MAKING ARRANGEMENTS FOR THE BODIES

With a couple days left before I leave New York City for a bit — I cannot help saying “a bit” or “for now” for reasons both sentimental and superstitious — I find myself pretty amazed by the number of grown-up person decisions I’ve had to make and execute in a short amount of time. At the time of this writing, I am sitting at my desk and eating from a Halloween handout-sized box of Sour Lightning Lemon Nerds. I am also surrounded by Post-It notes and piles of paperwork detailing some of the things Lisa and I have had to take care of these last couple of weeks, including:

  • hiring coast-to-coast movers
  • moving insurance
  • auto insurance competitive quotes and new policy forms
  • cable and internet disconnection/install
  • new car research, brochures, competitive price quotes, and V.I.N. number
  • california vehicle registration paperwork
  • auto financing forms
  • research and purchase of dashboard-mounted GPS
  • apartment lease
  • cross-country roadtrip itinerary (see you soon, Corn Palace and farmhouse from In Cold Blood!)

I now know a little bit more than I ever did about lien holders and dealer invoice price and the pros and cons of estimating a residential move based on the cubic feet vs. gross weight of its contents. I know about California’s jerky mandatory (state revenue-generating) smog test and VIN verification, even on new vehicles with well-documented low emission rates. I know what paddle shifters are. I know that, when Laverne and Shirley moved to Hollywood and their address was “113 1/2″ this was not some kind of Vaudevillian joke but a real phenomenon common to Los Angeles.

And I know I’m going to leave New York City eight pounds heavier because I insisted on eating as many of my favorite things as possible before leaving, and that many of those favorite things were enjoyed with favorite friends and favorite alcoholic beverages, followed by lurching in my kitchen at four a.m. and drunkenly cramming favorite greasy carbohydrates into my slop hole.

The movers are arriving tomorrow morning, and I’m picking up my new car shortly after that. (pictured here with its previous owner) Then Lisa and I will clean our empty apartment, attend a recital where Lisa will sing “Stormy Weather” and a Lee Hazlewood song, have a couple more drinks with friends, and sleep on our newly-swept floor, get up the next morning, pack the car and, for the first time in over thirteen years, I’ll start everything all over again.

I feel like I’ve been saying goodbye constantly over these last couple of weeks — to the people I like, the shows at which I regularly perform stand-up, to my own cats who are already living in Los Angeles, to bars and restaurants and street vendors, to the buildings in my neighborhood, the evening ride home across the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges, to gai tom kha soup at Lemongrass Grill and pretzel croissants and The Pickle Guys on Essex Street, to the conveniences and frustrations of mass transit and the endless anecdotes and pet peeves it naturally produces, to running into friends on the street. I’m tired and a little sad from all of it. There are many things I’m looking forward to in Los Angeles — for instance, my job, which continues to make me feel, in a very un-jaded and corny way, like I’ve won the comedy-writing lottery — but the thing to which I most look forward is the end of goodbyes. That, and In-and-Out Burger.

SMELLS LIKE MONEY

Riding the train home last night, late, when two black guys board. Now, ordinarily this would be my signal to flee, but I decided to risk it because Obama, etc.

One of the guys was carrying a plastic McDonald’s take-out bag, I guess because he’s one of those people who are too busy to sit down and enjoy a nice meal in the comfort of a McDonald’s. In his other hand he was holding a drink. It was some kind of brown liquid in one of those tiny, semi-transparent Dixie cups you get at movie theaters and pizzerias, as their way of shaming you for requesting tap water instead of Sierra Mist.

As the train bumped along, he took small sips from his Dixie cup. Finally, his friend asked, “what’s that?” Mr. Sips slowly raised the cup in a toast, and replied, “Courvoisier. Smells like money, don’t it?” His friend laughed and heartily agreed; I would have agreed, too, if I had been able to smell the Courvoisier over the stronger, headier aroma of Chicken McNuggets.

