Posts Tagged ‘Crazies


The Redcoats are Coming!

With My Rifle by My Side

Are those ducks or geese? Or terrorists?

Do your kids have enough firepower at their fingertips?

Just out this summer is a children’s book about the 2nd Amendment: With My Rifle By My Side (via joemygod). The title reminds me of similar stories about teddy bears and dolls. With their best buddies, real or imaginary, at their sides, there is no adventure they can’t meet, no task they can’t accomplish.

These days, apparently, teddy bears and dolls are just a distraction from what our children are truly called to do. Kids, we are told, need to be taught to defend their country.

The book is about “A boy’s initiation into rifle safety and hunting; and his awakening to the solemn necessity of firearms for preserving personal and national liberty. The young protagonist observes of the Founding Fathers: ‘With their rifles by their sides, they protected their right to be free. They defended their land, neighbors, towns, and families.’
Continue reading ‘The Redcoats are Coming!’


The Crazies

He stepped into the subway car and announced in full voice, “I never met a woman who wasn’t a government agent.”

And then I turned up my iPod. He continued to rant, but I could only see his lips move. Then I looked down. Don’t make eye contact.

I am thankful for the little blessings in life, such as the ability to tune out this stuff. But I am also grateful for the ability to tune it back in on demand. If memory serves, I recognized this guy as the same one who once declared that lesbians like to eat fish. I wondered at the time what might have given him such expert status. Clearly he has issues with women of all stripes. I clicked PAUSE.

Apparently it was a short story he had to tell. The next thing I heard him say was just a recap. “I never met a woman who wasn’t a government agent.” And, thank sweet Jesus, I was able to turn the music back on.

Sometimes you can avoid these visitations. As the subway is rolling to a stop at the platform, you see one empty car among a dozen jam-packed cars. Too good to be true? Yes. Don’t enter it. Usually a homeless person is sleeping inside under a pile of coats and blankets, and the odor of months-unwashed clothing, rancid breath, festering human tissue and, very likely, near-death illness is enough to keep the car clear.

A subway car suddenly overtaken by a noisy class of teenage girls on a school field trip is also enough to send one running in the other direction. I have even left a car to avoid an aggressive panhandler. (He threw someone’s change out the door at a stop, because he felt disrespected.) But sometimes you are too tired to move and you just close your eyes, turn up the volume, and hope it will end.


The Gay and the Godly

A man on the train this morning was witnessing for Christ hoarsely and vociferously. It was one of those moments when you curse the express trains out of Queens, because you know you’re stuck with it for a good number of stops. He started out collecting change for a “food program” for the homeless, which was dubious enough. (It’s how to be a Christian, he explained.) But he soon made it worse by lurching headlong into a tirade about Gee-zus.

You can be saved, he was telling us. Just say a prayer. He was generous enough to share that prayer with us. I won’t remember the words now, but we’ve heard it before: some combination of biblical quotation and plea for salvation in exchange for eternal allegiance.

“Boom!” he said. “You’re saved. Now how long did that take? Seven seconds. That’s all it took to save a crackhead like me. That’s right, I said I was a crack head.”

Somehow it didn’t surprise me that he had been a crackhead. What did surprise me was that seven seconds could save anyone. (Even Madonna had four minutes!)

“A good-looking man like me.” (I can’t confirm how good-looking he was. I was avoiding eye contact.) “I did some terrible things in my life. I did some despicable things in my life. Sold my grandmama down the river for a rock of crack.” (He said “crack” with the same fervent rhetorical emphasis as “Gee-zus” in a way that made me absolutely believe that he was very well acquainted with both, crashing through each consonant and elongating each vowel as if the words were struggling to escape from their sentences.) “But if I can be committed to crack, I can be committed to Christ. If I can be committed to crime, I can be committed to Christ.” And so on and so forth.

He was very interested in us committing ourselves to Jesus immediately. “Everyone believes when they’re dying,” he said, “because you got no choice left. You’re desperate. But you gotta do it now. You could die any time.”

