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June 24, 2003
Subway and again...

Not quite sure which one was worse. The guy yesterday?, or the guy today. The guy yesterday was quiet, soft bodied, home grown. He might have been around 40 or so, but his mom was obviously still feeding him the good stuff and lots of it. He looked healthy, well groomed and had clothing that must have been selected for him, not so much by him. "Are you done with that paper?" He spoke with the volume usually reserved for the classic: "Good afternoon Ladies and Gentlemen, my name is ***** I am homeless and I am hungry." It was that voice that is produced by the throat, not by the chest. "Are you done with it?" He stood by the door that lead to the other car and was asking one of the strap hangers who had his paper rolled into a stick. The man did not reply at first but after having been asked three times, he just replied that he still needed the paper for later. "And you!?" The voice was now directed at another paper-reader. This one did not answer at all. "I need some paper, because I am kinda bored and I feel like cleaning!" I did not quite believe that he really said that. It was then that I noticed his "weapon". He was holding a plastic bottle with some unnaturally colored liquid. Oh, it was window cleaner. He was looking for some paper because he wanted to wash the windows of this express train going downtown on a Sunday evening. Great.
He then proceded to spray the glass on the doors anyway. So he did not have any paper to spread the goods, he was just spraying now. He had this look on his face that four year old boys have when they smash a vase with a hammer, just to see if mom will yell.
Mom did not yell. At least not at first. A tiny African American woman in the corner took on the part of our mom. "Stop spraying the windows", she shouted, "I have allergies to that stuff."
"It is highly concentrated!", was his answer.
We were going at full speed, the car was shaking, he moved away from the door and slowly walked towards the lady. I was worried that we would have to save her from the bottle of this insane man. "It is concentrated." he repeated. He now just stood there, in front of her. Watching her.
She remained calm. As if there were no 40 year old obsessed man standing in front of her. It almost felt as if she had seen this one before.
At the next station, our window washer simply changed trains. (Would somebody give him a paper?, so he would be "less bored?" who knows.)

The guy today was just clearly on crack. He stormed through the door as if we all lived in an action movie and he were that little guy from the machine room who runs into the cabin to announce that the engines are burning... except that he did not scream that the engines are burning. "YO MOTHERF*CKERS, IT IS YOR TURN NOW, YO'RE ALL F*CKED!, ALL OF YOU" He stormed into the car. He was a very muscular male, wearing a white tanktop and just a full blown package of rage on his face. He was ready to kill. His steps through that car were as big as they could be for his size. He held on to the metal bars to gain some additional momentum. He hit my leg as he was swinging by. It did not really matter... I kept drawing...
We were in the last car. The place was not quite packed, but there were no seats available. I was just drawing. I did not really see him, as I did not want to be "that guy" who wants to save a subway car filled with people form a crazy crackhead. So he picked the sleeping guy in the corner. He chose the guy in a perfectly matching red trainings outfit, a giant of a man. A sleeping giant.
The giant just got up and left the car. He walked the entire length of the car and just left. No word spoken, no other action. He just left. All seven feet of him.
Our supercharged crackmaster expected anything but this, I guess. He just screamed some unrecognizable words as he swung out of that car and out through that door.
Just a few seconds later, the little girl across from me was telling her dad that this man had hit her knee and hit hit the tassels on her skirt as well. She said that if he had just torn of one of them, she would have "kicked his ass."
About 2 seconds later my adrenaline kicked in, my hand started shaking. And there was my stop.


Man, I love this city.


Posted by: Anna on June 24, 2003 10:34 AM

its sad when people lack attention in their lives....they'll do just about anything to get it.

Posted by: on June 24, 2003 02:40 PM

those were quite interesting stories.
i wish i understood people more.

Posted by: alexandra on June 24, 2003 06:35 PM

witold, on an unrelated note (i know, i'm bad at unrelated comments) have you stop posting daily drawings/strecthces/illustrator work for a reason that i missed reading somewhere along the way?

and if it's just because that suits me equally fine. i'm rather enjoying your stories.

Posted by: michelle on June 24, 2003 08:22 PM

Unbelievable! Nothing like that EVER happens in Tokyo subways :-( The most exciting it gets is when a row of people nod off onto each other and the poor sap at the end tries to shrug off some snoring obasan (middle-aged woman), or scores of young schoolgirls in sailor uniforms sit there text/photo messaging each other in cold stony silence...If you're really lucky, a drunk salaryman will eye you up and down before slumpy over himself standing up...I LOVE your stories, Witold - I can live my dangerous train adventures vicariously through you!

Posted by: lil on June 25, 2003 05:19 AM

Thank you Lil. There are these "good advice" messages on the back of Metro Cards recently (for non-New Yorkers: Metro cards are fare cards which need to be swiped through a turnstile in order to use the subway. They are available in units as small as a single ride, for now $2 and as unlimited as a month of unrestricted subway fun for $70. Metro cards replaced the good old token completely on May 15th 2003.)
One of those MTA massages reads:
Don't move from car to car while the train is moving.
We assure you, they all look alike.

Hmm, maybe yes, but they are packed with a mixture of people that make them quite unique every single time...
; )

Michelle, yes, you are right, there haven't been any drawings here for a little while (almost 10 days.) I was so busy that I had no time to post the little backlog I had. So now I am catching up. Scroll down the blog page and take a look, you might discover something new.
: )

Posted by: witold on June 25, 2003 07:29 AM

yes, but every new yorker knows some other things: during rush hour, every car is packed but one. of course you don't go in the empty car, because you know there is something wrong: either the AC is not working, or a homeless person with a certain lack of personal hygiene is/was in the car. sometimes you just wait for the next train...

Posted by: joergen on June 26, 2003 10:39 AM

: D
good point, Jörgen...

Posted by: witold on June 26, 2003 10:42 AM


too right!!!
I had some company and there was an empty car on the F train, it wasn't rush hour so we didn't think much about entering it...Sure enough a homeless fellow who had just had a bowel movement all over the train floor was taking a little nap by his masterpiece! egads.

Posted by: em!ly on June 26, 2003 04:45 PM
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