Friday, June 30, 2006

The Subway Today

When you ride the same train twice a day, you get to know the buskers, the hucksters, and the beggars. Or at least recognize them. The homeless woman with hard luck story about losing her apartment last month hasn't changed since last fall. The guy selling batteries (double A triple A) and krazy glue (one dollah). The little Asian women with bootleg videos (D-V-D-V-D-V-D-Movie-Movie).

Sometimes, like today, you see singers you hate. That's when I wish I was one of the ipod clones (they're everywhere). I don't like to be cut off from the train like that. I'll lose myself in a book or a magazine (a couple weeks ago I missed my stop by three because I was reading) but I want to hear everything -- even if I tune it out anyway. So back to singers I hate. There's a guy who comes in with a guitar, followed by his friend with a snare drum and a cymbal on a stand. They always set up in the aisle by the middle doors and play the same goddamn shit: Beatles covers, rendered very personal with heavy emotion and the occasional unexpected inflection on an otherwise familiar line. "Something in the way [pause] ... she moves," he croons, eyes shut, head tilted upward. "Attracts me like ... no uh-thah luv-uh." I tried not to glare at the out-of-towner who gave up a couple bills with flourish to show off for his daughter. I glanced at a seven foot woman with tree-trunk legs (or was it a man in a dress?) next to me for support. None coming. I suffered till the jerks left.

I took the A train later -- JFK-bound. After the point in Queens when the train goes above ground, I saw a familiar face. A short black man with a body like a fire plug. Dark skin with about an inch of afro-puff in a jagged curvy line around his receding hairline. His schtick is to pass around xeroxed sheets with his story, a copy of his New Jersey driver's license, and the business card of a man who once vouched for him. He gives a copy to every second or third passenger and then collects them again, perhaps along with a gratuity. I've read it before, and I was tired today, so I tried to pass. "No thanks," I say. "Are you sure?" He stops, smiling. "It's very interesting. It's about me." Of course it was. I couldn't resist. I took it and re-read it. He fell off a porch when he was young. Head injury, maybe. I got to the part where he writes about being a James Brown impersonator, and I reach for my wallet. I pass the sheet to the curious hipster reading poetry next to me. I gave the James Brown impersonator a dollar when he came back. Now I'm regretting not buying his photocopy -- I can't remember his name. No doubt I'll see him again. After he walked away I heard a sharp clap and I thought we were in for an impersonation. Alas. I thought about it, and I could swear I'd seen him do a dance and howl a few lines the last time I saw him, but I might be imagining it.

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