May 20, 2012

And I Didn’t Learn a Thing


The train pulled into the station just as I made it through the turnstiles, and half an hour later was moving along at a nice clip. That was a relief. I was hung over, and just wanted to get home and find out what I’d missed in the past day. I didn’t even let the one-man mariachi band bother me much so long as the train kept moving and my head didn’t explode.

        Somewhere around Sunset Park, the doors opened and a cluster of what we’ll politely call rambunctious urban youth roared aboard. The train was half empty, I was seated next to one of the doors with my cane folded in my hand, and wasn’t at all surprised when they came screaming and hooting down the aisle to gather across from me, shrieking, singing, yelling for no reason and pounding on the windows.

        Oh, here we go, I thought.

        It was a handful of years ago. I was riding the F, sitting in approximately the same seat, with a similar group of hyperactive teenagers across the way. They gathered around me as the train was pulling into the Smith-9th Street stop, and as the doors opened one of them levelled a sharp fist to the side of my head, laying me out flat across the bench and dislocating my jaw as they ran screaming and laughing off the train. It was a move as old as the subway system itself. I’d seen it happen to other passengers more than once, and an ex-cop pal from the Bronx gave me a world of shit for having fallen for it.

        I knew I couldn’t very well get up and move, or even slide over. Any sign of concern on my part would’ve merely inflamed all that murderous energy. The best I could do was just stand my ground and steel myself for the worst.

        The train shambled on and the youths—there were three or four of them, I couldn’t tell—only grew louder and wilder. There was no one else sitting near me.

        Well, shit, this is not going to end well. Where’s Bernie Goetz when you need him?

        From what I could tell, they were bored and trying to figure out where they should go to have some fun. Given that it was a little after noon on a Thursday in early May, “fun” in New York was pretty hard to come by. I ticked off the stops on my fingers, at the same time counting down the minutes to the fatal blow.

        As the train finally approached my station, I unfolded the cane, stood, and positioned myself at the door, making it clear I was about to get off. Behind me the frenzy seemed to reach a fever pitch as the group gathered themselves together and took up their positions around me—one to either side and the rest behind me. I showed no concern. If this was it, this was it. So fucking what? At least my demise would make the news, which is more than I could’ve expected otherwise.

        The train squealed to a stop as my would-be assassins grew strangely and suddenly silent. That’s what happened last time, too. They were all waiting, watching, anticipating what was about to happen to the unsuspecting cripple. At that moment, I figured, they probably all had their hands in their pockets, fingering their switchblades and zip guns.

        The doors opened and I tapped forward to the wall with the lot of them sticking close behind. It was a little-used station, so the platform was much more private than the train car had been. Plus escape would be that much easier.

        I turned left and following the wall began tapping my way to the stairs. The youths—still unusually quiet—walked along beside me, blocking the view of the people still on the train. The train pulled away leaving us alone on the platform.

        After a few steps, the one in front finally spoke again.

        “Look out mister—you got a wooden bench in front of you.”

        “Oh,” I said as the cane hit the wooden bench in front of me. “There it is now. Got it . . . Well, thank you.”

        “Yeah, sorry about that mister.”

        “It’s fine. Thanks.”

        I tapped my way along the bench and found the staircase, and the bloodthirsty pack of wilding thugs ran on ahead up the steps, screaming and shrieking among themselves but without another word to me.

        There I was, a perfect victim-in-waiting—a cripple, for godsakes!—surrounded by a mob of quivery teenage wolves all hopped up on crack and mouthwash, and all the little bastards could do is offer me a bit of friendly assistance. Goddamn kids. Can’t count on them for a goddamn thing these days.

        Along the rest of the six-block trip home, three different elderly immigrant-types stopped and asked me if I needed any help. I didn’t trust them either. Moreover, I knew full well that when I found myself in the same situation on the subway again—and there was no doubt that I would—I would think no differently and no better of the screaming little fuckers who were out to maim me.


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