CHECK YOUR GRAMMAR, HO

Lasterday I saw a lady seated on a street corner, asking (axeing?) for spare change. She was holding a sign that said, “TIRED OF PROSTITUTION.” I realize that sign was intended to trigger a number of responses, emotional and otherwise–compassion, pity, charity, blogging. And sure, I felt most of those things, but not before experiencing my knee-jerk egghead response to the sign, which was, “Um…pardon me, but shouldn’t that say, ‘TIRED FROM PROSTITUTION?’” (Imagine that question intoned in the most condescending, professorial manner. Or, if you can’t imagine that, just imagine that question asked by film director Peter Bogdanovich.) It’s not apathy, or self-conscious cruelty; I am just very serious about proper grammar and syntax.

If she was trying to escape a life of prostitution, and not just stating her political views while trying to raise enough money for stamps to write a letter to her congressman, I fear she is in for a rude awakening. (Though not an awakening quite as rude as the one where you realize, uh oh, I’m a prostitute.) Panhandling is rarely more lucrative than prostitution and, let’s face it, only slightly less demeaning. I just hope I don’t see her next week on that same street corner, with a sign that says, “THINKING OF GIVING PROSTITUTION A SECOND CHANCE.”

Yes, I decided that woman who was trying to escape a life of prostitution needed to be taken down a peg.

CANINE COSTUME RECAP

Last weekend was the 10th annual Great Pupkin Dog Costume Contest in Fort Greene Park, in the Fort Greene neighborhood of Brooklyn. It is an honored tradition and, while I have attended previous Great Pupkin competitions, I was unfortunately unable to take part in the contest’s Aluminum anniversary event, as my presence was needed couchside, attending to the vitamin C needs of my convalescent wife. (Yes, WIFE.) If, like me, you missed the competition, here’s a quick recap of all the dog costumes on display:

  • caterpillar
  • bee
  • bee
  • bee
  • bee
  • housefly (bee costume painted black)
  • bee
  • caterpillar
  • dog wearing women’s underpants
  • bee
  • bee
  • bee
  • bee arthur (bee costume with grey haired wig)
  • eric bee and rakim (rakim missing)
  • bee
  • bee
  • Ashley Todd (pretty popular costume this year)
  • invisible bee
  • bee

Well done, everyone.

And a personal and private message to the owner of the pot-bellied pig living in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. If you are not the owner of the pot-bellied pig living in Fort Greene, I would kindly ask that you stop reading right now and use these next few minutes making calls for Barack Obama in states that are only partially racist. Thanks.

OK, now that it’s just you and me, pot-bellied pig owner, listen. The Great Pupkin is for dogs. More specifically, it is for dogs dressed as bees and caterpillars and sometimes Yoda. Don’t you think, what with being a pot-bellied pig in the middle of Brooklyn and all, that you are already receiving your fair share of attention on a day to day basis? Perhaps, one might argue, even enough attention that you might see an event like The Great Pupkin advertised in your neighborhood and say to yourself, “Maybe me and the pot-bellied pig should sit this one out?” No Comments Yet | Filed under: nuevo-york

CALLING B.S. ON YOUR “ART”

Commuters traversing the Lexington Passage of Grand Central Station are serenaded daily by a rotating lineup of musicians. It’s not typical busker fare–folkie spiders who haven’t bothered to download the tabulations for any music recorded after Neil Young’s After the Gold Rush; Guatemalans with cheap woodwind instruments miraculously worsening the love theme from Titanic which I guess must be the Guatemalan national anthem; three ancient black guys harmonizing to “Under the Boardwalk”; a crazy lady shuffling through your train car in plastic bag shoes, and singing church songs at the top of her papery lungs.

Instead, as you weave and strong-arm your way through the train station to be the first in line for whatever, your selfish quest for efficiency might be accompanied by some bluegrass music or a pretty cello solo bouncing off the tiled walls. If you aren’t too wrapped up in your Blackberry (Crackberry is more like it!) you might even pause for a moment and think about how lucky you are to live/work/txt in here.

I usually get to hear whatever musical selections the Metro North Railroad Endowment for the Arts has decided to schedule because the performers are stationed directly across the corridor from the spot where I procure espresso, tea and muffinery. So, if you’re listening MNREA, please believe me when I say you really need to fire the guy who plays along to Johnny Cash CDs.

