Saturday, March 19, 2011


I was riding the subway home from work early this afternoon, my head bent over into the book I'm reading, Open City still. The door opened at the end of the car right next to where I was seated and a man walked through. I glanced at the person out of the corner of my eye as he walked past me, not looking up from my book. I saw him holding a sign and I recognized him and cringed and kept my head focused in my book, not wanting to see. I knew what he looked like. I knew what his sign looked like. The sign was dog-eared and had old newspaper clippings attached to it concerning what had happened to him. The man was attacked with acid on his face and his face looked like it was melting, most of his features blurred, burned, away. Every several months I will be on a train where this man is panhandling and he really scares me.

I am aware that this a horrible thing to say and immediately I felt guilty that I wouldn't look at him, that I kept my head in my book, pretending I was so absorbed by this text that I failed to notice this man's burned face. And then I thought I should give him money for thinking these thoughts. And then I got mad because that is what he does, why he is able to collect money from people, that he makes people uncomfortable and guilts them with the horrors committed on him so that they end up giving him money quickly, whatever they can quickly pull out of their wallet, something to make him keep walking through the car. I have never actually read what happened to this man, the circumstances, too busy am I trying to not make any eye contact. But it must be a rough life and I can't fault him for his method of making money. I wondered about his personal life, imagined that finding work was probably difficult, that most employers were probably reluctant to hire this man.

At the Bedford stop, he got out and walked to the next car. As he stepped out, a three-piece Mariachi band stepped on to the train, played a song, and then walked around with hats to collect money. The juxtaposition was jarring, almost comically so, this endless parade of people attempting to make money on subway cars.

I ate some food at home, rested a while, and then went back into the city, back on to the train, to attempt for the second day in a row to win lottery tickets to "The Book of Mormon." I fell asleep on the train ride there. The ease with which I can fall asleep on trains really intrigues me. The more crowded the train is, the easier it is for me to fall asleep. And yet, I sometimes have trouble falling asleep in my bed. My body loves these short naps of subway rides, loves the motion, rocking me to sleep, the crowd somehow comforting me as well, the feeling of being surrounded, not alone. So at some point, I woke up when I felt my head falling over into my neighbor's space. I awoke to see Sandy above me waving hello. We talked about my sleeping tendencies and also about where he was headed. He was on his way to film a Purim event uptown. He explained the story of Purim to me. Everything is upside down he said, the carnivalesque. I have already forgotten all of the names of this historical drama but I remember being really intrigued by the story of its origins. I was a bit sleepy at the time.

I said bye to him at Union Square to transfer trains and while walking through the labyrinth of tunnels to get to the NRW trains, I walked past this line of young Asians, most likely Japanese twentysomethings. They were holding signs saying "Pray for Japan," and were also shouting this slogan that was printed on their placards, shouting it quite aggressively for a call for prayer. They seemed distraught, anguished, and I couldn't imagine and yet could also, the events there insanely horrific and reminding me what a fragile thing life and this planet is, how easily we could make it all go to shit with a disruption in our nuclear technology. A couple of them were holding boxes, asking for money for Japan.

Tonight is also a full moon. Tomorrow is also the first day of Spring. Something is going on. I did not win tickets to see "Book of Mormon." Again there were several hundred other people trying to win lottery tickets. I will try again on Monday and again and again until I can see this musical.

Everything is upside down. You drink and you celebrate, not necessarily to celebrate everything being upside down, but in recognition of it, of life in whatever crazy forms it presents, and of our presence among this chaos.

1 comment:

  1. I saw the same man on the subway this past week. I have to say I looked at his features and felt so sad. I felt really sad going home on the subway knowing how tough this man has it. His face looked like it was sliding off his skull. That was scary but I felt so sad. I was trying to look his story up online and came across your blog. Good read!