Thursday, April 7, 2011


The E train from Queens to Manhattan is entirely filled with the usual Queens array, meaning each and every creed, color, gender and age known to human civilization.  The old man enters through the verboten side-door, laboriously pulling his cart.  The cart is a plank with casters on it to which is affixed a cardboard box containing bulk boxes of Capri Sun and Cheetos.  Behind this is an intricately constructed clam-shell box topped by a wooden cassette holder containing tapes with hand-written labels saying things like "The Great Michael J.," "Jazz" and others that are in some kind of incomprehensible, presumably made-up, language.  The handle used to pull the contraption is covered with an elaborate lattice of empty white plastic bags.  A smiley-face sticker on the cardboard box implores, "Smile!  Have a Nice Day!"  Next to this, a handwritten one reads: "THE HATERS ARE TRYING TO KILL ME AND I LOOK FORWARD TO THAT DAY." 

The man has wispy balding grey hair and coke-bottle glasses.  He is tall and lanky and his clothes are worn but intact.

"If anyone here is homeless or hungry, please help yourself to food and drink," he exclaims.  Nobody helps themselves.

The man says something else, but it is obscured by the rattle of the train.  His speech begins to become more agitated.  He opens the clam-shell and withdraws a sports drink bottle containing money.  He paces back and forth down the car holding it out to people.  Someone gives him a dollar.

"These people," he yells, "they won't even give you a piece of paper, they just ring their bells and absorb your money, ring your bells and absorb your money!"

He performs some kind of contortion akin to a kung-fu move in the middle of the train.  Some thuggish-looking teenagers at the far end of the car laugh at him.  He departs toward the sliding door between cars on the far end of the train.

Presumably getting wind of the laughing teenagers, he stops just before the door and exclaims, "You know what?!? I don't want your dirty money!"

Ceremoniously, he walks back to the center of the car and gingerly places the dollar bill Washington-side up in the middle of the car.  He stalks away to the right-hand car, the sliding door banging shut behind him.  An elderly Chinese man shakes his head, grinning from ear to ear.  One of the thuggish teens says, incredulously, to his friends, "Why did he ask for the fucking dollar if he wasn't gonna take it?  Shit."

Everyone in the packed subway car sits silently staring at the dollar bill, which undulates slightly in the draft coming in from the car doors.  A small child on the lap of a large black woman lifts her hand, points at the bill and coos.

"We don't need it," she says to the little girl.

The train stops at the next stop and a well-coiffed older white man in an expensive-looking grey-piped suit gets on.  He sees the dollar bill on the floor of the car and turns to his right and left as if to ask does it belong to anyone here.  He shrugs his shoulders and picks up the dollar bill.  He stands there a moment, and looks out at the sea of parti-colored faces staring at him silently, unemotionally.  He laughs once, and puts the dollar bill back down on the floor where he found it.  He gets off at the next stop.  Nobody else gets on.  The bill remains in place for the duration of the E's underground passage from Queens to Manhattan.  The train remains silent.

Upon surfacing again, the group of thugs gets up in unison and moves toward the door, but one of them doubles back and swivels over to the bill, the pants tightly belted around his thighs giving him the appearance of a red-hoodied drawing compass.  His underpants billow like a mainsail.

"THE FUCK ?!?!?" He yells, snatching up the dollar bill, and quickly skitters out the door like some kind of strange crab or insect.  The doors slam shut, just missing the bulb of his boxers.

1 comment:

Patrick said...

Worth telling and superbly told.