I’m not sure if it was some kind of committee oversight or a flawed but well-meaning initiative to introduce elderly musicians into the busker rotation, but this guy is a total dud. He doesn’t have the fire! I watched him for about ten minutes, during which he sat on a low stool looking bored, while a Johnny Cash CD played from a small, trebly boombox. He wasn’t even singing along! Occasionally, usually when a large crowd of people happened to be passing by, he would give the guitar one feeble strum or burp out an off-key attempt at the tail end of a verse–”…him diiiiie.” Other than that, nothing. Just a fat guy in a cowboy hat, listening to music very loudly in a public space. Under normal conditions, he would be fined for creating a public nuisance. Here, however, he was an “artist.”

I did feel it was important to try and understand this guy, even as I prayed for his dismissal. Whenever I see him perform, it’s late afternoon; that perfect 3:48pm moment that drags you, bored, from your office chair to get a coffee you don’t need. Maybe the old, fat cowboy treats his job as most people treat theirs. When he punches in, he’s playing those Johnny Cash songs, and singing with even more conviction than Mr. Cash himself. Maybe he’s even turning the backing track way down because, hell, he doesn’t need it. But this is a day job and, well, people often get distracted at work. Most drift over to Facebook, or start instant messaging their pals. Maybe they’re sifting through the latest online pet videos. By the end of the day, their productivity has slowed down so much they only have work documents on their computer so they can quickly alt-tab to them when a superior walks by. Really, this is not that much different than the Johnny Cash sing-along artist giving a half-assed show of musicianship when a large group passes. Then it’s back to business as usual: the business of doing very little and counting down the hours until yoga class.

I DIDN’T MEAN TO TURN MY BACK ON YOU, JOE

Due to a professional obligation, I’m spending a lot of time in Midtown these days. Most of the time I feel like I’ve been dropped into the middle of some sort of happy hour party sponsored by Cigar Aficionado Magazine and Blackberry, and hosted at a Cosi Sandwich shop. In other words: paradise. (SFX: gunshot, body slumping in Aeron chair)

The only pleasant part of my out-of-office experience is my daily visit with Joe. Not the person but the coffee shop which is unfortunately subtitled “The Art of Coffee.” (C’mon! The Art of Coffee? Your name is “Joe,” not “Terence.”) Joe is one of the few coffee shops in Manhattan where the employees look and act like their favorite thing in the world is brewing, pouring and serving coffee. It’s nice, and so rare, particularly in a city where Starbucks locations are as ubiquitous as bum pee, and where the baristas hate your dumb face and can’t be bothered to pretend otherwise. At Joe, there are no uniforms. At Joe, the baristas take a full three minutes to prepare a latte and when they’re finished they leave the lid off so you can see they made a pretty leaf out of foamed milk on the surface of your drink. And you fall in love, just a little bit because those small gestures of humanity are so uncommon in the service industry they are easy to misinterpret as acts of affection, and respond in kind. Like when a waitress calls you “Honey” and draws a smiley face on your check, or when an auto mechanic doesn’t force himself on you sexually. By contrast, when you order a drink at Starbucks it is delivered to you with its lid secured, as if the contents within are something to feel ashamed of. (They usually are. MORE LIKE FOURBUCKS! AND ALSO LIKE CHARBUCKS! STARSUCKS! STARCROOKS! FARTFUCKS! I agree, I’ve probably gone too far.)

I haven’t really been drinking much coffee these days, ever since I quit caffeine for a couple of months at the behest of Charles Atlas, but I still frequent Joe for green tea and fresh-faced good times. So, when a couple of co-workers invited me to join them for an afternoon coffee at “the best coffee place in this neighborhood–so much better than Fartfucks”–I jumped at the chance to pay an encore visit to my old friend Joe.

BUT WE WERE NOT GOING TO SEE JOE. In fact, when I inquired after Joe I learned Joe was a stranger to them. “Who’s Joe?” “JOE IS A DREAM FLOATING ON A HALF-AND-HALF CLOUD!” “Is he cute?” “THE CUTEST.” They remained unconvinced, and I was curious about this so-called best-coffee-ever so, as they say on Generation Kill, I was “Oscar Mike” vis-a-vis getting coffee. (Sorry, Joe.)