“Yeah, but ain’t no one dying here right now,” one young woman said to her friend.

I have never been much for street preaching and missionaries. It’s sort of a pessimistic approach for a religion to take, if you ask me. No one will believe this unless we convince them by all means necessary. If Jesus is the way, the truth, and the light, these guys apparently have very little confidence that we’ll find him. Have they given up on teaching by example?

At the same time, I absolutely respect their convictions and the strength of their faith. I just sometimes wish they’d go get saved somewhere else. But you ride it out until you leave the train or he does. In this case, he backed out the door at Queens Plaza, still preaching his good word, and walked to the local track to transfer. We heard every word until the doors closed and reduced him to a muffled echo.

One night a while back, I saw one of these religious experiences turned around in a way I’d never seen before.

It was the end of the night for me and my boyfriend, and we were on our way home. We were comfortably lit and a little sleepy on the subway seats, not particularly in the mood for anything remarkable, looking forward to bed.

Three women stepped into the train and assumed spots standing directly in front of us. They looked very well put together, if not a little gaudy, like they had just come from a wedding, all long, gleaming fingernails, iridescent lips, bright brown and beige tones across their cheeks, gold and silver synthetic fabrics.

One of them had her eyes closed, and she was bobbing her head like she could hear music that the rest of us could not. When it became too much to contain in her head, she began to sing. It was “Amazing Grace,” and yet… it was not.

The other ladies perked up and sang along:

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.

It’s a beautiful song. Or, rather, it can be a beautiful song. But after the first verse, she ad-libbed the rest, singing simply “I love the Lord, I love the lord…” over and over against the same melody. It seemed spontaneous — and unplanned, judging by the uninventive lyrics. Occasionally one of the other women would join or take over the “song,” none of them contributing much but the odd vocal flourish or worshipful gesture of the arm. It must have been past midnight, so I guessed they had just come from some sort of day-long worship service — Methodist or Southern Baptist, by the look of it, if my sense of stereotype is anything to go by — and they were still a little touched by the holy spirit.

Unfortunately, very few of the other passengers seemed to be feeling it. I was annoyed by their righteous and presentational self-indulgence. What’s worse, it was all very monotonous.

Many people just looked away. Some glared up at the women. A gay couple across the aisle from us were rolling their eyes. I closed my eyes and sighed and hoped it would end, or that at least she would break out of the trance and sing something different. But rather than merely being annoyed, or telling them to shut up as we all wished we could, Jeff looked up and tapped one woman’s arm. “Hey, excuse me. Excuse me. Do you know ‘On Eagles’ Wings’?” he asked.

“On Eagles’ Wings” is one of those post-Vatican II hymns from the ’70s. It’s taken from Psalm 91. Everyone raised on Catholic Mass knows it.

No, they said, they didn’t.

Jeff stood up. “Can I sing it for you?”

I wasn’t sure if I was amused, pleased or embarrassed, but I looked at the floor for a moment. Not only was he responding to a pack of crazies, but he was actually participating. I was preparing to be mortified, but he began singing the refrain:

And He will raise you up on eagle’s wings,
Bear you on the breath of dawn,
Make you to shine like the sun,
And hold you in the palm of His hand.

And just like that, they were totally disarmed.

Ooh! they said. They did not know it, but they certainly liked it. How does it go?

So Jeff sang it again. It was like a walk-off for Jesus. The ladies enthusiastically tried to sing along with him as he stood there with his hands outstretched like a youth minister. All that was missing was a guitar and a tambourine. The gays across the aisle were laughing. Almost everyone in the car had a smile. And we were — what bliss! — approaching our stop.

“That boy has the Lord in him!” one of them called out as we stood to leave.

“Yes he does,” said another.

I had never thought of that before, but I supposed it was true. Jeff had succeeded in undermining their annoyance in their own language and in a way that was not disrespectful. It was brilliant and accidental, an unlikely connection between people very unlikely to cross paths outside of the Great Equalizer, the New York City subway system, and I have rarely been so amazed by him as I was then.


