Lexington Avenue express subway; three stops and I'd get off at 86th street and walk on home to our place on 90th and 3rd.
The subway platform was crowded: the winter coats and umbrellas had people taking up twice their normal space. Worse, the dog-hair smell of wet wool and dampness was worse down there under the city streets. It was all just sort of thick and I just wanted to get on home to my wife and kids, make some dinner and then take Chepa out for a couple of beers and a game of darts--you know, give her an hour away from the kids, catch a buzz...
The train came into the station already crowded, but none of us were going to wait for another so we pushed into the cars like self-motivated cattle just itching to get into the slaughter house. To my surprise, the door I got into, the one at the front of the car, had a small open space in it. In the corner seat, a seat meant for two, there was a street guy. He was filthy. I mean, looked like he'd rolled around in someome's muck, his nose running into an untamed beard, his clothes foul. No one sat next to him, the only square inch on that train that wasn't overcrowded.
Well, I thought he probably felt bad about that so I pushed my way through several people and took the seat. I never sat on trains, but I thought it better if I lent this guy a hand: he probable already felt so estranged from the human race that having an empty seat on a train so crowded you couldn't breathe next to him only made him feel worse. So I sat.
It wasn't a great move: He smelled like urine and vomit. I wanted to move, of course, but since I'd been so freaking high and righteous about taking the seat in the first place just to make him feel less disincluded I couldn't then get up and leave.
The train was moving slowly, partly due to the normal rush hour train-traffic-jams that happen in New York, but exacerbated by the rain and the time it was taking people to get on and off with their thick coats and all those umbrellas. We made 42nd street, took on as many new passengers as we dropped off, then headed for 59th. Same thing: as many new people as we lost. The train was simply packed. Except for the area directly in front of me and the bum, a little buffer zone which the fancy dans gave us because of the stink of my seatmate.
Inexplicably, just as we left the 59th street station we came to a halt. We sat probably for three minutes before the conductor said there was a holdup at the 86th street station and we'd be stuck for several more minutes. Not pleasant, given the wet-dog smell in the car and the guy next to me.
Another minute went by and then a new smell entered the car: it was as if someone had passed gas, but it wasn't just a little fart. This was something thick and malodorous, something from the bowels of a vulture. This was rotten meat and sickness, a revolting mix of dead animal carcass and human intestines that hadn't been cleared for years. I nearly threw up. And worse, it didn't go away. It rose like a heavy fume and spread like a stratus cloud from my end of the car down to the other, malevolently poisoning the already damp and thick air with the fumes of hell. People began to turn to look for the source. One by one, three by three, ten by ten: as the foetid cloud spread throughout the car everyone turned toward the little corner in which my associate and I sat, until nearly 200 pairs of eyes were staring at us, glaring at us, wondering why we'd done what we did to them. It was, perhaps, the thickest, worst stink I'd ever known.
The people nearest us covered their noses and mouths with the lapels of their coats and pushed back to get further away from us. Others began to open the car's tiny windows. Still others, deeper in the car, began to openly ask: "Who the fuck did that?" and things of that nature. People were angry.
And then, in a moment when the stink reached its apex and no one in the car dared breathe, when the car grew perfectly silent as people debated ever breathing again, the man next to me suddenly turned in my direction and broke the silence. In a deep, resounding, clear voice, he suddenly said: "I don't know what you had for lunch, but that is awful..."
And in that moment, all eyes shifted from our corner to just focus on me. I'd never felt such animosity. I wanted to stand and shout: "That wasn't me! I tried to give this guy dignity and this is what I get??? You all can't believe this foul foul odor came out of me, can you?"
I couldn't, of course. It was too late for that. It was tag and I was it.
The train began to slowly move. No one took their eyes off me, as if they were afraid that if they did I might do something even worse. It was one of the longest 3 minutes of my life, waiting to reach 86th street. And when we did I didn't dare move until all of the others were off the car; several waited and hit me with umbrellas. Others called me names. I turned to look at my lying former companion just before I reached the stairs. He was looking right at me. He winked.
It's been a couple, ten years and I still havn't forgotten him.

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