November 2nd was my birthday. It began at a subway station in New York when the digital time display switched from 23.59 to 00.00. I didn’t notice because I was transfixed to an old man, who was playing the flute. He had a hunchback, a grey moustache and sad eyes. I gave him a dollar.
LSB saw the time change though. He’d been watching it. “The first act of your birthday is a noble one: Typical Katzi”, he said, flattering me, because it was my birthday and because he is kind.
Subways in New York are grubby places. They are for poor people and for people who read large books with city library stamps printed on their spines.
They are full of crazy people and sad stories. At every stop you can see the same slumped figure: somebody with their arms folded around their knees and their head tucked into their chest, motionless. You can find them on benches or hidden away in the corners.
New York is a busy place so the forgotten people talk to themselves. I counted about half a dozen men – all black- who were having conversations with themselves. I even checked their ears to see if they had any fancy devices. They didn’t.
There are so many faces on the subway that it’s hard to remember any. I stared at one lady because she looked ordinary. I wondered if I’d recognise her face if I ever saw it again. She was middle-aged, with shoulder-length auburn hair. She had peach-brown skin and a round face. I don’t remember the colour of her eyes and I might not know her if I saw her again.
The rudest man in the world works at 103rd Street station. He sits in a plastic box. His job is to advise commuters who don’t know how to work the machines or who would like to purchase a ticket but don’t have the correct change.
If you want to talk to him, you have to speak into a little microphone through the screen, which means that everybody around can hear what you want to say.
This man is the rudest man in the world because when you approach him, he roars into his microphone “ASK”.
He doesn’t say “Hello” or “How can I help you” or even “Yes?”
When LSB approached him, he yelled “ASK”
LSB was a little taken aback. LSB is polite at all times.
He bent tentatively towards the microphone.
“I was wondering if it’s possible to get a one-day metro ticket”
“NO”, the man replied and banged his fist on the counter.
“Oh…” said LSB
The man snarled and yelled “SECOND QUESTION”.
He said it as a statement, not a question.
But LSB didn’t have a second question, because his first seemed to have caused grave offence.
“You’d never get that in Ireland” we said because Ireland is small and flat and as my mum says, it’s a good place to be an eejit.
At another subway stop one evening, a young musician was playing guitar. I didn’t give him any money but LSB did. LSB is quiet and noble. The rifs followed us onto the train. It was cold and dark outside but the carriage was musty and cramped.
I have another story about the underground, but that will have to wait, because LSB and I have something important to investigate.