Turns out, according to them the best coffee ever can be found at a place on 44th Street called MACCHIATO. We entered to find the coffee shop buzzing (there’s some of levin’s rapier wit!) with Midtown semi-professionals dressed in Terminator Casual–shirts, ties, khakis, Bluetooth headsets firmly implanted in ears. They were drinking it up like it was coffee-flavored Kool Aid. The decor of Macchiato is stainless steel and overly-sleek white, possibly purchased from the properties department of Band of the Hand. It immediately struck me that nothing in the shop was handwritten–everything was communicated according to some kind of invisible style guide favoring an elite selection of icy sans-serif typefaces. All the employees wore fitted black “Macchiato” t-shirts, and hustled through orders with an economy of gesture that was so robotic and fascistic it made me want to put on a pair of Dolfins and swing a sledgehammer into the menu board. While his co-workers attended to customers, one employee occupied himself with a length of rebar, apparently attempting to rescue something that had fallen through an open counter seam near the register. He had the vaguely threatening look of a mini-boss thug in a Luc Bresson-produced action film–compact, muscular, shaved head, Teutonic facial features–and was not the kind of person you wanted greeting you as you stepped up to order your Espressochino Arctic Foam Blast. (As I typed that a siren sounded, indicating that I am officially the one-millionth person to invent a funny-sounding coffee beverage name for the purpose of pointing out the ridiculous nature of coffee beverage names.)

Joe would never hire someone who looks like he should be holding a clipboard and velvet rope instead of a carton of Soy milk. Joe’s employees embrace you with the warmth of a hand-me-down cardigan sweater. Joe names its coffee beverages normal things like “coffee” and “iced coffee,” and has the decency to include simple syrup at its milk-and-sugar station. (For my less effete readers, simple syrup is a combination of water and melted-down sugar, designed for beverages that are too cold to dissolve crystallized sugar. It is not an especially laborious or costly service, and it is the barometer by which I measure the quality of any coffee shop. To provide simple syrup to customers is more than a courtesy; it is an act of understanding and compassion. Its exclusion is like a softly whispered “fuck you,” and tells me a lot about a coffee shop’s priorities vis a vis customers vs. profits. Not surprisingly, Starbucks actually charges customers for simple syrup. They call it “Classic Syrup” which is kind of like calling tap water “Dasani.”)

Apparently, the midtown crowd doesn’t care much for the human touch, because the line at Joe is usually pretty manageable while the line for Macchiato was nut-rageous. (please look for “nut-rageous” in Juno, Too: Back to the Womb.) The thirsty customers queued up so deep that the rear of the line pressed against the storefront’s outer wall, and dozens more other Blackberry-sniffers hoisted Macchiato-branded espresso cups in the noisy, packed “café.”

I refused to drink their swill, but after we left Macchiato I told my co-workers I had to run a quick errand before returning to the office. Once they were out of sight, I rode my old-fashioned three-speed Schwinn back to Joe’s, tears in my eyes, and made the employees listen to a Shins song on my oversized headphones. The song changed their lives, just like it had changed mine. Then we lay down on a grassy hillside, our bodies radiating out from a central point where our temples touched, and we drew Sharpie tattoos on each other’s bodies and named every cloud we saw. We have plans to meet back at that meadow tomorrow and every other day, too. I’m gonna bring my Super-8 camera and we’re going to shoot a mumblecore film together.

[Update: I decided to check out Macchiato a few days later, on my own, because I am curious and weak and always feel as if I'm missing on out something. Also, I own an iPhone. It all makes sense together. My iced latte tasted like milk with a coffee-flavored "Nips" candy accidentally dropped into it. Sometimes, Joe, hurting you hurts me even more.]

MISSED OPPORTUNITY

Traveling home on a late Saturday night subway bound for East New York, our train was besieged by The World’s Greatest Entertainer and his incredible posse of hype-men. (Translation: a young, skinny black guy of indeterminate sexual orientation boarded the train with a few pals, and proceeded to annoy all of the passengers.)

