March 14, 2003

Subway Story: Ides of March

By Tenzin McGrupp © 2003

As the No. 1 train raced downtown I noticed that Molly was staring at the other passengers that sat on the semi-crowded subway.

“You know, it’s not even a politeness thing, it’s just a New York thing. You don’t look at other people in NYC, especially on the subways. That’s how’ll you’ll get shot,” I warned.

She smiled, “I know. But I’m not really looking at them; I’m just looking at their scarves. I see that people tie their scarves differently. No one really does it the same.”

I took a quick glance and survey, and she was right. An hour earlier, I taught Molly how to officially tie a scarf, something I didn’t have to think about, because it was something I just did, one of those routines that become second nature by living in a cold and snowy climate. I never used to wear a scarf, but this past winter had become unusually bitterly cold and extra snowy. And because Molly lives in a desert climate, she became fascinated with scarves and people’s winter garments. Different sized scarves, different shapes, different colors and styles, and how people wear them for warmth, and how others wear it to accessorize and match their outfits, and how others have no clue what to do with a scarf, and they just let it dangle off them, not caring what it does, like a piece of rotting flesh, about to slide off the repulsive finger from a leper.

“I’m just worried I’m not doing it the right way,” she said with a slightly concerned look in her eyes.

“If you are warm, you did a good job. That’s the bottom line.”

She smiled as the subway slowly pulled into Times Square and a large group of about twelve to fifteen German tourists walked on the train. They were all talking to one another, some louder than others, and they spread out among the empty seats, while some stood in the middle of the car. A smaller, swarthy, chubby man sat in the middle of the subway, and he looked just like George Costanza from Seinfeld, except that he was the Uber-version. By the reactions to the things he said (my German is very weak) from his fellow tourists, I gathered that he was the lowest common denominator in the group… he’s the guy everyone made fun of, and bore the brunt of most of their jokes. And we all know Germans have twisted senses of humor.

The subway was being held in Times Square to make a connection with a downtown express train. The doors to our subway remained open for a couple of minutes and I watched how the tourists interacted with Herr Costanza. It was sincerely humorous. I mean, I don’t speak good German, but I knew this guy was a fool and that he was being tooled on.

The doors abruptly closed and the train jerked forward. Most of the tourists were not holding onto a rail or pole, or something that would prevent them from falling forwards. A loud round of laughter made it’s way through the wave of tourists as some of them stumbled and almost tripped, and some of them banged into each other. That’s when the car erupted in a hearty laughter and a slew of German jokes flew around and about after Costanza had fallen off his seat! The short, chubby, balding German clown had taken a dive off the seat in the car and fell to the middle of the dirty, filthy, subway floor. His fellow travelers laughed, pointed and took pictures. As he slowly got up, ignoring the taunts, a look of sheer embarrassment blanketed his already taught face and he shook his head, scratched his red nose, and sighed.

Tenzin McGrupp is a writer from NYC.

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