The A train leaves 125th Street, not crammed yet, but give it a few double-digit streets before it gets there. There are approximately seven uninterrupted minutes until this express train gets to 59th Street, which makes it an ideal time to get in some 2048 or pick up where we last left off in the e-book…
Or to make some money.
Once the door closes, one of the usual haggard beings that roams the subways shuffles from one end of the car to another; asking for some change, for a piece of whatever you bought from the bodega, for a temporary victory in this life. Barefooted and bare-souled, he knows these underground vessels well as he doesn’t see empathy in this car. He deposits himself in a space in front of a door, lies down and seemingly sleeps.
Six minutes. An ideal time to merge 16s and 32s or to see if the fictional detective’s words ever found the suspect.
And here they come. One of the young and loud subway dance crews deftly taking advantage of the room the homeless man screened for them. Perhaps his stench served a purpose. Because riders see talent over desperation, they perk up from their “don’t bother me” gazes into their smartphones and watch the performers.
*CLAP… CLAP… CLAP… CLAP*
Five minutes. The sounds of the analog boombox and the chants of the dancers drown out the playlist from the phone.
Color me annoyed. The homeless guy knows his place is not among the rest of us wanting to Instagram how #blessed we are for what we have and #motivated for more. He put himself in this position, right? Drugs, chronic unemployment and some bad relationships made him a dispirited beggar.
These dancers, meanwhile, are just obnoxious. They can’t see I have my headphones on? They don’t care that they just made my side of the car crowded for no good reason? They can’t just do this in Times Square or something?
Four minutes. The homeless man shifts his concrete-beaten feet towards my relatively new adidas. The kid whose broad shouldered, boxer-like frame busts out of the stitches of his t-shirt scales up a pole like a stripper. Or Spiderman. I can’t tell the difference.
Fellow patrons – the black natives and white newcomers from 145th Street, the Nuyoricans en route to the annual parade, tourists rudely getting away with manspreading – are loving the “Showtime” kids. They feed the rhythm by digging into their pockets. The kids see a new pair of Jordans on this train. Or maybe they see a little more cash to help pay the rent this month.
Three minutes. The melting ice inside this iced tea lemonade I have dilutes the too-sweet mix. Is the lowly fellow thirsty, at least? My wallet isn’t exactly screaming to be opened, yet he can’t just need change. Too often, my benevolence had gone towards another beer. Or another needle. Or another prostitute.
Something just doesn’t seem right, though. We completely traded one man’s self-inflicted plight for the debateable entertainment value others are forcing upon us. There’s no spare change for anyone else when you’re struggling to get by in Harlem nor is there spare patience when you just want a quiet ride out to Citi Field.
Now, I feel the weight of my wallet and I have no idea who to be mad at. Them for asking, us for having it or me for trying to save it.
Two minutes. Maybe I shouldn’t be so cynical. Maybe I shouldn’t be bothered by this contrast. Maybe I should get over myself.
I tap the homeless man’s shoulder and offer a dollar with some of this cold drink. I don’t know where he normally lays his head, but it’s hot outside. He declines the drink, but pockets the dollar. Perhaps I would do the same if I was in his shoes. Or calluses, rather. He knows that no matter how much food and drink strangers may offer him, money is his life line. Money is his savior, even if there’s a feeling of abandonment.
Can’t help but to think I’ll see him again. I always do. This is New York City, where he’d kill to complain about living from paycheck to paycheck.
At the other end of the subway car, “Showtime” has ended and one of the guys walks through the crowd with his cap out for collection. When it comes to passing the plate for these young men, there’s no difference between protruding plastic seats and church pews. Bills for every pop and lock, for every twist and head stand, for every time they screamed “HEYYYYY! HEYYYYY! HEYYYYY!” to get a small party going.
Can’t help but to think I’ll see them again. I always do. This is New York City, where they want to be discovered by someone so they never have to dance on this A train ever again.
One minute. I hope that dollar helps him. I hope their dollars help them.
The largely-filled car simmers down. The anticipation to reach our individual destinations seem to have quelled us.
Did we all just get played? Did I just fund another homeless man’s boozing? Are those kids just going to buy some weed with their bounty? Are our offerings just going to some bullshit? Or maybe they’re going to do what we would if we were without. He’ll get something off of the value menu today. The dreamers will buy some athletic tape for those sore joints.
No more time to wonder where George is going. Our friends and family await.
59th Street, Columbus Circle. Transfer for the B, C, D an 1 trains. 42nd Street, Port Authority is next. Stand clear of the closing doors, please.