The posse was dressed similarly, in matching yellow t-shirts with the word “SECURITY” across the back, but the WGE wasn’t having that at all. He was dressed one-of-a-kind stylishly, in off-the-ass skinny jeans with a jeweled (and essentially useless) belt, crisp Nike Dunks, and a suit vest buttoned over one of those bedazzled Don Ed Hardy shirts that have become this year’s “embarrassing-on-white-people but weirdly-cool-on-black-people” must-have fashion.

The first thing the WGE did was approach three young black girls who were sitting together. He began telling them which famous people they looked like–”Girl look like Jennifer Hudson!”–and each time he did this, his posse would burst out in uproarious laughter. Sometimes, when laughter wasn’t enough, the WGE would demand a kind of call-and-response, where he would say, “heyyyyy!” and his posse would respond with something like “Whoop de whoop what what huh!!” It was pretty impressive, if maybe a little noisome.

He called a sort of feminine-looking black man in oversized Cazals “Spike Lee,” even though he looked a little more like a member of The Specials. It didn’t matter if he was 100% accurate though, because he was the only one doing it and everyone was entertained until he told them they looked like Lionel Richie or “The O.C.” He also took tremendous liberties with passengers, after gaining their bewildered trust. At one point, I saw him standing over Jennifer Hudson, reaching for a pendant that hung between her breasts. Maybe she wasn’t especially threatened by his androgynous sexuality, or maybe she was just too shocked by his forthrightness to hit him with her Sidekick.

While the WGE made his rounds, stalking passengers to grant each individual a few minutes of loud and embarrassing undivided attention, I started to obsess over what he’d say to me. Lisa was with me and could see I was preoccupied (she has become an expert at reading my expressions) so I told her, “I’ll bet he’s going to say I look like Osama Bin Laden.” I’ve heard this before, from an aggressive and drunk UNC student on the street in Chapel Hill. I look nothing like Osama Bin Laden, but it’s still an easy go-to because I have a beard. I am weirdly sensitive to it. I would rather be called “Lionel Richie without a beard” because when someone calls me Osama Bin Laden there’s a part of me that thinks, “oh great, now everyone’s going to hate me.” As if just the suggestion is enough to convince others I’m probably up to some seriously anti-American hijinks.

After a few minutes sweating my inevitable roasting, I remembered that I am also a brilliant entertainer and wouldn’t it be great if he did dance around me and call me Osama Bin Laden while his posse “whoop de what what”-ed around the train and then I turned it on him and shut him right down with an even hotter burn? No…the HOTTEST BURN OF ALL TIME. I started fantasizing about this moment, where I pulled the rug out from beneath his gleeful reign of Friars’ Club terror, and then I actually began wishing he’d say something to me. I was trying to think of ways to make myself look more Bin Laden-y. Should I frown extra hard? Is there some way I could hold the subway pole the way Bin Laden holds a microphone, fingers extended and wrist limp?

Of course, the WGE never did make his way to me. Despite his velocity of delivery, his act quickly became repetitious, and the weaker moments began to stack up higher than the flashes of brilliance. Even his posse grew kind of tired of hyping him, and broke off into a couple of smaller posses, enjoying private conversations. So, to my disappointment (which, minutes earlier would have been my great relief), we never had our conversation. He never got a chance to tell me I look like Osama Bin Laden and I never got a chance to tell him he looked like “Usher’s broke cousin, Cashier“–The Burn Of The Century. (Sometimes, when I’m alone, I think of this line and high-five my memory.)

THE INTERNET IS SUCH A DRAMA QUEEN

I was just reading a story linked by the esteemed website, Gothamist.com, about the new IKEA in Brooklyn. IKEA has been offering a free shuttle bus between the store (which is located in the somewhat hard-to-reach neighborhood of Red Hook) and a few more convenient Brooklyn subway stops. Apparently, after just a few days of service the shuttle is already being taken advantage of by many of the city’s commuters who have been using this free, comparatively posh transportation to bypass a $2 public bus ride. That is pretty awesome.

