Late-Mondays Times Square underground platforms are a kind of reality stage for a cross-section of New York City not everyone gets to sample. Recently there is a sprinkling of track workers because
there is always post-midnight repair activity and endless delays... so you have more time to settle into the drama. By 2 AM there is little musical entertainment, but plenty of hustlers and salesmen of a variety of wares-- stolen cheap watches, re-wrapped candy, articles of clothing and discarded earbuds... talkers, lonely displaced people with nowhere else to spend the night... shuffling old women often close to your own age...dragging their shopping bags, hunched over and unwashed... the squishy stenchy hardcore car-sleepers... rats taking their time doing a sluggish diagonal dance on the tracks because train traffic is sparse; there is a kind of rare silence.
Last week a nice-looking guy with sideburns sat down on one of the wooden seats and took off his boot.... he had clean white sport-socks on, and he started in scratching. Minutes later he'd scratched so hard the ground was littered with dancing clumps of white fuzz from the cotton... and still he went at it; I tried not to look. After a time, a sick yellow-green ooze started to penetrate his socks; my stomach turned over... he stopped-- as though the liquid seepage was the antidote to the itch. He shook out his boot, stuck his foot in and walked to the north staircase of the uptown 1/2. Just like that.
Not even a minute later, a drunk young couple sat down where he'd been working his foot... I tried to warn them, but they were too busy groping each other. I'm no germaphobe but I felt a little tense in my seat on the train; I started to reconsider trying on shoes in thrift stores. In every car, the late-shift was working the crowd--- asking for handouts-- food, old gloves, a smile... the same girl I've seen nearly every week gets on looking for enough money to buy a room for the night. Her eyes are glazed, her feet are filthy and bare, her skin is pocked with needle-marks and infected sites. It's more than sad. You squirm and don't give her money to get high... but you feel ashamed of the C-note in your pocket even though you can barely come up with your month's expenses, even with the care packages from the kitchen at your gig. A man gets on and sits across from you-- bloodshot eyes, a wedding ring-- he looks guilty and somehow sated.
All the stories in New York City-- the lit and unlit windows, the drawn shades, the silhouettes. My friend's boyfriend has been seeing another woman; I know this and don't say anything. It's not my role to hurt her, to bust him... I'm caught. Another woman just ended her marriage when she found her husband hopelessly addicted to porn and heroin. She must have been the last to know, or the last to want to know until it was in and on her face.
My best friend in the world is an ex-- one of those men who comes in and out of your life between disastrous relationships and marriages. You figure one day you'll marry him, but you're not quite ready to surrender to yesterday's clothes that have lost their style and no longer really fit. Still, he's there.... or is he? You walk by his place one random night; he always comes to yours-- his is essentially a mattress on the floor, some piles of books, dingy walls and permanently shut blinds. You buzz up... and a woman answers... it seems he no longer lives there... has he forgotten to mention to you that he's moved? Who are you, you text. You get home late-late and he's been calling.. and the tales begin to unravel like a committee of scriptwriters batting around a scene. On the third night your lawyer friend looks up his court records and it seems he's secretly married. He's living with some Asian waitress--- sublet his place and moved to Queens. You are stunned... not exactly hurt, because it's not like that-- but stunned. Like your security blanket has been ripped away... like a betrayal. He cries... how could he have lied to you? Every day-- every FaceTime, every call, every joke-- because he sees you nearly every day-- tells you everything... except this. Day 4, he claims he's miserable, he hates his life-- he hates the lies, he's always loved you-- well, sort of, because it never really worked out between you... but he has been your health-care proxy, your emergency contact. Who is this man? The Asian woman is a bitch and is showing her age-- not a nice comment, because she is like twenty years younger than you are. I guess this happens once the green card is inked. The double life thing...
When I was a teenager I saw my best friend's father making out with a young woman in a restaurant. It wasn't him, my Mom assured me... but it was. Or it wasn't 'him' but it was my friend's father. Itch. The oozy, itchy leaking feet underneath those clean white socks. Like a metaphor. Who are these people? I remember when we were young kids--- underneath our clothes we were beautiful and innocent... still honest enough in our free-love practice not to really hurt anyone... clean, even when we were bad.... but life goes on-- our scars and wounds and complications besiege us with small disappointments and failures... and we escape-- some of us have music and art-- fantasy... but others confuse their life opportunities with an emotional vacation... they create these webs of deceit and they knot themselves up so there is no way out without ripping off an arm or leg.
I don't love the guy. No, but I expected loyalty-- honesty? Some version of this... after all, what did he have to lose? Me? If you watch someone scratch long enough you start to itch. I don't want to see what's underneath most people anymore.... we use our imagination. This is why people love their pets-- their babies... with humans it's complicated. Needs... secrets-- stuff we hide that festers into addictions and lethal diseases... syndromes and mental illness. So what now? Amputate the guy? You would never have known-- what were you missing? Not much? You didn't need so much from him-- just trust, faith-- the phone calls and facetimes-- the seat next to you at your Mom's funeral.... It's a quandary. The truth is more complicated than it should be. It's a dirty fork in your road, here.
At the end of the 2 train ride, you get out.. you've got a couple of bucks to buy vegetables at the fruit stand; the same panhandler always there to greet you at 3 AM. Hey, Baby, he says, like a question. You wind up with 17 cents. You tell him... 17 cents. That's it. That's not it, he says-- that's a fucking blessing. He thumbs-up you as you drop the coins into his cup and he looks happy. Clean. Simple. The truth. He's a damned angel, this guy. Somehow you feel better.