SUBWAY SIDESHOW

Every morning I take the train to work in lower Manhattan from Far Rockaway, New York and back home again in the evening. Along with a multitude of fellow commuters, I ride the underground transit system (affectionately know as ‘the subway”) for a total of three hours round trip. That’s a long time to observe the parade of weirdos entering and exiting the train. 

Riding the subway for as long as I do, it’s easy to become familiar with my fellow passenger’s quirks and foibles – even assigning them made up names to go with their peccadilloes. And let me tell you – people are strange! 

Far Rockaway is where the commute originates so I’m always guaranteed a seat. A couple I call Marge and Homer gets on the same train as me. I have determined from their heated conversations that they have been engaged for about six years. Marge is ready to get married; Homer’s not. She talks about her biological clock; he talks about nothing but his upcoming promotion at work. Then Marge reminds Homer he’s been saying the same thing for five years now and their discussion becomes more heated with every chug of the subway.

First stop: enter Malodorous Man. This guy is always guaranteed a seat in the corner all by himself. The fact that he desperately needs a shower would be enough to keep people away but he also brings his breakfast on the train – a raw onion which he peels and eats with gusto as one would an apple. 

At our next stop Mr. Obsessive gets on. He immediately takes out a can of disinfectant and sprays it in the direction of Malodorous Man who indignantly shouts “Hey, I’m eatin’ here!”. 

Mr. Obsessive goes to HIS seat (where no one else dares sit because everyone knows it’s HIS seat), cleans it and begins his routine. First he unties his shoe laces making sure they are of equal length. Satisfied that they are, he reties his laces, then adjusts his socks so they reach the exact same height on both legs. He smooths his trousers, unbuttons and re-buttons his jacket, aligns the amount of shirt cuff visible from his jacket sleeves, straightens his tie and adjusts his hat repeatedly. Finally all is well in OCD Land

At stop number three Malodorous Man departs and the Tattoo Twins get on, a teenage boy and girl covered from the neck down with multicolored tattoos. They lean against the door and start making out while MrObsessive huffs in disapproval. 

Totally out of character Marge suddenly declares to Homer that she’s “had enough” and moves to another seat next to Bob the Builder, a good-looking construction worker. Homers not happy about this; perhaps he’s noticed the same thing I have: whenever Bob the Builder enters the train he winks at Marge and pats his impressive tool belt. Bob and Marge begin a quiet conversation while Homer fumes. 

Next stop and Mr. Obsessive fearfully sidles, past the Tattoo Twins who reach out and knock his perfect hat right off his head. Shocked by this unnecessary assault, Mr. Obsessive stares at the now unwearable hat, sniffs in disdain and scurries off the train. 

Impulsively, a jilted Homer jumps up and punches Tattoo Boy in the nose who retaliates by shoving Homer backwards on his ass. A few passengers give Homer a thumbs up. Somewhat embarrassed yet proud of himself, Homer glances over at Marge for her approval. She, however, is too involved with Bob the Builder to notice. Homer tells Marge “it’s our stop” but she shakes her head and snuggles closer to BobHomer huffs off and looks back just as Marge fondles the tip of Bob’s hammer. 

Welcome to the daily subway sideshow where everyone is strange except me – or am I? 

NAR © 2019

WHEN GYPSIES CRY

Normally I don’t take the subway to work but I heard there was a bad auto accident backing up traffic for miles on the highway so driving wasn’t an option. My train was already at the station when I arrived. Every seat was taken except for one in the corner. I quickly sat down as the train began filling up with passengers. 

Glancing around I caught a glimpse of a man seated several feet from me reading a newspaper. He looked over in my direction and gave me a big grin, his light blue eyes twinkling. He bore an uncanny resemblance to my late father, Gino, and I was unable to resist smiling back at him. He was well-groomed with a thin mustache and I imagined he was a barber like my dad. He went back to reading his newspaper and when he turned the page I was surprised to see it was La Stampa, the Italian newspaper my father used to read.  

Suddenly the subway stopped and the lights went out for a few minutes. When they  came back on I looked over at the man but he wasn’t there. I looked all around but didn’t see him. We were stuck in a dark tunnel – where could he have gone? 

The train started up again and at our next stop many people entered, including two women with five young children; they looked like gypsies. One woman was younger, obviously the mother of the children, and the older woman was their grandmother. The mother protectively held a toddler while the other children clung to her skirt and the grandmother clutched the handle of a baby carriage. The women whispered rapidly in a foreign language as their wide eyes frantically searched the train. They were clearly frightened as though they were running away from someone or something.   

The ride was choppy and the children were getting restless; the women tried desperately to quiet them. At the next stop people brusquely shoved their way off and on. Suddenly a swarthy-looking man pushed the old gypsy woman, snatched the baby carriage and dashed out the train just as the doors closed. The hysterical mother screamed what sounded like “My baby! My baby!”  but no one paid her any attention. I stood up to see if I could help but the train jerked to a start. I was thrown back into my seat, hitting my head.

The harsh train whistle jolted me and I was amazed to discover I was in my bed; the whistle was my alarm clock. It was only a dream! Sleepily, I shuffled to the door to collect my newspaper and turn on the tv. Opening the newspaper my eyes widened in disbelief as I saw the banner La Stampa, the same paper my father used to read. The date was November 17, 1992, the day my father died. 

A voice from the tv roused me from my trance: “A happy ending yesterday for a Romanian woman whose baby was snatched from a crowded subway by her estranged husband. Witnesses directed police to an alley where the man was found hiding in an old abandoned barbershop called “Gino’s”. The baby was reunited with its ecstatic mother.” There on the screen was the same gypsy family I saw on the train!   

