SLACKJAW by JIM KNIPFEL
April 8, 2012

Riding the Blind Train

 

The subway wasn’t too crowded, so I was able to get a seat next to the door. That always made things a little easier. I folded the cane, rested it on the bag on my lap, and began counting the stops. It’s a habit I’ve gotten into since moving to Bay Ridge—if the conductor isn’t announcing the stations (which is the case about half the time), I know it’s eight stops, or twenty stops, or fourteen stops between here and where I am going, and I count them out on my fingers as we go.

        When the doors opened at the second stop, I heard a few people step aboard. A moment later something tapped my shin. Not hard, just two light taps.

        “Is there an open seat here?” a man asked.

        “Yeah, I think so,” I replied, feeling the seat next to me to make sure.

        The man then turned around and began to sit down in my lap.

        “Whoa, hold on there,” I said. “Wait a sec.” I slid to the open seat on my right as he took mine. This, I thought, was an extraordinarily good technique for getting whatever seat you wanted. It was also one I’d never tried before. Sat in plenty of laps by accident, but never asked permission first. I’m sure if I tried it I would only get into trouble.

        “So,” I asked after he was settled in. “Are you blind?”

        “I’m going to 36th Street, then I’m going to transfer to an N and take that into Midtown,” he replied.

        I paused a moment, far too tempted to say, “I didn’t ask if you were deaf—I asked if you were blind.” Instead I let the moment pass and repeated my original question.

        “Oh,” he said. “Yes.”

        “Yeah? Me too.”

        “Really?”

        “Yeah. Small world.”

        “Yeah.”

        For all the time I’ve lived in New York, I can’t recall this happening before. Then again I might have found myself sitting next to a blindo dozens of times without realizing it. If they didn’t whack me with the cane there was no way I could know.

        “Where are you headed?” he asked.

        “Oh. Um, East Village.”

        “Really? What are you going to do there?”

        Well that’s kind of a pointed question, isn’t it? Especially coming from a complete stranger. I started to wonder what I’d gotten myself into here. Who was this guy, and why did he want to know?

        “Going to see my girlfriend.”

        Damn, I thought. I should’ve told him I was going to score some junk.

        “Well that’s a good reason.”

        I couldn’t gauge from his voice how old this guy was. Thirties at least, but he might’ve been much older. Not wanting to be at the disadvantage here, I did a little pressing of my own.

        “And what will you be doing in Midtown?”

        “I’m, transferring to the N to head to Midtown.”

        Jesus Christ, this guy does need to get his hearing checked.

        “So what will you be doing up there?”

        “Oh. I’m heading up to the Lighthouse.”

        Yeah, that figures. Where else would he be going? “Ahh, the Lighthouse,” I said. “I know them well.” I stopped myself from telling him what I really thought about those bastards.

        “I’m in the music school up there.” He didn’t specify if he was a teacher or a student.

        Really. So what do you play?”

        “Oh, saxophone, guitar, piano, a few others.”

        Shit, he was a walking cliche. He probably has jam sessions with Tom Sullivan and Jose Feliciano. “Wow, that’s swell. People are always asking me if I play an instrument.”

        “And?”

        “Played a bunch of things over the years, but never with the slightest hint of skill or talent. I play records pretty well, though.” I was starting to remember why it was I tried to avoid the company of blindos.

        There was a brief pause as the train rumbled on.

        “You live in Bay Ridge?” he asked.

        “Yeah, for about a year now. Little more.”

        “What street?”

        I felt the hackles start to go up again, but went ahead and told him anyway.

        “Between what and what?”

        What the fuck was this guy after? Was he planning on stopping by for a visit later? I gave him some plausible but inaccurate cross streets, just in case.

        “You live alone?” he pressed.

        “Just me and my security team.” Then, ham-fisted as ever I tried to change the subject. How fucking long does it take to get to 36th Street? “I lived in Park Slope—same place—for twenty years, but some fuckers bought it and threw me out.”

        “Well, that’s pretty bad.”

        “Ah, everything worked out. I like a place without windows. Still trying to find my way around. Took me eight months to find a barber who was a block away. Kept walking into tattoo parlors.”

        In response I got to hear all about his barber. And yet again I was reminded why I tried to avoid the company of not just blindos, but everyone.

        I guess he wasn’t that bad a fellow. Just inquisitive and kind of dull. Pleasant, though. And there’s every possibility he was thinking everything about me that I was thinking about him. In any case I got the sense we were both a little relieved when the train pulled into the 36th Street station and he pushed himself to his feet. We fumbled around a bit trying to shake hands, and then he was gone.

        Guess I learned my lesson about striking up conversations with strangers, even if we seem to have something in common. As the train rumbled forward again, I realized with some mild horror that on account of that brief and bland conversation, I’d completely lost track of my station count.

 

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