Friday, January 4, 2008

"Happy New Year from the MTA" by Andy Biscontini

Shortly after moving to New York, I spent a day wandering around the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which I still enjoy doing.

During the warm-up to rush hour, I got on the 5 express train at 72nd Street to take it to Union Square to go home. The car I got onto was somewhat crowded, but one bench was empty except for a homeless-looking guy at the end. It quickly filled up with tired commuters. I noticed that the standing riders who had already been on the car were exchanging glances.

As the door closed and the motor started up, I noticed a foul smell. I wasn't the only one.

The homeless guy looked up and around the car. His mouth curled into a broad smile and he shouted at the top of his lungs, "Heeeere we go!"

…And commenced to crap his pants loudly. Really loudly. The sound of his diarrhea was louder than the clacking of the train.

The people immediately next to him stood up right away. One by one, the other occupants of the bench all stood and moved away.

This was the express train, mind you, so there was plenty of time between stops.

Only one person remained on the same bench as the homeless guy, a Spanish kid who was staring at his sneakers defiantly and holding his breath. The homeless guy stared him down, grinning and willfully crapping his pants.

Finally the Spanish kid gave up and stood.

"That's right! That's right!" The homeless guy shouted triumphantly at the stoic commuters, who were clearly prepared to prove that they could put up with anything. "I'm gonna CLEAR THE CAR!"

By Union Square, although no one was willing to share the bench with him, he hadn't yet succeeded—and like a real New Yorker, I had toughed it out alongside them.

This was Rudy Giuliani's New York.

Two weeks ago, at the height of the Christmas tourist season, I was riding an Uptown A train and a young black kid raised his voice at the far end of the car I was on and announced, "Ladies and Gentlemen Happy Holidays! I am currently homeless right now, and am asking if any of you have any spare change, sandwiches, or gift cards so I can get myself some Armani and some Versace..."

He weaved through the car, soliciting loudly and publicly, then dropped his voice as a rail-thin old man with one leg rolled himself along in a wheelchair with the steady "chink...chink...chink..." of coins in a tin cup.

This is Mike Bloomberg's New York.

copyright, © 2008 Andy Biscontini