Stunned, I dropped the newspaper and collapsed onto my bed. So it wasn’t a dream after all! From the corner of my eye I noticed something sticking out of the newspaper. With trembling hands I gently pulled out a white feather.

Dad!” I whispered tearfully. “It was you.”

NAR © 2019

SYLVIA REPLIED

“Walnut, definitely walnut” declared Sylvia Klein. “Look what is says in the brochure”: 

• Honor your loved one by choosing an exquisite solid wood casket. The strong, stately Elite Walnut is a timeless casket that comes with beautiful platinum swing bars and a secure locking mechanism. Like most of our funeral caskets, the Elite Walnut features an Eternal Rest Adjustable Bed and matching pillow. The luxurious silk velvet lining makes this casket an excellent choice: $17,000 • 

“Doesn’t that sound ideal, Lenny?!” Sylvia exclaimed to her husband. 

“$17,000?! What else is in there – the Crown Jewels?! Who pays that kind of money for a casket?! Sylvia, for that amount we can give our grandsons a bar mitzvah feast fit for a king!” 

“Did you see the part where it says ‘adjustable bed and matching pillow’? Oh, Lenny, think how comfortable I’ll be.

Comfortable?? For crying out loud, Sylvia, you’re gonna be dead. D-E-A-D dead! This isn’t a week at the Ritz Carlton! Adjustable bed my ass!” 

“Lenny, why are you acting like an old tightwad? You always said money is just a number. This means a lot to me!” Sylvia exclaimed tearfully. 

“Sylvia, calm down. When have I ever been a tightwad? Our daughters had extravagant weddings. You wanted that chandelier for the dining room which, I’ll remind you, cost a pretty penny. Then there was the Steinway mahogany baby grand and you don’t even play the piano! Then the Jaguar with all the bells and whistles and so many cruises I’ve lost count. Everything you ever wanted I happily gave you but this – this is just a big waste of money!  

“Leonard Klein, how can you say that?! My final resting place and you’re calling it a waste of money! Sylvia wailed.

“Sylvie, I’m sorry. Calm down. Can we please discuss this later?” Leonard pleaded

“Wait, Lenny. You haven’t heard the best part. This is a special for Rosh Hashanah – buy one, get one at half price. That’s only $25,500 for two – one for me and one for you!” 

Leonard sighed deeply. “Oy vey, Sylvia, I don’t need all this stuff! Put me in a plain pine box and toss me off the yacht. You can even write on it ‘Leonard Klein sleeps with the fishes’!” 

Sylvia started sobbing. “Oh, Leonard, how can you say such a horrible thing? The thought of you being nibbled on by fish and crabs and God knows what … I could die!” 

Sylvia, please stop crying. I was just making a little joke. If you want this Elite whatever we’ll get it. Ok? You feel better now?” 

Sylvia sniffled and nodded her head. “Oh yes, Lenny! You’ve made me very happy! Now one last thing: I can’t be buried. I’m terribly claustrophobic. The thought of being underground – I’d die! I want to be cremated.” 

Cremated?!” Leonard yelled, pulling his fingers through what little hair he had. “Now you want to be cremated? Are you meshugenah, Sylvia? $17,000 for a piece of firewood?!” 

“$25,500, Lenny” Sylvia replied

NAR © 2019

THE PORCH

“Walnut hair and skin so fair

Freckles like stars on her nose

Green eyes glittering like precious jewels

And lips as soft as a rose” 

“Hey, Pops, what’s that you’re singing? I’ve never heard it before”. 

Brady, I didn’t see you there” replied Ben Williams as he leaned his guitar against the porch wall. “Just an old number I wrote for your Mom. Another lifetime.” 

Pops, can I ask you something? It makes me sad how little I remember about Mom. What was she like?” 

“Oh, son. That’s not easy to answer. Your mom was a real beauty, a feast for the eyes. And we were happy. We had you and your sister  our first three years together. Then I got that trucking job and your Mom was alone a lot. It’s hard on a woman when her man is away for days at a time, especially with babes to care for. She was special and she loved you kids – don’t you ever forget that – but she got lonely. 

“When Ron Carter’s wife died your Mom befriended him. They were both lonely and found comfort together. I don’t blame her for that. One day when I was home from the road she brought Ron a cherry pie. She took your sister with her and they never came back. From that point on it was just you and me.” 

Father and son sat in contemplative silence. 

You know, Pops, at first I thought Mom would be back soon. Then I gave up on that dream and convinced myself she had died. Strange thing is, thinking she was dead was easier than believing she abandoned us.” 

Ben let out a ragged sigh. “Thank God I had you, Brady. You didn’t know it but you kept me from falling apart. Getting that steady job at the hardware store was a life saver and I was able to be here for you.” 

“Then I started dating Rebecca and I was hardly ever home!” Brady laughed. “Marrying her and moving in here with you made my life complete.”

“That sweet gal of yours made my life complete, too, son. She filled a void in my heart and never once complained about having to live with her pain in the ass father-in-law! Rebecca’s like a daughter to me” declared Ben. 

“Pops, did you know Rebecca was the one who insisted we live here with you. Not too many women would do that. And our kids are crazy about you! You’ve taught them a lot.” 

“I love those munchkins, Brady! You all made this house a home and a broken old man whole again.” 

Rebecca poked her head out the screen door. “Dinner in ten minutes, you two. Would you round up the kids for me please?” 

That night Rebecca asked Brady what he and his father had been talking about. 

“Just reminiscing, mostly about my Mom.” 

“I wish I had a chance to know your Mom.”

“Me too, Becca” Brady replied wistfully. “Me too.”

NAR © 2019