October 14, 2006

October Subway Stories

By Paul McGuire © 2006

It was Friday night as the Number 1 train raced from Columbia University downtown. A hunched-over bum slowly navigated his way through the crowded car and sat down in an empty seat next to me. He carried a big black bulky garbage bag which happened to be the standard issue for every homeless person in the city along with the same pair of sneakers four sizes too big and a ratty grey winter coat, even in the middle of the summer. I held my nose and scanned the rest of the car for a different seat. On my right sat a guy in a tuxedo. And as the Rooster guessed when I told him this story... the guy in the tux was black and the homeless guy was white.

* * * * *

Playing poker has trained me to make snap judgments about people whom I've never met before. I quickly assess their clothing and body language in order to piece together a psychological profile. A young brunette in her early thirties sat down next to me. She wore hipster jeans and clutched a Kate Spade hand bag. Her shoes looked expensive and she carried a pink and red Victoria's Secret shopping bag. For a weekday afternoon, based on her casual attire she didn't look like she was going to or coming from work.

When I saw the gaudy rock on her left hand, I pegged her for a lonely Upper West side housewife. She dug into her purse and I muttered to myself, "Here comes the chick lit book."

And on cue, she pulled out Something Blue by Emily Giffin. I had her pegged perfectly. I then tried to guess her stop. I picked 79th Street and was wrong when she got up at 72nd Street.

* * * * *

One rainy weekday morning I survived sitting in the corner of the packed subway with a type-A working mom, who dragged her two young kids along with her. They all scurried onto the subway during the peak of morning rush hour. The mother whizzed through her Palm Pilot as the youngest kid, about six years old, struggled to put her pink socks on. Since the family was running late, the girl had thrown on her sneakers without socks and ran out the door of their apartment. Her mother scolded her youngest child as the girl struggled to put on her socks on the unsteady train.

The other daughter sat next to me, carefully doing her math homework as I sat in silence. The mother divided her attention between her Palm Pilot and scorning her youngest daughter for being slow and unprepared, as she helped correct her oldest daughter's homework.

"These girls are going to hate you in a few years," I thought as the mother continued to make condescending remarks to both her children.

"I'm not going to help you," the mother snapped at the little one. "This is what you get for watching TV instead of getting ready for school."

* * * * *

The midnight hour on the subway during Friday and Saturday are filled with late night partiers. A new wave of fresh smelling and dark color-clad hipsters were ready to go out, while a wave of drunks were stumbling home on the subway. Their conversations were always louder and rowdier than the rest of the passengers’.

A group of six Columbia girls yapped about a number of innocuous subjects. When a seat opened up next to me, one of the loudest coeds plopped down. She looked like a younger version of Susan Sarandon and pulled a pair of brick red Jimmy Choo shoes off her feet.

"I'm never wearing these out ever again!" she screamed, trying to illicit sympathy from anyone within earshot. "I paid $500 for this pain."

She rubbed both of her blistered heels and asked if any of her friends would carry her back to her dorm.

"I can't wait to change my clothes, then jump into bed to do a shot of vodka. Then I'm going to watch One Tree Hill."

"You know," I interrupted. "Those are really nice shoes. You have great taste. But that's the last thing a guy is going to notice... is your shoes. You could have worn a pair of $10 flip flops and a guy wouldn't care. Tits, ass, and face. Just focus on that because that's all guys care about. And the more we drink the less we care about those three."

Paul McGuire is a writer from New York City.

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