I saw a dead guy. He was slumped on a bench in the subway at Columbus Circle in Manhattan underneath an advert for a new movie. He was a black guy with a white beard, maybe in his forties, blue hoodie pulled over him, and he was staring upwards with teeth clenched so tight he could’ve been a museum exhibit. He wasn’t moving. He wasn’t blinking. I thought it might have been a sculpture, but even by modern art standards it was pretty fucked up. Other people walked past him without giving him a second glance. Other people on the platform either didn’t notice him at all or decided it wasn’t any of their business.
A girl about 23 walked down the platform and stopped briefly to look at him. She didn’t poke him or anything, because only blonde teenagers in horror movies poke dead things, but she saw me watching and said, “I’m just making sure he’s not dead.” It was very matter of fact, like it’s common for people to die while waiting for subway trains in New York.
He wasn’t dead, just not very much alive. The girl was satisfied when she saw a twitch and then she probably went to have Chipotle with her gay BFF. The world went on as normal and I went to wherever it was I was going.
As well as comatose black guys, New York also has a lot of rats. I guess other cities’ subways have thousands of rats too, but in New York you notice them. Subway stations are good places for people watching, but here rat-watching is even more entertaining. At Union Square station I saw three rats fight over a breadstick. It was funnier to watch than most American sitcoms. When they’re not fighting they just sit on the tracks rubbing their hands together like hamsters with sinister plans for world domination.
Maybe the filthy rats on the filthy tracks looking up at people on the platform is an analogy for the barrier between rich and poor in New York City, but I’ll save that for another day, when I might know what the hell I’m talking about.
I’m now living in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. It’s at the very end of the R subway line, a long way from Manhattan. I moved in officially three days ago but I’m already aggravated by how unreliable public transport is. There are a lot of delays.
To be fair to the MTA (the folks responsible for the majority of NY public transport), they do a sterling job letting you know when a train is delayed. They happily announce, “We are being held momentarily by the train’s dispatcher.” I suppose it’s a helpful message to some people, blind people. Everyone else is perfectly aware at this point that the train isn’t moving when it’s supposed to be so these announcements couldn’t be less useful if they were a rundown of what the dispatcher had for breakfast that morning.
It was particularly irksome on the penultimate stop of one journey. The train stops. People exit, new people step on. The doors close. Everyone expects the train to continue. Nothing happens. A few minutes later the cheerful recorded voice says, “We are being momentarily held by the train’s dispatcher.” Momentarily held? How long is momentarily? My destination is ten blocks away. Do I wait it out or just walk? We’ve all been there. It’s one of the hardest decisions a person can make, right up there with choosing what to name their newborn and whether to tell the wife her bum does indeed look big in that.
After waiting ten minutes (during which I could’ve walked those ten blocks), I started walking, and as soon as I started up the steps to outside I heard the hiss of the train start moving. Obviously. I was momentarily annoyed, which could’ve been a few seconds or for the next two hours. You’ll never know.
One thing’s for sure, the subway is endlessly interesting, interesting in that morbid way that watching somebody kill themselves would be interesting. Maybe by Christmas I’ll have seen a suicide in the subway. What a fine Christmas present that would be!