Definitely Not a Mets Fan

Jackson Heights, Queens, is one of those neighborhoods — unlike Maspeth or Rego Park, lord knows — that seem to get a lot of media attention. It is a marvelously ethnically diverse place and is often cited for its rich selection of restaurants or the reaction of its citizens to the goings-on of their homelands around the world.

It is also home to the same brand of crazies you find anywhere else in New York. Gothamist reported today on an incident that occurred on the 7 train, which runs right through the neighborhood. A guy in a Yankees shirt pretending to be asleep behind his sunglasses had his pants undone and his junk hanging out, half-concealed by a newspaper, and a woman caught him on her camera phone.

I’d say “I love New York,” but there’s nothing particularly “New York” about it. Dorks like him live everywhere.


Crazy Guy on Henry Street

There’s a crazy guy I used to see every evening when I walked down Henry Street on the way to the East Broadway F train stop after work.

He’s always stationed outside a particular tenement building — if it’s not too cold, if it’s not raining — fussing around in a storage shed right out front. It took me some time to figure out that he lives there. The building, that is, not the shed — though at one point, I did think maybe he lived in the shed. At first I thought he was a homeless guy who just sort of camped out there. I think he’s the building’s super.

I wonder what he does with himself all day. He seems to be outside from morning to night, just sort of waiting, sitting in a folding chair on the sidewalk, maybe talking to someone, maybe just standing there silent and still. Sometimes he lightly sweeps the sidewalk. Sometimes he’s not there at all.

He’s one of those people you see every day. They are part of your routine. They’re like landmarks. You can measure your commute by them. (OK, I’m at the crazy guy in the shed, so I’ve got about four minutes before I hit the front door at work. Enough time to get a bacon, egg and cheese from the deli?) Some of these people you greet. Some of them you don’t greet. Either way, you recognize each other. You have to. It’s every day.

This guy, I decided, I would not greet.

I’d see him from about a block and a half away. Eventually, because I’d be looking looking forward, I’d see him look up at me. I’d look down immediately. I’d usually have my iPod on, so there was no reason to speak; I couldn’t hear him anyway. Just maintain the pace, don’t run away, but don’t look up — and don’t speak.

I’d pass him, and that would be it.

It felt ridiculous to make eye contact with a person but remain silent and expressionless. I should just say hi to him one of these times, I thought. Just some non-committal gesture, like any neighbor. But what then? New York is rife with people for whom a simple nod of the head is an invitation to a conversation, a rant or an opportunity to ask for money.

I could feel him looking at me as I passed. He wasn’t longing for me to look at him, but rather, it seemed he was incredulous that I so studiously avoided looking at him. I could see him out of the corner of my eye aggressively watching me, his head turning slowly to follow me as I passed him. It was creepy and scary and totally justified.

Then I started avoiding eye contact altogether, hoping to discourage him. I’d time my pace with other people on the sidewalk so there would be someone between him and me just as I passed him. Usually he’d be distracted, talking in an excited, raspy voice to someone, always male: a teenager, someone his 20s, someone in his 50s. What could these people have to talk to him about? I assumed they were residents, too. Were these actual conversations, or was he just the annoying weird guy taking advantage of their lag time or their smoke break? He must be lonely.

One day, with no pedestrians between me and him, and no iPod to shield me, I decided I would say hi. No big deal, right? Smile and nod and continue. So, I tried it. We made eye contact from a ways back, and I looked away. As I approached him, I looked up again and met his stare. Maintaining my gait, keeping my hands in my pockets, I nodded and grunted, “Eh,” with a submissive little smile. He cocked his head to one side and, as I passed, he broke into an impassioned, incoherent rant. I seriously do not know what he said, but it was loud and it was angry and it lasted for at least a block.

A-ha! See? This is what I was trying to avoid. That’ll learn ya, I thought.

I convinced myself that he was yelling at me for being rude or stuck up or something, but for all I know he was just telling me about something he’d seen earlier that day.

