Yesterday a man got on the train and I smelled him before I saw him. His fly was down and I saw that because I was sitting and he was standing and I really didn’t want to look up to see his face, but I thought that might be better than his open fly. He had dried snot running from his nose in tracks. His hip height, worn suitcase was overstuffed and he took his hand off the extended handle. Almost immediately the suitcase began to topple over and I absolutely did not want to touch it, but the woman across the aisle, white hair perfectly coifed, lipstick picture perfect, reached her hand out and stopped it. I locked eyes with her and hope I showed gratitude in mine—she had more courage than I did. I didn’t know what he’d do if I touched his bag so I was willing to let it fall. She said, “Excuse me,” so he would turn and see that his bag would tip if she let it go. He didn’t hear and I heard myself more loudly saying, “Sir? Sir, your bag?” mostly as a way to make it up to the woman who had more courage—and sense than I did. He heard me and took the handle without a word, turned his head away.
I examined his bag, because, well, there it was. Bulging at its seams, worn away on its vinyl corners, filthy fabric straining under its contents. Sticking out of the front pocket was a Halloween flashlight. I could not think of an item that could be more over the top, more incongruous. Then, I saw that he had a luggage tag on his wrist, like a bracelet. It was not a tag that came with the tattered suitcase. I could tell because it was real leather and the suitcase was cheap. I had to look, even if it meant starting, I had to see the large tab where you would slide in your ID. Eventually, he moved his arm to hold the pole further up and I could spot the ID window, empty.
On the way home the train was crowded. I sat down next to a woman who had kind of let herself spread out a bit, had her head back and was obviously trying to relax. She said excuse me and adjusted herself so she was only using half the seat and I told her I didn’t mind. No sooner did we have this polite exchange than two guys got on the train, talking loud, carrying three or four plastic and canvas grocery bags a piece. The one guy had his hood up and a hat over the hood and he offered the only seat left to his friend. The friend looked like Frankenstein with long hair. I apologize for how rude that might sound, how obnoxious, but if I use those words you will come close to understanding what I mean.
Hood/hat looked to be about 30 and was grossly underweight, so much so that it was almost painful to look at his cadaverous face. I couldn’t help think about his elbows and knees and how sharp they must be. Long haired Frankenstein was at least 6 inches taller and maybe 60 pounds bigger, but Hood/hat ws definitely the alpha male of the two.
I could never begin to replicate for you the conversation these two were having. Well, mostly hood/hat was monologuing but Frankenstein would chime in every now and then, ask a question, like “Who gave you that bag?” pointing at one of the bags hood/hat was hanging onto.
Hood/hat replied, “What one?” even though all of the bags in his hand were plastic bags, from CVS and grocery stores, and Frankenstein clarified, “this one.”
Hood/hat said, “Joe. You know, old Joe. You know old Joe!” and they shared some stories of old Joe’s shenanigans and his tips for getting away without paying at a toll booth (you throw a penny over the baske, but of course, the guy in the booth can’t tell what kind of coin you’ve thrown.
“They have to wave you through. It’s against the law to make you stop because it’s dangerous. So just throw a penny,” Hood/hat repeated Old Joe’s advice.
They spoke of a 21-year girl they knew who gets slapped by her man “in front of everybody” with the emphasis on “In front of everybody” like the lack of privacy was the true offense.
What was more interesting than the performance they were putting on for the other riders on the train, is what was happening among us other riders, and that was camaraderie. People were exchanging eye contact and smiles. Some people were talking softly to one another and making comments. The loud, rough men in no way seemed a threat to any of us, they seemed oblivious to us, actually, and this strange exhibition brought the rest of us closer.
I caught the eye of my seat mate—it happened for us like it happened for everyone else—a moment came where you had to acknowledge that all of our attention was captured by the same thing–these two guys who wouldn’t shut up and acted as if they were alone on the train. I just decided to get completely transparent and said to her, “so ok—is this entertainment or an annoyance?” like we needed to discuss and come to a conclusion. She started to immediately say “annoyanace” but then stopped herself and started laughing and said, “No, if I’m being honest—it’s entertaining. You just gotta laugh, right? It’s not like they are not bothering anyone.”
I told her about the guy I saw that morning with the suitcase and the Halloween flashlight. We giggle over not even being able to make details like those up. We came to our own philosophical conclusion: rather than be scared of guys like this, or even feeling bad for them, isn’t it better to just consider every day filled with surprises?
Later that day my daughter texted me, “Just witnessed a guy pouring hot sauce on a glove that was on the ground and then having his dog eat it….oh Philly.” Hot sauce? I needed these questions answered in order.
HM: Yes, she said he pulled a bottle out of his pocket.
KVM: The glove was already in the street?
HM: Most definitely.
KVM: How did he get the dog to eat it?
HM: He just led him there, and…the dog ate it.
these fringe people end up being purposed for the same reasons as reality tv “characters?” Simply to make us feel better about our own lives.
This morning I get up to the train platform and this short guy, standing near the edge, wearing a ski vest but looking normal, smiled at me. I smiled back and then focused in on what I was seeing, he had mutton chops, thick full mutton chops. He looked very much like Joaquin Phoenix in Inherent Vice.
Right about the time I made these connections, he started hacking and spitting on the cars below. Like real, methodical, scraping up from the farthest reaches, drawn out coughing it up.
For some reason, I wanted to laugh. In fact, I think I started to snort. I know that I had to turn and walk to the other side of the platform. And then I realized that someone else could see me—the crazy lady who looked (mostly) normal but thought a guy spitting on cars was funny.