My idiosyncratic schedule usually allows me to avoid the subway during its busiest times, but several days ago I had occasion to ride the downtown 1 train during morning rush hour. Luck had been with me (note, please, the pluperfect tense), and I’d been able to find a seat. Between the 66th Street and 59th Street stops, however, she must have abandoned me for somebody more muscular, because the train ground to a halt. “Due to train traffic ahead this car is being held for momentary supervision,” the conductor said over the loudspeaker. “We will resume shortly.” I was on my way to a meeting I was dreading, so I was thrilled, and hoped that “shortly” meant “after a long, long time.”
The man across the aisle from me was not thrilled. “Fuckin’ fuck FUCK SHIT fuck fuck GODDAMN FUCK,” he said. (I cannot swear that I have reproduced his words with 100% accuracy, but the spirit is the same.) “Shit fuck fuck damnit stuck on the goddamn subway again why me FUCK FUCK FUCK.”
Nobody else in the car paid him any attention. We’d all been in his position at one time or another, and we sympathized, but this being the New York City subway system each of us remained in his own bubble of personal space, as is customary, reading or listening to music or fantasizing about what one might be able to convince Matt Damon to do if one could get him really, really drunk (my choice of activity this morning).
“Fuckin’ fuck fuck shit GODDAMNIT FUCK why me why me of course me FUCK FUCK fuck.”
A young woman standing a few feet from him decided to break the personal-space-bubble rule. “What’s your name?” she said. She was wearing a long skirt and had dark hair that fell midway down her back.
“Bill,” he said, eyeing her suspiciously.
“Bill,” she said, “I’m gonna sing you a song.”
“Oh, shit,” said the man sitting next to me. The woman pulled a harmonica out of her pocket and I tensed up. Things like this happen on the subway all the time, but that doesn’t mean one has to be pleased about them.
She played a riff on the harmonica. “Fuckin’ fuck fuck shit why me!” she sang, and looked at Bill. He stared at her blankly, and she made a motion with her hand to indicate that he should repeat what she’d sung.
“”Fuckin’ fuck fuck shit why me!” Bill sang suspiciously; she sort of sang along with him, to help him with the melody she’d made up.
She played another riff on her harmonica. “Stuck on the goddamn subway again!” she sang, and looked at Bill, who appeared slightly less suspicious.
“Stuck on the goddamn subway again!” The other passengers in the car had begun to pay attention; this was fun.
Another harmonica riff. “Goddamnit fuck fuck fuck fuck!” the two of them sang together.
“Goddamnit fuck fuck fuck fuck!”
Harmonica riff. “What else?” she asked Bill. His brow wrinkled in concentration and then his eyes widened.
“FUCK THE BASTARD BOSSES!” he shouted.
“Fuck the bastard bosses!” she sang.
“Fuck the bastard bosses!” he sang with her.
By this time he was grinning.
So was everybody else in the car.
Harmonica riff. “Goddamn fuckin’ bastard bosses fuck fuck fuck!”
“Goddamn fuckin’ bastard bosses fuck fuck fuck!”
The subway loudspeakers emitted a couple bell sounds. The doors closed and we started to move. Bill and the young woman continued communicating with each other, but in spoken prose rather than in harmonica-accompanied song. The guy sitting next to me and I looked at each other and smiled.
The subway reached 59th Street and the woman moved toward the door to get out. “What’s your name?” said Bill.
“Oh, it doesn’t matter,” she said, and left the car.
I was still smiling when I got to my meeting; it went quickly and easily, and then I went to get ice cream.