Of all of the constant sources of amusement in New York, few are as regular and reliable as the “A” train in the wee hours of the morning. Probably because it’s the longest route in the city, and thus offers the most uninterrupted sitting/sleeping time between end-of-the-line roustings, it’s pretty much guaranteed that if there’s one wild-eyed madman to be found in the city at 4am, you’ll find him there.
Case in point:
Sunday night, around 2am, my friend Kari and I were stumbling back from seeing The Kings of Nuthin at the Tribeca Rock Club. After an eternal wait at the Chambers Street stop, we got onto a Brooklyn-bound train and collapsed in our seats.
Directly across from us was a Freaky Homeless Guy, straight from central casting. Black, middle-aged, scruffy (but not stinky), he was lurching back and forth underneath his seat and looking around at things that were pretty obviously not physically present in the train. Underneath his seat, a very pretty, mid-sized, mixed-breed brown dog lolled on the floor, obviously long-since used to his master’s outbursts, trying vainly to get a little rest. As the train pulled out of the station, the guy launched into what sounded like a well-travelled patter, addressing nobody in particular:
(mutter mutter)…a-salaam aleikum…(mutter)…I’m not a “black muslim,” I’m a brown muslim…(mutter mutter)…but that retarded white guy? He’s okay, he’s an okay brother……and so on in that vein for a while. As he went on, he got a bit more excited, and started waving his arms around to make his points, and that was when we noticed…hanging on by its claws in the front fold of his jacket, was an adorable, tiny orange tabby kitten, no more than 12 weeks old. The kitten’s eyes were closed, and it hung there, half asleep, as the guy ranted away, getting a little louder:
…(mutter mutter)…kill the white man…yeah, kill whitey! (mutter mutter)…should kill every goddamn white man in this city!At at this point, several people sitting near to him started to move away to the other side of the car, but it didn’t actually sound threatening: he wasn’t looking at or interacting with any of the live white people in the train, and it felt like a piece of well-rehersed theater, or some pointed reference to a movie or song that he’s seen that none of us had…which was good, because, to emphasize the statement, he made a grand show of reaching into his jacket as if to pull a gun out. The gesture was so hammy that it was obviously fake, but it had the side-effect of dislodging the kitten, who fell out of sight into his jacket for a second.
…yeah! Kill all the white man! Except the retarded guy, he’s okay, he’s a brother…(mutter mutter)……and as he tailed off into some quieter monologue, the kitten clawed its way up far enough to stick its head out of his jacket again, and promptly went back to sleep, as Kari and I had to restrain ourselves from cracking up.
A few seconds later, the train pulled in at Jay Street, and as I was getting off, I waved to the guy and said “Salaam Alaikum” — it seemed like the only proper thing to do. He didn’t seem to take any notice of me, and we walked off the train not thinking much of it, but we hadn’t taken two steps onto the platform when a voice boomed out behind us:
HEY!We turned and there he was, standing in the door of the subway, suddenly 100% lucid and making direct eye contact with me:
Dude! Is your hair that color all the way up and down?!
Me: Nah man, just up top.
That’s badass! Yeah! Purple hair! Right on!
…and he waved to us, kitten bouncing and hanging on for dear life, as the doors closed.