A Train between Fulton and 14th Street

Sixtysomething guy with flyaway white wisps around his mostly bald head and sixtysomething lady with short silver ringlets sit down extremely close to me on a nearly empty subway car, the lady’s lumpy Strand totebag full of groceries resting half on my lap.  They speak nearly simultaneously, overlapping each other with every other word.

Ringlets: What happened to your nose, you did something to your nose?

Wisps: I just scratched it a little there.

Ringlets: You need to put some of that what is it.

Wisps: BHP

Ringlets: No no no, V

Wisps: VHP.

Ringlets: No

Wisps: VHA

Ringlets: Yeah.

Wisps: VHA oil.  He says that’s the best oil for topical.

Ringlets: It’s also for the brain.

Wisps: And he says aspirin.

Ringlets: No no no no no no no we don’t take aspirin.  I saw that show.

Wisps: And what does he call it, roof

Ringlets: Rough

Wisps: Rough–roughage!

They burst out laughing.

Wisps: He says that and aspirin.  He had a show on thyroid, too.

Ringlets: And liver.

Wisps: He cured my thyroid, watching that show.

Ringlets: I saw that show.  I saw that show.

Wisps: I like listening to him.  It’s undepressing.  I know it’s nonsense but it gives you hope.  I couldn’t get out of the house this morning and

Ringlets: Oh sweetie sweetie

Wisps: But now I feel like I

Ringlets: Maybe we should buy you a VCR so you can

Wisps: No no no no I don’t want a VCR.

Ringlets: You can’t watch TV in the mornings, you have to tape it, you can’t watch TV in the mornings!

Wisps: All right all right I’ll turn it off!

Ringlets: Suzanne Somers should have a show.  She’d have a good show.

Wisps: After Oz comes on Inside Edition–

Ringlets: (horrified) You watch Inside Edition?

Wisps: No no no it comes on after, and after that is Anderson–

Ringlets: (even more horrified) Who’s Anderson??

Wisps: Anderson Cooper!

Ringlets: Oh.

Wisps: And who do you think his cohost was today? (hushed) Deborah Norville.

Ringlets: No wonder you couldn’t get out of the house.  You love Deborah Norville.

Wisps: I feel like Rain Man.  You remember Rain Man, he knew all the shows?  I’m Rain Man now.

Ringlets: You think you’re Rain Man.  You want to be Rain Man, but you have a job.  You have a J-O-B.  You’re not Rain Man.  You can’t be Rain Man.

Wisps: I wish I had watched that Inside Edition.  They were gonna have Kate Middleton.  I would have liked to have seen those shots.

They burst out laughing.

Published in: on September 22, 2012 at 8:37 pm  Comments (3)  

Nevins and Schermerhorn

11:00 p.m., Brooklyn summer night.

On the streetcorner, a man–thinning hair, polo shirt, lanyard, long shorts–stands expectantly, hands clasped behind his back, next to a big telescope set up on a tripod.  The street is deserted except for the two of us.

Me: What are you looking at?

Man: Venus.  Do you want to see?  There’s no charge.

Me: Sure.

Man: Take your glasses off.

I bend down and look up at Venus, bright and scintillating, the only object visible in the New York night sky.

Man: In a magazine it says that they call it the gold planet.

Me: Really?

Man: I don’t know if that’s true.

Me:  Do you come out here with your telescope a lot?

Man: Oh yes.  Every clear night, unless I don’t feel well or I don’t feel like looking through a telescope.  I listen to 1010 WINS, and every time I hear them say “clear tonight” or “tonight clear” I know that tonight will be a telescope night.  I’m Robert.

Me:  I’m Madeleine.

Man: Thank you for looking at Venus, Madeleine.

Published in: on July 6, 2011 at 12:27 pm  Leave a Comment  

18th Street between 10th Avenue and the West Side Highway

Bus driver with reading glasses and Yankee cap, addressing the smattering of passengers on his M14D bus over his shoulder and through his rearview mirror.

Bus Driver: I always say, This is not Planet Earth, it’s Planet Dirt.  And everything on this planet is made of dirt.  And everything sooner or later returns to dirt.  And what goes up?  Sooner or later must get torn down.  This?  This?  (He gestures to the buildings out the bus windows.) All torn down.  So I say to you all, Welcome.  Welcome to Planet Dirt!

