(Further Tales of My Morning Commute)
As anyone who shares the misfortune of traveling NYC transit during rush hour knows, it is almost impossible to score a seat on the Subway. You're lucky to score sufficient oxygen or manage to successfully hold on to all of your personal belongings, including your virginity. A seat never happens. So you can imagine my thrill this morning when I stepped onto the intimate N train, and saw the hopeful glow of a shiny, new orange seat beaming from behind a great wall of Asian people. I emptied my canteen of Stoli over my head to make sure this vision was not merely a mirage, and then went for it. Of course it wasn’t without some persistence and a touch of pepper spray that I was able to defeat the 4 or 5 other passengers who all had the same vision, and claim what was rightfully mine. (They'll be up and walking around within 35 minutes to an hour. Big deal.)
Having lived in New York for 5 years now, I'm no fool. I know that an empty seat on a crowded train usually means something ain't right. So I cautiously proceeded with the standard multi-angled blood/vomit/urine check, which was successful, and swiped a sample on a cotton swab for some routine lab work. Once all tests came back negative, I took my seat. It was one of those corners, with the signs above, encouraging people to relinquish their seats to the elderly, handicapped, knocked up, and others less fortunate than themselves. (I would like to amend that solicitation to include "irritable homosexuals", who, as everyone knows, trump "pregnant women" any day.) Being a compassionate and responsible citizen, I looked around and luckily could not find a soul for miles who was less fortunate than I...
Ready to enjoy the ride, I flipped on my iPod which randomly jumped to Yentl. (Yes...Yentl.) I swear to Barbra, Herself, that what happened next is true exactly as I tell it. Not 12 seconds into Papa, Can You Hear Me, an enormous Hasidic Jew in full garb knelt down beside me and motioned for me to remove my headphones. "What the hell is happening here?", I asked myself. But like any gay, I can appreciate a theme, so I did as he instructed.
"Yes?", I asked him, adding my famous You know better than to talk to me eye-roll, known to tourists and panhandlers across the United States. "You are Jewish?", he coughed at me through the huge grey vagina on his face. "Excuse me?", I snapped back, offended. "What part of Israel you are from?", he asked. "Um.....Queens..?", I replied. He then went on to tell me, spitting all the while, how Israeli I look and how he was certain I was from the Promised Land. I must interject that few people usually guess right off the bat that I'm Jewish. For whatever reason, I pride myself on this. What happened this morning, that of everyone on this train and of all God's Chosen People in the world, I became the one chosen to be harassed by this man?? (I'll tell you what, I am never wearing these side curls in my hair again. I don't care WHAT Men's Vogue is showing this season.) He continued to bore me with an infinite list of questions about my family and background. (Hey! Buddy! If I wanted to be drilled by a Rabbi, I'd join Hasidic J-Date-Dot-Com.) Meanwhile, I could hear the faint echo of Barbra praying into the night from my iPod, but was forced to instead listen to Mandy Pa-Stinkin talk my ear off. This seat sucks.
Wonder of Wonders, we finally began to approach my stop, and the man started to wrap things up by asking where I live (now that I've left the shtetl back home in Russia), and if I have an Email address. (Is he even allowed to use a computer? He clearly isn't allowed to use deodorant or a toothbrush. Is a computer acceptable?) I'll never know what his reasons were for any of this, but naturally, he received none of my personal information. I don't want to end up on Schindler's mailing list. I told him I'd say Shalom if I ever saw him on the train again, and to please wear that exact same outfit every single day so I'd recognize him. The doors parted, and he abruptly severed all ties with me. Our bond was instantly broken and it was every Jew for himself. He whipped around, damn near knocking me unconscious with his gigantic backpack, which seemed to harbor the entire village of Anatevka, and cutting in front of me up the stairs.
At long last, I replaced my headphones over my ears to enjoy a few final moments of Yentl, but it was too late. Barbra had already blown out the candle, and I was inches from my office. I'd missed everything. I'll just have to wait for the ride home tonight to find out if Papa ever heard her or not. Provided, of course, I'm not interrupted by a nun inviting me to her summer share on Fire Island, or the N Train's very own Blind Accordionist, or a group of young hoods peddling stolen M&M's to raise money for drugs, (I mean for their school's Basketball team), or some other bizarre, everyday distraction sent to torment me. I'm afraid, however, that it is inevitable. It's tradition!
Photograph by Rabbi Abel Macias