Friday, August 22, 2008

Guest post

Jimmy's films will make you laugh and cry. He is so unassuming that he seems only vaguely aware of this. He has written us a story...

So there I am on a weekday afternoon riding the “R” train from Brooklyn to Manhattan. In order to get the proper feel for this story, one has to understand that there exists a long pause between the stops of Court Street in Brooklyn and Whitehall in Manhattan. The reason for the Pause is that it is when the subway travels through the East River. It is on this long pause that the crux of this story takes place. Thoughts that take place between the rhythmic opening-and-closing of the doors understandably take longer between Court and Whitehall, so much so in fact, that even while reading, the mind notices when one has entered the Pause.

Back to the story at hand. It was a few stops before the Pause began. I was sitting down reading a book when suddenly I noticed someone very strange-looking seated about five feet away from me. The train was nearly half-full, but this guy clearly stuck out. Judging from the glances of fellow riders, I wasn’t the only one who noticed him.

The man in question was black, probably in his mid-to-late forties, had a full beard and mustache, and judging from his dirty and ragged clothing, looked like he was homeless. Based on that description the man would not stand out on the subway. Well, that’s not all he was wearing.

The first thing that made the man stand out was the article of clothing he wore on his head, something best described as a gypsy veil. The veil, with its intricate bright purple and gold design, was a stark contrast to the drab beige-brown of the rest of his clothes. Additionally, golden-beaded tassels hung down from the veil over his eyes, partially obscuring his eyes.

In his left hand he held a massive Calculus textbook. In his right hand he held an antique mirror. The mirror’s glass was broken but that did not matter to the man. It was almost as if he did not notice that the glass was shattered. From behind the golden tassels of his veil, his eyes would scan page after page of the Calculus textbook. After turning a page, in a low voice the man would say, “Mmhmm” or “Yep” or “Yes Yes” all while nodding his head. Occasionally after looking at a page, he would look at his reflection in the broken mirror, stare at it for a few seconds, and then go back to the textbook.

He went on reading for a few stops until we came to Court Street. When we arrived, the car had nearly emptied out. The man closed his textbook and got up to move to another seat. I went back to reading and soon was lost in my book. The doors closed and the Pause that I mentioned earlier began. About a minute into the Pause, I began to smell cigarette smoke. With my head up from my book, I sniffed to find the source. I quickly discovered that in the far right corner, the Calculus man was smoking a cigarette. The smoke rapidly began to fill the car. I looked around the car to see if anyone else noticed that the man was smoking. The first person I looked at was the only rider who was closer to Calculus man than I was. He too had been reading, but was now too distracted to peruse his book. While I found Calculus man to be humorous, and was at peace with it being a New York experience, this rider was clearly displeased. Rather than say anything to the homeless man with the broken mirror and the gypsy veil, the rider tried to passively suggest that he was irritated by shuffling in his seat and grunting, all while occasionally looking at Calculus man. Calculus man, of course, paid him no mind. In fact, he didn’t pay anyone any mind.

I think that’s when I realized two things: 1) No one was going to say anything to Calculus man because people assumed he was crazy and would not listen to them anyway and 2) This situation was going to last a while because anything that happens in the Pause, happens for a longer time than any other point on the train ride (thus making the situation that much funnier to me).

After watching the rider shuffle in his seat, I looked to my left. Seated was a young twenty-something couple that had previously been making out, but now were both looking at Calculus man. The looks on their face, if spoken, would have said, “How long is this gonna last? Is anybody gonna do something?” The man was slightly irritated while the woman, in between whispers, arched her neck to get a better look at Calculus man.

The only other riders in the car were two young boys, aged fourteen or so. While both stared at Calculus man, one said to the other, “Man, I remember the last time I was on a train with a smoker.” “Oh yeah?” the other boy replied. “Yea, I sure do,” he said.

Fourteen, I thought, and yet out of all of us, they’re the experienced riders. A Calculus-reading man in a gypsy veil who is filling the car with smoke is nothing new for them.

My eyes went full circle back to the rider who shuffled. He had finally closed his book and stopped shuffling. Rather than grunt, he was left merely staring at Calculus man. Wearing a look of incomprehension combined with resignation, the rider leaned forward deeper into the smoke and closer to Calculus man as if moving a foot closer would help him to understand the enigma of Calculus man.

Finally, my eyes rested on the man of the hour, the gypsy-veiled jester who prodded us out of our weekday afternoon sleeps through the city. Calculus man, with a cigarette dangling from his mouth, looked at peace. No longer studying algorithms or the gray hairs of his beard. Instead, merely letting the rhythm of the Pause take over.

We arrived at Whitehall and I exited the car and moved to an adjacent car, the smoke and the experience was enough by that point. Sitting down in the adjacent car, I felt I had learned the lesson of the Calculus man. I have never seen him since.

image source


Kate and/or Mike said...

“Ride Safe”? Maybe New York needs to hire someone to translate English into English.

K-Star said...

I have ridden the R train! This was after my gauntlet ride (no 4,5 uptown, no A,C across, no 2,3 either) _to_ Brooklyn, and after a lovely bbq with Grace's neighbor. The delightful R provided a smooth and easy ride back to Manhattan. I feel so connected!