Friday afternoon we went walking around a park in Brooklyn Heights, where we’re living for the next four months. Despite coming dangerously close to losing all feeling in the majority of my body due to the 9-degree atmosphere (yes, you read that correctly), it was still absolutely beautiful. Looking at this picture is sure to evoke feelings of whimsical beauty and peaceful serenity. And rightfully so, considering the snowy, picturesque ambiance and the fact that it’s taken in the glamorous New York City, of all places.
But, in this city, there is place that you must venture to that immediately wipes out all of these tranquil feelings:
The subway. AKA the Dungeon of Doom.
In New York, it seems, the primary means of transportation also doubles as the primary means of depression. For some reason, everyone riding the subway at any given moment is engrossed in the middle-to-late stages of mourning. Fittingly enough, I suppose, considering they have all just lost their best friends minutes before stepping onto the train car … Or at least that’s what I have concluded. It’s the only explanation I can concoct to justify their morose mugs and misanthropic tendencies. There is apparently an unwritten law that all smiles, small talk and overall sense of acknowledgment of other human beings is entirely off limits.
There is only one thing worse than a crushing sense of desperation permeating a stale subway car: a lunatic with a crushing sense of desperation permeating a stale subway car. Oh, and he’s really hungry, too.
This is exactly the scene I was faced with Wednesday morning on the way to work. Keep in mind, I’m already in full-blown-basket-case mode considering the fact that I’ve not yet mastered the art of direction in any sense of the word, not to mention in a foreign, dangerous, elaborate, underground train route. As soon as I took my seat on the hard, cold seat (which is surprisingly, disconcertingly more comfortable than my dorm room mattress), the ominous metal doors slammed close, signaling for any resident Crazies to make their move. And Wednesday morning’s Crazies were out in full force.
Hairy Hungry Homeless Man (who, in his defense, wasn’t unusually hairy, but will be now, simply for the sake of alliteration) stood up and started pacing up and down the subway aisle, bellowing out pleas for money. When this didn’t garner any response, he upped the ante and began demanding lunch—a hot dog, specifically. I thought it mildly audacious for him to specify the type of meat he would like in between two pieces of bread, and halfway expected him to list his desired condiments. (Ketchup would have been acceptable, but relish or anything of that nature would be really pushing it.)
Despite his orders, no one hastened to give up their food, even with his voice escalating to dangerously loud decibels. What surprised me most was the blasé attitude with which these subway dwellers reacted to the ensuing crisis; no one was fazed. They all maintained their sad little frowns and barely batted an eyelash when a crazed madman was clearly threatening their wellbeing. I was positive that, if someone didn’t fork over a hotdog fast, he was going to whip out his concealed weapon and put an end to us all with the pull of a trigger, the shank of a knife, the toss of a hand grenade … (I’m not quite sure what means of assassination New York thugs employ these days, so I covered all the bases.) I began to pray, please, for the love of God, someone give this man a hotdog.
Finally a good, scared Samaritan opened his lunch pail and handed the homeless man his sandwich, which was lovingly wrapped in tin foil. I imagined his sweet little wife preparing it for him, but figured she wouldn’t mind sharing her handiwork if it meant her husband surviving his morning commute to work.
So Hairy Hungry Homeless Man got his food and I thought I could breathe easy. WRONG . . . HHH Man wanted more! There was no pleasing this man.
The next stop wasn’t mine, but I darted off the car and hopped onto the one behind to continue my transit to work. I couldn’t risk being held a captive audience for this crazy man one train-ride longer. Plus, there was no way he was getting my chocolate covered raisins. That is, if that particular menu option even made his list of acceptable charity food. So I sat back in my subway seat, relaxed, opened my bag of chocolate and smiled brightly and obnoxiously at everyone around me for the rest of the way.