After a while, Manhattan stops shocking you. Outrageous housing costs, piles of garbage on the street and the sound of every language are the norm. And no one I know lives like Monica, Rachel, Carrie or Charlotte.
Because there are so many of us living in tight, cramped quarters, I don’t flinch when cranes collapse in Midtown or East Harlem buildings fall into the Metro North tracks. Five alarm fires in Chinatown make me grateful to the FDNY. The increased rate of “suspicious” incidents and traffic tangles created by the United Nations sessions remind me how fast the NYPD can respond. What I don’t understand are the NJ Transit trains that seem to short-circuit every other week. Is this America or India?
Crazy people, too, are a part of the urban fabric. Which is what I am thinking when a man with wild eyes wearing a long pimp trench coat and Dr. Seuss hat boards my train car and sits kiddie corner from me. I have my iPod on blasting bhangra music so I cannot hear what he is screaming. Because it is BEST not to engage the crazies, I pull my book out of my bag. Crazy Man keeps yelling and I feel tension in the train car rising. Everyone breaths very slowly, their bodies shift and twitch. Discomfort amongst New Yorkers is hard to bring about, which prompts my curiosity and I pause my iPod for a listen.
Crazy Man gets up and moves towards a couple with two kids. He begins speaking to the older kid, who looks genuinely uncomfortable. The couple speaks Spanish in a low hushed voice, avoiding sudden movements, and slowly pulling their children onto their laps. Crazy Man looks around and begins shouting, “Does this train go to Brooklyn? I said, does this train go to Brooklyn?” He sounds like a cross between a used cars salesman and TV evangelist. And yes, the A train does go to Brooklyn. However, we’re on an Uptown A train going local to Inwood. I doubt anyone in the train car is going to tell him he’s going in the wrong direction.
Crazy Man returns to his seat and tries speaking to the woman to his left. She is stealth and ignores him. He decides to pull her hat off her head. Hhhmm. She grabs her hat from him and shifts away, putting a foot of space between them. He slides over and smiles at her. She snaps her book shut and snarls, “Look. I know you are not crazy like you’re pretending. You need to stay the hell away from me and don’t touch me again.” Her voice is razor sharp, strong enough to cut steel.
As we roll into the Upper West Side or as I like to call it, Yuppieville, a woman in a red velvet track suit boards. She stands in front of me, waits for the train doors to shut and begins talking, “Excuse me. Sorry to bother you but today is my 50th birthday and instead of partying I am riding the train because I used to be a crack addict until I found God.” While she talks about her addiction, her brief stint as a prostitute and how God saved her from dumpster diving for dinner, Crazy Man continues pestering the woman whose hat he yanked.
The result is the dueling crazies have divided and distracted our attention and we don’t know who to focus on. Crazy Woman stops talking and turns to stare at Crazy Man, who is again ready to pluck his neighbor’s hat off her head. Crazy Woman shakes her head, takes two swift steps and stands before Crazy Man. She grabs him by the neck and slams his head into the subway wall. Ouch! Everyone stops breathing. Oddly enough the crazy man looks sexually aroused. Crazy Woman screams, “When she said leave her alone that is what you do. Don’t you fucking touch her again. Don’t you dare fucking touch her again. Or I will…” He smiles and then laughs, deep and robust.
As if lightening struck Crazy Woman, she steps away and looks around, horrified. “What have I done? God please forgive me,” she says and moves towards the train doors. “I have to go back to church. Please pray for me, I must repent,” she babbles over and over, until the train stops at 96th Street and she gets off.
The train starts again and Crazy Man stands up and screams, “Does this train go to Brooklyn? I need to find my son! Does this train go to Brooklyn?” When we stop at 103rd Street, he gets off and collectively EVERYONE in the full train car breathes again.
And once again, normalcy returns.