The theme for this week’s WP writing challenge is “truth is stranger than fiction.” I can’t think of an experience that fits the bill better than this one. Some of you who’ve been around this blog for a while (thank you!), may be familiar with my now classic NYC Subway story. From The Subway Chronicles files, I give you : Crazy in Love. Enjoy!
I believe it was Britney Spears who astutely noted, “Everything’s gotten a bit crazy.”
You don’t have to be a head-shaving, commando-going pop tart to feel that way. Some days just getting to the office is enough to make you wonder if you’ve lost a few ticks on the ol’ sanity yardstick.
If you ride the subway often enough, through no extra effort of your own, you’ll find yourself with the story – the one quintessential subway story you’ll relate to your co-workers the moment you get to the office, your friends to one-up them at the neighborhood bar and, someday, your grandkids. I haven’t shared my classic story with you. Until now. Why? Because, quite frankly, you wouldn’t have believed me. But by now, you’ve probably realized that, when it comes to the subway, truth is stranger than fiction.
I was a regular F train rider at the time, living in an affordable Brooklyn neighborhood (read so far from the city I was able to get a seat every morning) where the subway becomes an el. On this day, every time the train doors opened warm spring air rushed in, making me regret I hadn’t called in sick to work.
The train was getting pretty crowded so that by the time we reached the last stop before heading underground, it was standing room only. Just as the doors closed a guy and his girl wandered into the car. Let’s see…how to accurately describe them. Disheveled? No, not messy enough. Slothful? No, not lethargic enough. Insolent? Not rude enough. Well, suffice it to say it was clear that they were only up that early in the morning because they had been up that late.
They squeezed their way to the middle of the car to stand in front me and the elderly Asian lady to my right. Within moments, they began arguing. I’ll be honest – I could only catch about every third word, what with their slurring and all, so I’ve recreated the conversation as best as I can.
Guy: Why are you following me? I told you to stay home.
Girl: I can go wherever I want. It’s a free country.
Guy: You better get off at the next stop. I’m not fucking kidding.
Girl: Oh. My. God. I’m going to be sick.
Me, suddenly extremely nervous she was about to unload all the munchies she ate on my new sweater: Uhm…
Guy, to me: No, she’s not. She’s just saying that to get out of it.
Girl: I am. I…am…going…sick.
Guy, shaking his head as if he and I were on the same page: She’s just fucking around. Stop fucking around!
Girl, to the Asian lady: Can you…?
Quick as a bunny, the Asian lady grabbed her orange plastic bags and disappeared like magic. The girl sat down next to me and rested her head on the wall behind us, moaning.
Guy, looking at her with disgust and then turning to me: She is such a bitch. You want to see why?
Of course not, but I hadn’t yet learned the no-eye-contact rule. If you take one thing away from this story it should be that.
The guy bent forward so I could get a good look and turned his head slightly. What was that on his earlobe? I actually leaned a little closer. Wait…part of it was missing. Wait…were those teeth marks?
Guy, as if reading my mind: Yeah, she bit it clean off.
A wittier person would have had a snappy comeback, maybe some kind of Van Gogh reference, but I did the worst thing possible. I continued to stare at him.
Girl, still moaning: Why don’t you say why I bit it? Why don’t you say why?!
Guy, to me: That was like a week ago. But this morning. She’s crazy.
The guy turned his back toward me. I sneaked a look around, hoping someone would help a girl out, but Ashton Kutcher and the Punk’d crew were nowhere in sight. There were only my fellow commuters snickering either at me or the guy. Probably at me.
He lifted his shirt to reveal a small incision about an inch above his left kidney. It was still bleeding. The blood was dripping down the small of his back and pooling around his waistband. The wound was the size of a pocket knife.
Me: I think you need a Band-aid. (In New York we don’t bother to call the authorities until we’re talking about something roughly the size of a butcher knife.)
The guy swiped at the cut with his grimy hand and saw the blood, maybe for the first time.
Guy, gasping: Bitch!
Girl: I’m sorry, baby. I’m so sorry. I think I’m gonna be sick.
Guy: I mean, this’ll leave a scar.
Girl, summoning the courage to stand up: Baby? I’m sorry.
She leaned her head on his shoulder. The train pulled into a station while she was cooing and apologizing.
Guy: All right. Just don’t do it again.
Girl: Let’s go home.
With that they got off the train hand-in-hand. Ahh, love.
For more stores from underground NYC, check out The Subway Chronicles: More Scenes from Life in New York.