Even more awesome is the fact that, according to Gothamist, many of those freeloaders are homeless folks looking to catch a free ride to the methadone clinic. This begs the question: If you are so good at finding a hustle, why are you so bad at having a home and/or teeth? I’m sure the homeless consider this bitter irony each time they hop aboard the IKEA express and heroin-nap all the way to their clinic. (There was one comment on the post that really made me laugh, where a person compared the class disparity on these IKEA shuttles to a Weegee photograph of two aristocratic women being ogled by a crazy-eyed homeless lady. Because, you know, IKEA has always been considered the premier self-assembly furniture destination for the discriminatingly wealthy.)

I’ve often thought there are a lot of public services not being addressed in this city. For example, after visiting the Hamptons and seeing the relatively carefree attitude most of the summer residents have with regards to their home security and personal safety, one could make a fortune offering a low-priced shuttle bus for thieves without cars. Each Friday morning, the B&E Jitney would transport individuals from high-crime neighborhoods directly to Amagansett, where it would leave them to frolic among the many unlocked summer rental homes and convertible cars parked curbside. Tickets would be one-way, based on the assumption that most of the passengers would be able to procure return transportation from one of the many beach parking lots or unattended driveways and garages.

I realize that is only one example, but that’s because I really only had one example. Sorry about that.

IT’S SUMMER, FOR REALS

[I don’t usually do this but I feel I must because I know Heather is an undeniable force, and because I know at least two or three readers of her website will email (as they’ve done in the past) to remind me of how grateful I should be that she linked to tremble.com, thereby granting me untold pageviews. I guess what I’m trying to say is, welcome, dooce.com readers. Please feel free to explore my more professional writing at toddlevin.com, or visit the tremble.com archives if you prefer to read hastily-written and rarely proofread pee pee jokes.]

Recently, on these very pages I mentioned that each year I consider my first sighting of a shirtless man on the subway the signal that summer has officially begun. With temperatures in New York creeping up into the quadruple-digits over the last several days I knew it was only a matter of time before I spotted my first robin barebreast, and last night I was richly rewarded. While waiting on the platform at the West 4th Station–right in the heart of Manhattan’s West Village, a busy bohemian hub for people visiting the city in search of white blues bands, marijuana pipes shaped like naked ladies, and Coldstone Creamery ice cream–a train pulled in and not one, but two shirtless guys stumbled out. As a special bonus, they were both bleeding in several places.

I can’t remember–when the first shirtless subway commuter you see is bleeding does that mean we’ll have six more weeks of summer, or six fewer weeks? Or does it just mean that someone’s going to catch hepatitis before they reach Penn Station? Either way, game on.

METRO TRANSIT ALTERCATION

When you ride the subway every day, there are a few experiential milestones you inevitably pass, and never forget. The first time the doors close while your bag is stuck between them. The first time a crazy person holds your entire train car captive during a morning commute–for me it was the time a woman recited the book of Revelations in its entirety, in a loud, monotone voice: “And thine flesh shall be consumed by worms of fire.” The first time a shirtless guy enters the train and sits down, perfectly relaxed, as if riding the subway shirtless weren’t the most insane and filthy thing in the whole world. (This particular milestone is exclusive to outer-boroughs travel and often signals that summer has arrived; like seeing your first robin redbreast of the season.) The first time you play keep-away with an empty bottle of Snapple as it rolls around on the subway floor. And the first time you witness a fight.

I had to ride the subway almost thirteen years before I witnessed my first real-live in-train altercation, but it was worth it the wait. Because it was weird.

It was a crowded rush hour train so I’m not sure exactly how the fight started but here’s what I was able to piece together from the back-and-forth. As we were all entering the train, trying to squeeze in, there was some jostling and squeezing and, in one instance, a hard, aggressive shove. Most would agree that this slightly over-the-line rude behavior, so the person who was received the shove responded in kind, by suggesting the shover have rough sex with himself.

Normally, swearing would be sufficient to defuse the situation but not this time, because apparently the guy who was doing the shoving decided he did not appreciate being told to fuck himself. Maybe he was thinking, “You try to push a guy to ground to gain faster entry into a crowded subway car, and this is the thanks you get?” So after a few seconds of stewing, he made his way back through the car to give this toilet mouth a piece of his mind. And that was not even the weird part. Not by a long stretch.

