December 29, 2003

Not too long ago, the New York City subway moved from a token system to a swipe card system. (Those of you who live in New York must forgive me, as you already know everything in this paragraph, but the rest of the story doesn’t make sense unless you know how the subway system works.) The kind of card I usually get is the unlimited ride card, which can be used any number of times during the period it covers (a day, a week, or a month); to avoid its being used to get more than one person onto the subway at a time, once you’ve swiped it through the card reader at the turnstile, it’s invalid for the next eighteen minutes. This is not a problem during the ordinary course of events; when things go wrong, however–when you accidentally go through the downtown subway entrance at a station where there’s no inside transfer to the uptown subway, say–you are at the mercy of the station attendants, who are more capricious in their whims than any Greek god ever was. If they choose to let you through, then you’re fine; if not, you have to 1) wait eighteen minutes while train after train goes by or 2) jump the turnstile and risk arrest.

I promise this is relevant.

One day a few years ago, after spending the day running errands, I went to take the subway back home. I swiped my card, but before I could go through the revolving gate on my way in, somebody else came through on his way out. I tried to enter, but no go. I swiped my card again, but got the dreaded “JUST USED” message. Since there was no station attendant at this entrance (and since this was one of the entrances at which there are gates instead of turnstiles, making illegal entry impossible), I had to go back up and find another entrance at which there was a station attendant. I did so, and explained what had just happened. She asked to see my card. I gave it to her; she checked it and barked, “You just used this.”

Trying to keep my rage in check, I said, “Yes, I explained to you that I–”

“You didn’t use it at this station. I can’t let you through.”

“But I did, I told you that I–”

“I’m not letting you through. Next customer, please.”

“But I–”


I had had it. My relationship with my then-boyfriend N.T. was at the height of its dysfunction, meaning that my emotions were running at a fever pitch all the time anyway. There was clearly no reasoning with this monster in human form, so I went for it.

I jumped the turnstile.

That is, I tried to jump the turnstile. In actuality, I didn’t jump quite high enough, and my feet caught on the bar, which sent me tumbling down in a heap on the other side.

Along with the gallon of paint I was carrying in each hand.

The integrity of the paint cans (blue in the left hand, purple in the right) was of course not enough to survive the fall; the lids came off and paint spilled out all over me.

Broken and defeated and bruised and covered in paint, I left the subway station, crossed the street into Central Park, cried for eighteen minutes, came back, got on the subway, and went home.

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19 Responses to Not too long ago, the

  1. sam says:

    That’s the saddest, and yet most typically New York, story I’ve read in a long time.

  2. bob says:

    Poor darlin’. At least they didn’t get your for jumping the turnstile *and* making graffiti.

  3. bob says:

    Does one “make” graffiti?

  4. Lorrie says:

    That was terrible. My heart ached for you.

    I’m planning on moving to NYC in January, and I have decided long ago I’m never taking the subway. I’m walking or taking a cab.

  5. Chris says:

    Lorrie, you can’t avoid it unless you’re making beacoup bucks – cabs get REALLY expensive if you’re going long distances!

    I keep an extra regular (not unlimited ride) Metrocard with at least two fares on it in my wallet for occasions like this, or when I and a friend are rushing to catch a train pulling in and the friend discovers he or she doesn’t have enough on his or her card. It’s saved my heiner several times now!

  6. sherry says:

    gosh! what a bitchy attendant!

  7. matt says:

    Well I hope you learned your lesson, young man. Crime doesn’t pay. You can’t beat the system.

    Be pure! Be vigilant! Behave!

    It does seem like a bit of a design flaw that an exiting passenger can consume your entry credit. With thousands of people passing through each of those gates every day, this sort of thing must happen all the time. Just think of all those paint-soaked people weeping in Central Park! Oh, the humanity!

  8. Anonymous #7 says:

    This happened to me while I lived in New York. True, I never splattered paint all over myself in the process, but turnstile mishaps exiled me from the subway quite often and “attendants” (grouchy mongrels) were never helpful. Let’s not mention what would happen if I lost the 30-day unlimited card that had swallowed half a paycheck AND I had just bought it a few days before. *gasp*

  9. David says:

    Wow, a story I never heard before. 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

  10. Poor Boo.. I feel bad for you. I wanted to hug you when I read it, but also feel guilty for wanting to laugh at what visualize as I read your tale.

  11. dearcharlie says:

    This is even better than my morning comics so I can’t pity you. I miss the token.

    Responding to message above: I’d take the third choice, but you prefer men. Hmph, why are all the good men taken or gay?

  12. Jeffrey says:

    Screw the gingerbread house. We want pictures of this.

  13. Sam, ain’t it just? Bob, thank you for your sympathy. I’m not sure what the proper verb is. Ordinarily I would say “scrawl” but in this case that doesn’t quite work. Lorrie, good luck with your move, and if you can afford to cab it everywhere you go, more power to you. Chris, that’s a brilliant idea that I plan to implement immediately. Sherry, I know! Matt, I think I should organize some sort of support group for the paint-covered weepers. Anonymous #7, apparently there is some sort of loss-protection program in place now, but I hope never to have to resort to it. David, thpthpthpth. (That was the sound of a raspberry.) Ruggerjohnnyd, don’t feel guilty. Everybody laughs at me all the time. Dearcharlie, if I knew the answer to your question, I would be a gajillionaire. And Jeffrey, you should thank God this event was not immortalized on celluloid, because those who saw it would be overwhelmed with terror, like Semele when confronted with Zeus in all his splendor, and burned to ash.

  14. Balsam says:

    Goddamnit that’s funny.

  15. Kat says:

    This is the best laugh I’ve had all day.

  16. stephanie says:

    I love this site. It’s the only one I have bookmarked at work, so if they ever check my bookmarks it’s going to be interesting.

    Lorrie – good luck with that cab/walking plan when it rains…

  17. *me hugs Faustus*

  18. Jalal says:

    I hope the paint was not meant to rejuvenate the relationship with N.T.

  19. yorkpete says:

    And I thought the London Underground was bad, but at least the staff there will let you through straight away if that happens, presuming your ticket is valid, of course.


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