So, I changed my route. I’d walk around the other side of the block to avoid him. (The unobstructed sun on Henry Street hurts my eyes, anyway, this time of year. And it’s a more direct route to the subway.) But sometimes I’d forget, and I’d find myself on course with the old man.

I tried it again. And this time, instead of lambasting me, he simply nodded back. But with a different expression that, to my mind, said Yes. Thank you. Thanks for looking at me. See? It’s not so hard now, is it?

I walked back around the the other side of the block the next day.


Q19 Crazy Lady

When I have the good fortune of making the Q19 bus in time to get to work at a decent hour, there is often a woman there who in equal parts amuses me and embarrasses me.

She always sits in a window seat reading a dog-eared bible. I won’t notice she’s there until she folds back a page of the Good Book and declares to the bus-folk around her, “Mmmmm… o-o-o-h boy!”

A few people turn to look where the noise comes from, including myself. I usually end up standing on this bus, so I can see her clearly. She just looks down at her bible and once or twice more loudly repeats an emphatic “O-o-o-o-oh mmmmmbo-eee!” and follows it by clicking her tongue just as loudly:

“Tck tck tck tck tck tck tck tck tck tck tck!”

It’s the sound an old person might make while digging in her teeth with a toothpick, rocking in a chair on the front porch.

On public transportation, such outbursts are disquieting but widely ignored to the best of our ability. If she knows she is startling half of the passengers around her, she doesn’t let on. If she has any notion that she is making the lady sitting next to her nervous, darting her widened eyes toward her, expecting perhaps a small forest creature to leap out of her chest cavity, she does not let on. She does not seem to realize that anyone has noticed anything at all, let alone that she has made any sort of loud, incongruous, inappropriate and inexplicable noise at all.

She turns another page of her bible and resumes reading silently. We all downshift from orange alert to yellow. And then a few minutes later: “Mmmmmmmm! Mmmmmbo-o-o-o-o-ay! Tck tck tck tck tck tck tck tck!”

She really puts some effort into it, distorting her voice, getting a little raspy, a little throaty. Like she’s out back picking tomatoes off the vine in the blazing sun, and she’s tugging at her collar and pulling her wide-brimmed straw hat back off her neck to mop her forehead with a worn bandana. One almost expects a “Would you just look at that! Hoo… lawd!

Is it something she’s read? Is she regarding the sins of mankind? Has she remembered that she left the coffee maker on back home? Is this what Tourette Syndrom looks like?

Then again: “Mmmmmmmmmbo-o-o-o-o-eeee! Tck tck tck tck tck tck tck!”

She never looks up from the book. She doesn’t shake her head. She doesn’t take notice of anyone or anything around her. She just continues reading her book and making loud exclamations to no one.

She looks so normal. Cute, tightly curled hair arching out in all directions. Flawless, mocha skin. Manicured but unpolished fingernails. Just enough makeup to bring out some contrast in her features. Nice, cool, conservative floral printed skirt and sleeveless sweater: you know… beige, black, salmon.

And, remember: She’s reading a Bible. Totally harmless. I’m not so sure.


Bright Eyes, Big City

My friend Marc and I were walking through Chelsea one night last summer looking for ice cream when we were accosted in a very friendly and not unpleasant manner by a very strange woman.

We walked up and down 8th Avenue well into nightfall, but the temperature was still probably in the high 80s or low 90s. Such is heat retention in the city. The ice cream, sweet bliss in the summer heat, melted at an alarming rate and began dripping down the cones and the paper wrappers into our hands and down our wrists. The minuscule napkins Ben & Jerry’s gave us were hardly enough for a nose blow, let alone a torrent of chocolate goo. I had to be careful not to dribble all down my front. We ate (licked, sucked, slobbered) quickly to avoid disaster and embarrassment, and I ended up with a stomach ache.

At some point, a woman ran up to us from behind and tapped Marc on the shoulder. We turned around and she looked down at my friend’s chest. I noticed this, because I thought it was weird she wasn’t looking at his face.

“Sorry to bother you, but I have to ask you about your shirt,” she said.