See, the guy with the toilet mouth–the one who had merely defended his dignity by cursing–was a pretty beefy young gentleman. Leather jacket. Goatee. Not the kind of person you would instinctively bully. And the guy who had done all of the shoving and was now getting right up in this big young guy’s face to defend his natural right to knock strangers around according to his whims, looked almost exactly like Ed Harris…if Ed Harris had been stranded on a desert island without food for six weeks…and then a FedEx box washed up on the Island one day, containing some clothing from the LL Bean Holiday Catalog. He was very bald and tan, wearing a sweater vest and hush puppies and I would say he weighed about as much as a box of animal crackers. If I had to guess what he did for a living, I would say, “heir to the Reddenbacher fortune.” What I’m trying to say is, he cut a very physically unimposing figure.

However, someone must have forgotten to mention that glaringly obvious fact to the future popcorn magnate because he was laying on the intimidation act all thick-like. And he was doing it in a very strange, old-fashioned way, with finger pokes and threats such as, “Wanna tango? Well, pick a dance partner: (Raising his fists) Fred Astaire or Eleanor Powell?” At one point, in a somewhat needless attempt to defend himself, the young guy said, “hey man, I don’t want any trouble but you don’t go around shoving people. That’s fucking rude,” and suddenly Ed Harris with AIDs makes this big show of pretend-shock, addressing the entire train, and shouts, “Well, well, well. I guess you think New York is a real Gentleman’s Tea Party—we’re all soooo polite here—well, let me tell you something. This is a man’s town and you’re just a tourist so why don’t you take this train back to Hackensack if you can’t make hay of the hustle-and-bustle of Gotham City.” (For the record, up until this moment, I had never heard the expression, “gentleman’s tea party,” and can neither confirm nor deny its pre-existence.)

If a fight had broken out at this point, it surely would have been Marquess of Queensbury rules, but it was not to happen. Instead, the young guy became so spooked he jumped off the train at the very next stop, and in the aftermath of this craziness all that was left was a lot of nervous smiling and repressed titters. And that’s where all of this unpleasantness should have ended, but don’t worry–it didn’t.

Because as soon as the train doors closed again, this Junior Varsity Bernard Goetz decided to pick another fight–with the biggest and blackest guy on the train. I guess he reasoned, “Hmm…which passenger on this train is most capable of killing me with one punch? I think I shall provoke him.” So without hesitation he got right in this guy’s face, too.

“You want to tell me what’s so funny, or are you a coward? Say, how would you like to get your dance card punched by Savion Glover and Alfonso Ribeiro? Let’s bring in the noise as well as the funk, except with punches and kicks to the face and kidneys.”

The black guy remained pretty calm, and instead of escalating the situation he just stood up as if to say, “Are you sure about this, dude?” This gesture should have been enough to stop an international war, because when he stood it was like one of those cartoons where a guy gets out of a tiny car and he’s actually a giant. He was enormous. His shoulders were scraping the roof of the train. His arms were sticking out of the windows, and his shadow cast the entire car in darkness. This had absolutely no effect on our tightly-wound subway vigilante, and all I could think was, either this guy is the most confident part-time research librarian I’ve ever seen, or he has a shoe knife–some kind of element of surprise he’s packing away, to which none of us are privy.

Finally, just when I thought the black guy was going to punch Ed Harris Starring In Angels In America so hard it would cause him to explode into forty smaller guys running around, the train arrived at its next stop and our hero makes his exit but not before threatening, “You’re lucky this was my stop. YOU’RE ALL LUCKY.” Then, with a loud harrumph and a few more nasty shoves, he was gone.

Now the train was still packed, and the tension was palpable. And while I’m usually a very reserved person, I felt the words spilling out of my mouth faster than my conscience could stop them, and I found myself loudly announcing to the train, “Does anyone need to talk about what just happened here?”

Homepage photo: Lindsey Byrnes
Site design & code: Erik Frick