I get on the downtown F train at W. 4th street, it’s a Saturday at 1:30 a.m. The car is pretty crowded, there’s nowhere to sit but that’s fine since I’ve been sitting for the past 4 hours listening to Elvis Costello speak about his career for a TV show. He sang a little too, wish he would’ve chatted less and sang more. I’m on somekind of date, but not really feeling any energy from him so am vaguely annoyed. He’s 21, I’m 27; I wonder what the hell I’m doing but he’s cute and smart so I don’t think too hard about it. He clearly isn’t.
I grip the slightly greasy pole and glance around. I look down to the man bent over on his seat, right beneath my hand. The interior subway lights seem gorily bright, high- lighting a sea of sallow faces. There is a red misshapen circle, about 2 inches in diameter, on the back of the slumped man’s blonde head. Blood feathers the tips of his hair surrounding the indentation. No one seems to notice.
I see that my date is engaged in conversation (and am surprised he summoned the energy to chit-chat) with two smiley thirtysomethings. The guy owns a comedy club and the girl is a comedian my date saw perform recently. I interrupt and ask if they happened to notice the bloody-headed man two feet away from them. They nod their heads and state how no one’s done anything about it and isn’t that strange? Yeah, I think, it is. It’s even stranger they are aware no one notices and yet do nothing themselves. “It’s called diffusion of responsibility”, I announce a bit angrily. I wonder if I am overreacting here, some misdirected helpless- ness I feel in general about living in the city these days. The smileys start giggling about the situation, downright laughing. It’s probably just nervous laughter but it irritates me.
A woman waits to exit, staring straight ahead, her hand on the pole perilously close to the bloody head, where mine originally was. She has no idea. The F pulls into the B-way/ Lafayette station and I run out to alert the conductor of the passenger. Words are not forming in their correct order, the adrenaline is overtaking my tongue. After a few tries, I am able to get the message across and I know then I would be useless in a real emergency situation.»
The train lets out a sigh, we are stopped. I have made the train stop for a couple hundred people and feel fiercely justified. The conductor takes a few looks at the back of the man’s head. It is shiny and slick, various shades of red commingling with each other. After the announcement of a sick passenger, I prepare for people to start paying some attention to the injured man. Nope. Even with the commotion of the conductor, not many seem to beaware that he is, in fact, the sick passenger. A woman playing video games nearby states she works for a hospital. She strains her neck a few inches and returns to pounding the buttons on her game. I query my date to see if he is at all disturbed by the scenario. I can’t tell. He says it’s surreal and chuckles that he has lost his appetite.
It’s not until the police and medical people come on board that a crowd forms around him. We are ordered to stay back, of course this rouses the spectators. The injured man awakens and says he fell. Looks like he is drunk and does not want any help. He stumbles out of the train as the police and EMS trying to wrangle him. The F pulls out and I’m not sure if I really helped the man at all.
My date and I make conversation with the smileys. The club owner gives us a flier for his shows and asks us if we’re "in the biz." When we get back to Brooklyn, we're at a standstill of sorts. I state I am going home, he says he doesn’t want to walk home because he is "lazy." How endear- ing. The train stop is equidistant from our apartments so I know he is hinting at continuing the evening, but I need more enthusiasm here, some effort. He’s hungry so I tell him I have no food, not even a cookie, sorry. We have a cold, slurpy kiss goodbye and I go home, still angry. But at least I feel a little less helpless.