Mee-ow! This City is Weirdsville.

13 Dec

This should have been my first clue that it was going to be a memorable subway ride home on Thursday night.



It had been a very full evening: first, an I-hate-the-holidays themed reading at HousingWorks Bookstore (where George Plimpton’s son struggled through his father’s famous essay on gift giving and much free wine and cheese was consumed by me and CityBoy), followed by a very loud, very cozy (i.e. not the place to bring your husky nephews) meal at Cafe Habana (apparently the douchebag epicenter of the city, but serving very drool-worthy grilled corn) and a surprise run-in with friends (which necessitated a stopover at some $8 crepe place–tasty but severely overpriced).

I guess I should also give you our coordinates, for those of you who are NYC-neighborhood savvy. We’d walked around NoLiTa all evening, bastion of ironic hipster cool, where storefronts advertise mac and cheese bars and rice pudding parlors.

The woman who sat down next to us on the subway platform (we’d just missed an uptown train) wore an overcoat of nappy, dreaded faux fur, not unlike an alpaca or certain types of hunting dogs, topped with a matching hood affixed with pink ears.  CityBoy provided cover as I surreptitiously snapped a photo on my iPhone.

The second sign should have been the large black woman I could see through the glass window of the arriving subway.  She was clad in all red, from her twisted head wrap, red top and skirt, to her matching scarlet tights and flats. My mind flashed to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaiden’s Tale, in which red-clothed “handmaids” act as surrogates for the chaste “Wives.” I should have said something to CityBoy–that much color coordination is usually emblematic of some larger, more raucous agenda. But I hesitated and then we were on board.

I should have trusted my instincts. Because we were now stuck on the train with someone who was belting out “I don’ want no lesbian, I don’ want no batty boy” in a strident, vaguely Caribbean voice. (I’ve since learned that “batty boy” is a derogatory term for gay men, derived from Jamaican patois.) It was a fairly empty subway car and her voice rang out in the metal box. “I don’ want no lesbian, I don’ want no batty boy. You get away from me,” she sang/shouted. CityBoy and I wordlessly agreed to switch to another car at the next station.

Which turned out to be a mistake.  Or cause for more hilarity, if you’re reading this from the safety of suburban Southern California, shaking your head as I brave the perils of Manhattan living. As soon as the train pulled out of the station, this young black guy, shuffling drunkenly in some imitation of a dance, began “rapping.” “I want to fuck all the girls in the world. I want to fuck all the girls in the world. Ah, pussy, pussy, pussy,” he shouted, lurching sideways at anyone unfortunate enough to be near him. Luckily it was a fuller car and other people began shooting him angry looks and talking louder in the hopes of drowning out his voice. CityBoy did a good imitation of a puffed-up rooster, claiming his “territory” by using his body to block the other guy’s view. The guy got off at Grand Central, before the tension in the crowd manifested into something physical. You could feel the whole car relax, people catching each other’s eyes with resigned smiles and shrugs.

On the way home, CityBoy mentioned the recent reports of stabbings and other violence on the trains, said that in the past, he wouldn’t have given the guy another look, just ignored him as another element in the loud, traumatic environment that is New York City. But these days? You couldn’t be too careful.

Today he unearthed a safety whistle in his cache of “old things to sell (or think about selling, as I see it) on eBay.” I’m adding it to my key chain.

Look alive, people.

– Jho


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