I grew up in a small, Midwestern town and I went to college in a small, Midwestern town but the second after I graduated, I moved to New York City.
The Big Apple! The City That Never Sleeps! The home of Broadway! Wall Street! The Gambino Crime Family! I was both exhilarated and terrified.
That first month or so, what scared me most was the subway. I refused to take buses because every city had buses (I mean, even Columbus, Ohio had buses) whereas the subway seemed quintessentially New York. Unfortunately, I had a lousy sense of direction and Subway Rule #1 was Never Look At The Map! (I was told Map Looking led to Being Mugged or Even Worse) so whether I'd actually get to my destination was a bit of a crap shoot. Before leaving the apartment, I’d memorize my route but I didn’t always have a contingency plan if a train was taken out of service – and trains were taken out of service. A lot.
Sometimes they'd announce an alternate route on the loud speaker, which sounded like "Transfer to SXQULGB SQUAW UPTOWN BRFTTX!" and I couldn't, of course, consult the map so I’d hop on whatever train came next and hope for the best. "The best" usually meant an Express to Jamaica, Queens, which is a long way from Manhattan (I can say that with some authority as I often ended up in Jamaica, Queens.) There, I'd switch back to a city bound train and head for Times Square. Like all roads leading to Rome, most trains went through Times Square so it served as Square One, where I'd regroup, then start my journey over again.
Sometimes I'd catch the correct train but it would STOP. Not at the station like it was supposed to, but in the tunnel. Usually, there'd be no explanation but occasionally the speakers would blare “BXX OxxTxxTxxs; BXX OXX TXX TRXX." Finally I broke Subway Rule #2 (Don't Talk To Anyone!) and asked the woman next to me to translate.
“Body on dah Track.”
“Body – what?”
“Body On Dah Track. Dere's a Body ON dah Track. Maybe somebody jumped or maybe they was pushed and now they's blockin' the train."
"Oh My God!"
"But prob'ly not - I mean, they say dat all da time but if people was really jumpin' in front of trains dis much, you’d read about it, right? Dey just say dat so ya feel like a dick if ya complain.”
It wasn't long before I learned the system and riding the subway became as mundane as stepping over the crack addicts on my doorstep, just something I did in the course of my day. But one morning, I was waiting for the A train, nursing a cup of scalding hot Dunkin Donuts coffee, when a tall, twenty something black guy walked by me and spit on my shoulder. Bam! Not a mistake - no, this was a calculated, direct hit. He was eating a sandwich, so I had a big glob of phlegm and chewed up food slowly sliding down the sleeve of my coat. Stunned, I thought "Oh My GOD. This is NOT okay, right? But I should let it go, right? Because it would be stupid to pursue, right? WRONG!"
I marched up to him, tugged his sleeve (he was really tall), and screeched "Sir! Are you aware that you just spit on me?!!"
The Spitter was nonplussed. "Huh? Oh yeah... couldn't help it."
"The HELL you couldn't -"
"Look, it just came out - whaddya want me to do, huh? Apologize all day?!"
Rolling his eyes, he sauntered away and in the best Lifetime Movie fashion, I SNAPPED.
I tore the lid off my coffee cup and started splashing hot java at his feet (I didn't throw it on him because I wasn't that brave/stupid/take your pick) -all the while screaming "OH NO!
I CAN'T HELP IT! IT'S JUST COMING OUT!" The Spitter was dancing backwards -"Whoa! Whoa!" - the incense sellers were cheering and I carried on splashing/screaming "WHAT DO YOU WANT ME TO DO? HUH?! APOLOGIZE ALL DAY?!"
With one last cathartic flick of my wrist, I emptied the cup and stomped away to fling myself down on a bench. Still fuming, I started to think that maybe I hadn't made the smartest move - after all, The Spitter was still there, glowering at me from the platform, so I turned to the man next to me and, without really looking at him, said "Look, that guy spit on me so I threw coffee on him so if he comes over here, will you pretend you're with me?"
The man enthusiastically, very enthusiastically, agreed and it was only then that I started to really take him in... white male, closed cropped hair (very close, one might almost say skin head close), decked out in head to toe camo, openly chugging a Coors. At ten in the morning.
"Don' worry, I got your back!" He reached into his duffle bag and pulled out a hammer. "Just LET 'im try an' start somethin'!"
"Oh! Please, no hammers!"
Ignoring my plea, he banged his hammer on the bench for emphasis. "In fact, I HOPE he tries an' starts somethin'!" (BANG) I know his type! (BANG) I know his kind!" (BANG)
"NO! NO type! NO kind!!"
"And I got nothin' but time! (BANG) Cuz I just got fired! (BANG) From my friggen' JOB!"
Luckily, a train pulled in at that moment and I lunged aboard, not knowing or caring where it was headed, just wanting to get AWAY. Neither the Spitter or Hammer got on, so in due course I was able to calm myself and enjoy the ride. To Jamaica, Queens.