November 26, 2002

November Subway Stories

By Tenzin McGrupp

Tuesday Morning 11.5.02

I sat in the far corner of the subway and scribbled through a few pages of my novel that I printed out just before I left my studio. I edited the few pages I had written the night before. My fifty-minute subway ride usually goes by faster if I can work on my projects and this morning rush hour was no different.

At the 191st Street stop, a young black guy got on. By his dusty work boots and pair of work gloves flopping out of his back pocket I drew the assumption he was in the construction business. He sat down across from me and was fumbling through his wallet. He pulled out a rolling paper and was laughing, shaking his head from side to side. He opened up a small baggie of marijuana and began to sprinkle his stash onto the rolling paper. He rolled a joint as the subway raced downtown, not caring if anyone on the crowded subway saw what he was doing. As soon as he was finished crafting his morning joint he got up and walked to the back door of the subway and opened it. I thought he was going to go to the next car, but he didn’t. He stood in between both subway cars, and lit up his joint, smoking and puffing until he smoked the entire thing!

I have seen people get high on the subway before, but not at 6:20 AM on a Tuesday morning. He sat back down, with a wide grin on his face. I do not think any of the other passengers realized what he just did. All of them were caught up in their own worlds, the usual subway daze taking over their facial expressions.

Friday Afternoon 11.15.02

I saw the little girl first. She was no older than five or six, and she was holding onto her mother’s hand as she got on the subway. The precious Puerto Rican girl sat down next to me, and her mother sat next to her, and her grandmother sat down next to her mother. Her mother opened up a plastic bag and pulled out two white boxes, the size of a shoebox, with the word "Gracias" in big red letters stamped on all the sides. The logo on the top of the box said Ayala’s Fried Chicken. Before she could open the box I could smell something delicious, what exactly I did not know.

The mother opened the box and I turned my head slightly to the left so I could see what they were eating. The box was filled with French fries. Her grandmother opened her box and it looked like it too was filled with fries. The grandmother began to tear open little ketchup packets. She would use her teeth to bite down and squeeze the ketchup on her fires, and kept repeating the process about eight more times before she ran out of ketchup.

The subway was filled as it made its way downtown from Spanish Harlem, and the family of three ate French fries the entire time. I would glance over occasionally to see the young girl stuffing her mouth with four or five greasy, ketchup soaked fries. The sides of the boxes started staining with huge grease rings and I imagined how much grease they could squeeze out of eat fry, just as the grandmother squeezed out the ketchup.

As the little girl made her way through the greasy box, I noticed the few pieces of golden battered fried shrimp and bright white tartar sauce at the bottom. The grandmother’s old, weathered and wrinkled, scared and bandaged hands drenched in ketchup shook, as she scooped up one shrimp, dipped it twice in the sauce then buried it into her mouth.

Tenzin McGrupp is a writer from New York City.

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