It was a Bright Eyes shirt. White silk screen on black or dark-dark green or something. The front displayed the words “Bright Eyes” and a drawing of a guy throwing up into a toilet, but instead of vomit, it was a stream of ones and zeros. Very techie. Very Matrix. Very New Century.

I recognized the woman as someone we had just passed. Apparently she had caught a glimpse of his shirt and now wanted to inspect it more closely. People do this all the time with my Trash Can Sinatras t-shirt, which displays a single-color silhouette of a clothesline in a strong breeze. Marc seemed pleased if not startled by the attention, and eager to talk about the shirt.

This happened to me once. A guy about my age once stopped me and asked me about my Batman t-shirt. “Dude, I love your shirt.” He asked me where I got it from. “I don’t mean to insult you. I mean, I’m sure it’s, like, vintage. Have you had it, like, forever? I mean, did you get it around here?” I told him I got it at a place on 5th Avenue near 34th Street. You can find ’em anywhere, I said. (I did not say specifically that I got it at one of those cheap tourist t-shirt stores near the Empire State Building.) I was impressed that he stopped to ask and flattered by the attention. A friend of mine later told me the guy just wanted to get into my pants and I should learn to recognize when people are flirting with me. Another friend told me the guy probably knew I got it from some cheap tourist store and was mocking me.

Anyway, you never know what you’re going to get with a random stranger who stops you on the street to ask you about your clothes. And with this woman, we definitely did not know what we had on our hands (apart from dried, sticky, melted ice cream).

“That shirt,” she said. “I have to ask you something. What’s going on here?”

“Well,” Marc said, “Bright Eyes is this band I really like, and —”

“Yeah, I know who Bright Eyes is,” she said. “But what’s this?” She gestured to the figure crouched over a toilet.

“Well,” he said, sort of nervously looking at me, “this guy is throwing up? But he’s throwing up … um … binary code.”

“Uh, huh.” she said. “There’s something I need you to help me understand.”


“Wait a minute. Wait a minute. Um… I need you to help me understand something.”

We waited.

“Well, what does it mean?” she asked.

“Um. I don’t know. I just thought it looked cool,” Marc said.

“You did,” she asked, more accusatory than inquisitive, cocking her head. “‘Cause I’m really bothered by this shirt.”

We were both thrown for a moment. Marc stammered. “W-w-what?”

I expected: Where did you get the shirt? or How much was it? Or even, lifting her own up over her head and saying brightly Wanna trade? But not this.

“I need you to help me understand something. I mean, do you think this represents his music?”

“Well,” Marc began. “Actually…” (he paused to think) “yeah. Yeah, I do — ”

Marc knows Bright Eyes. I don’t. So I can’t even remember what he said. But it took about 30 seconds and it sounded reasonable. Nice thinking on your feet, I thought.

But she pressed on. “Do you think he would like this? This ‘throwing up?’ Do you think he would want this to represent his music.” She sounded not exactly belligerent, but was definitely approaching agitated.

Marc just blinked. “Well, I just said — “

“I need you to help me understand something,” she said again, calming herself. In the course of the conversation, she probably said it about five or six times.

Nuts. Just nuts. But she looked so normal. She wasn’t drunk and didn’t appear to be high. She didn’t look like someone who would know where to find drugs anyway. I forget precisely what she was wearing, but let’s say it was a beige cotton skirt or khaki shorts with a simple fitted t-shirt and a pair of flip flops. Late summer wear. She could have been a student. Looked about 23 years old. Asian-American. Glasses. Just utterly normal and unthreatening.

It turns out she assumed Marc had made the shirt. That he was ripping Brights Eyes off by using their identity and misrepresenting them or something. We explained that Marc had indeed not made the shirt and that it was probably sanctioned by Conor Oberst himself long ago. Are you some kind of music industry representative or copyright lawyer? we asked her.

No, just some girl.

She doesn’t even like Bright Eyes, she said.

“Well, then why do you care?”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” she said. “I’ve offended you.”