Published in: on December 10, 2009 at 11:44 pm  Leave a Comment  

6th Street and 1st Avenue

Tree downed by the thunderstorm completely blocking the intersection–cop car, police tape, small crowd of onlookers.

Tall wiry guy standing next to me, loose lime green polo, wavy cartoon-electric-shock-victim gray hair, cigarette.  Jerks his head to get my attention.

Wiry guy: Hey.

Me: Hey.

Wiry guy: I did that. (takes a drag on his cigarette) With my mind.

Published in: on July 27, 2009 at 12:52 am  Leave a Comment  

55th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues

Grizzled middle-aged guy in two winter jackets and a ski hat falls in step with me as I’m walking through the rain.

Guy: (low, sonorous) Hey there.  I’m trying to get a cup of soup.  Can you help me get a cup of soup?

Me: Oh I’m sorry, man, I wish I could.

Guy: And I wish I could take you to Sicily.

Me: Sicily?

Guy: If you woke up with me tomorrow morning in Sicily we could have breakfast together.

Me: Actually, that sounds pretty nice.

Guy: You know it would be.

Published in: on April 15, 2009 at 12:22 pm  Comments (1)  

Q train between Atlantic and DeKalb Avenues

Guy gets on the Q through the last door of the car at Atlantic–blue Hawaiian shirt, stiff dark blue jeans, white velcro sneakers, caramel-colored mustache–and starts moving slowly up the car delivering his spiel in a flat, practiced monotone.

Train Guy: Good morning ladies and gentlemen my name is Charlie I am currently unemployed and looking for work. If anyone has any information about a job I’d be more than happy to take it down, I am required to report to public assistance Monday to fill out some unemployment paperwork and I would appreciate any information anyone might have about a job before that time. In the meantime anything you can spare, a nickel quarter dime, would be greatly appreciated. Have a safe trip and a wonderful day.

At the end of the car he turns on his heel, no pause, and starts to work his way back down the car–same exact deadpan monotone.

Train Guy: Good morning ladies and gentlemen my name is Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer I am currently looking for a shiny red nose. If anyone has a shiny red nose or information about where I can obtain one I would be more than happy to apply it to my face, I am scheduled to take off on Christmas Eve so I would appreciate any help anyone can offer me before that time. Have a safe trip and bundle up, it’s cold out there.

Published in: on July 7, 2008 at 3:36 am  Leave a Comment  

4th Street and Avenue A

3:30 p.m., walking the puffy poodle through the apartment complex past a benchful of old ladies. Head lady–froth of white hair, jazzy black-and-silver sparkly T-shirt–calls us over.

Lady 1: Look at him, he’s wonderful. He’s a wonderful dog. We had a dog, a Lhasa. We got him when he was a baby and had him until he died, fifteen years. Then we had two cats. Now just people. Me and my daughter, my husband’s gone. My daughter’s boyfriend comes over and he’s welcome anytime because he cooks. Dogs don’t cook. They don’t provide that kind of service. They only provide love. But love makes the world go round.

Me: That’s right, it does.

Puffy poodle luxuriates in strokes, running the gauntlet of the ladies’ open palms.

Lady 1: He doesn’t mind being an apartment dog, does he, as long as he gets to come outside and march the love parade. But what about you? Who’s loving you?

Me: Yeah, when I walk by a bench of people nobody calls me over to stroke me, what’s up with that?

Lady 1: Hey, Alice, come on over! Hey, Alice, we’ll stroke you!


Published in: on July 1, 2008 at 7:31 pm  Leave a Comment  

3rd Street and Avenue A

Night of Saturday June 14th, pouring pouring rain. Looking down the glittering river of Avenue A into the Lower East Side–the black sky flashes red, then a shower of red sparks bursts above the rooftops. Green, silver, bright white–they’re shooting off fireworks downtown in the pouring rain. The thunder booms and the fireworks boom, lightning flashes and the fireworks flash.

Kid walks by, baseball cap, baggy shorts, hands shoved deep in his pockets.

Kid: (to no one) Hell no, fireworks in the rain? I don’t understand New York, man, I don’t understand New York.

Published in: on June 17, 2008 at 1:16 am  Leave a Comment