Looking up. And down.

There’s a code on the subway. Put on your earphones, don’t talk to anybody and if somebody crazy gets on you look down. If they’re really crazy, you switch trains. I used to bring books on the subway, but realized I liked reading people more. I also like talking to people. I don’t do it as much as my posts let on, but when I do it is usually worth a story.  

The boy/man with the tattoo cracked me up in the morning. Really he did. I now think about him when I say pardon (no I haven’t stopped). I even wondered  the other day if he and Jacqueline would work things out. Child aside, anyone worthy of being inked on your skin deserves a second chance. The man playing the bongo drums also struck a chord with me. He was the only person I’d met so far who played music on the train and didn’t beg for money immediately after.  He wanted everyone to “feel it.” And I haven’t even written about the grandma who talked to me for three stops about her first husband nor about the teenage model who left me mesmerized. The subway takes people watching to a whole new level. I am drawn to these people because they are absolute strangers who somehow manage to impact my day. Most of the time you can find me looking around, wild-eyed.

But some days I look down.

Like last week when a mother in her twenties slapped her three-year old so hard in the face I gasped. The crime? Turning around in his seat to look out the window. She told him if he spun around and looked at those trains one more time she would pop him. He did and then she did. Hard. Across the face. It shook me up so bad that I got off the train. I not only looked down, I left. Then I called my mom and walked twenty blocks home. Or when the blind man asked for 50 cents and I didn’t have it, but didn’t want to look him in the eye. He couldn’t see me, but he could feel the weight of his cup. The man next to me said he was faking. Maybe he was, maybe he wasn’t. I kept my eyes on the floor.

Or on Friday night when a man in his fifties sat there rocking and peeling off fake, purple nails. Where in the world had he been? What in the world had he been doing? I studied him long enough to notice and long enough to make up his life story. He used to live in Brooklyn with his mom and his two older siblings. He was really good at drawing and he was always in his room building things. His brother would knock down his towers, but he didn’t care. He would just rebuild them later. He started working in construction at sixteen- right around the time when his dad left. The weight of the world was too much to bear so he started drinking and never quite knew how to stop. A few times he cleaned himself up and got a steady job, but it never lasted. And now here he is on the 1 train picking off his purple nails. His skin was beautiful, but his face was hard. A hard face to match a hard life. The life of someone who maybe got slapped for looking out the window at trains as a boy. He glanced up and our eyes met for a second. He rocked back and forth. He didn’t say anything, but I imagined him wanting to explain. I imagined him wanting to tell me so badly about how he used to live in Brooklyn and how he used to be really good at drawing and building things. His teacher had even told him once that he could be an architect and build tall, tall buildings in the city. Maybe that’s something he would have said. Instead, he rocked back and forth. I didn’t switch trains. He wasn’t crazy.  Not really. He looked ashamed. I looked down.

Yea, most of the time you can find me looking around, wild-eyed. But some days? I just look down.

One thought on “Looking up. And down.

  1. I still believe you are a very brave “niece” just to ride the subway let along interact or stare long enuf to create a story. One day you will be the grandmother on the subway watching the little boy slap his child and once again you will feel the same pain. Be brave my niece and I pray your continued safety as you peruse through life in New York creating stories for your aunt to read and enjoy. Be safe out there.


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