“What? No! No, nevermind. It’s fine, it’s fine. Just … what do you want?”

“OK, I’ve offended you. Well, that’s all. I’m …. ah … I’m gonna go. Sorry. Thanks.”

And she turned and walked away.

Marc and I waited a bit in silence, watched her get a good block away from us, and we turned and continued walking in the other direction.



Another F train story.

There was a man leaning against the doors one morning who noticed a woman sitting across the car. He walked over to her, placing himself directly behind me (I was standing and holding one of those brushed chrome vertical poles), and began flirting with her mercilessly, talking about how he wanted to marry her, how he’d treat her right, how he’d show her what it meant to be a woman, and other vague, thinly veiled sexual promises. “Mmm-mmm!” he’d say. “Mmm-mmm!.”

She was attractive but totally average-looking, in my opinion. No better-looking than half the women on the train.

She did her best to ignore him, but he did not let up. So, realizing she was not going to look up at him, the guy started to get belligerent.

She buried her attention deeper in the newspaper she had been trying to read. As I glanced around discreetly, I could see that she was clearly distressed. She may have been looking at the paper but she was definitely not reading it. Her eyes were not moving, and she looked nervous.

Then the train stopped in the tunnel somewhere between Roosevelt Avenue and 21st St. All went quiet. There was not even any unintelligible intercom announcement explaining the delay.

The guy started up again. “I work for myself. I’m my own boss,” he said. And “I got me a burger in his bag. I’m saving it for a homeless person.” He has so much money, he said. So much money, he’s going to go to Germany on business.

I can verify that he had a bag in his hand. But as for the rest of it, I can only assume he was … exaggerating the truth.

“I got more than 5 G’s at home, baby. It’s all mine. I’m my own boss. Ain’t no one gone tell me what to do.”

No one was coming to her aid. She didn’t want to cross him; she was scared of him. I did not want to cross him, because he was obviously crazy and not the kind of guy I want to be stuck with on a train in a tunnel.

And then who would come to my rescue? No one.

The train lurched into motion again.

Evidently someone looked at him, because he turned his attention to someone else. “What you looking at?” he snapped. “Fuck you.”

Then he began muttering to no one in particular. “People don’t mind they own god-damn business. What the hell is wrong wit you?” He said some more about Germany and all his money and his happy employment situation. I don’t know who he was talking to. He tried to assail the woman with his charms again, but she was ignoring him.

Then: “You want some money? I got money. I ain’t no fool. I’m my own boss. Here, I’ll give you some money. I don’t need no one.” I presumed he was talking to the person who had distracted him. He dug in his pockets and pulled out some change.

No response.

“Here, god-dammit. Take this god-damn money.”

The change fell to the floor, either rejected or ignored. It was a couple of quarters, by the look of it. The crazy guy stooped to pick it up in a fury. I seriously thought he was going to hit someone.

He then started to rant and philosophize. More of the same story. More about the hamburger. Sighs were audible all around the car.

Then the train stopped at 21st Street. The doors slid open. And the man tossed his change out the door onto the platform, shouting “Hey, world. Here’s some change. Give yourself a wake-up call.”

The woman stood up and left the car. I don’t know if she got back on. The good news is the guy did not leave the car to follow her. The bad news is the guy did not leave the car. Evidently he had business to attend to in Manhattan. And that’s where we went next. He continued talking to people who ignored him. I was desperately hoping he would not approach me. To make sure of it, I also left the car at the next stop, ran forward a few doors, and re-entered the train.

To my annoyance, I discovered I had gotten into the very same car — but at least I was down at the far end from him.

Then, as perfect, perverse luck would have it, he made his way down the car in my direction, leaving a trail of distressed but relieved passengers in his wake. I don’t even know what he was saying to people, because I wasn’t paying attention to the words anymore.

Then he announced. “I’m gone get off this train. I ain’t gone bother nobody no more. Fuck all ya’ll! I got to give this here burger to someone. Somebody need this.”

He got out at the next stop — “fuck all y’all” — shouting all the way.

the untallied hours