Dante’s Traveling Inferno

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08/11/2005

34th St. & 7th Ave. ny ny 10001

Neighborhood: Across the River, Multiple

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Luck was on my side. The "Q" train pulled into the 34th Street station headed to Brooklyn. I was relieved, not just because I would be whisked home by the air conditioned subway train. It meant that I wouldn't have to stand on one of the hottest subway platforms in the city, forced to breathe a particular stench that I can only describe as marinara sauce gone terribly wrong. It was the second straight week of temperatures in the city over 90 degrees and things were getting ugly.

When the doors opened and there were enough seats for everyone boarding, I felt as though I had won a prize. Instead of the usual race for the seats reminiscent of those dreaded games of Musical Chairs played at childhood birthday parties, where I was always left standing, here I was being offered a seat after a grueling day's work in the Garment Center. I fell asleep promptly, leaning my head against an advertisement for crisp, cool Budweiser.

It wasn't until we reached DeKalb Avenue, the first stop in Brooklyn, that a man's voice shouting in an indiscernible island accent awakened me.

"Jesus loves you all," he announced. "Whatever you are going to do, or thinking of doing, you must remember that Jesus is your savior. The love of Jesus will carry you through."

"Shut up!" was the response from a woman sitting somewhere towards the middle of the car.

"You must trust in the love of Jesus," he countered.

"You shut up! If you want to talk about Jesus, do it in church on Sunday. We don't want to hear about it now. You're disturbing us!"

People in the car snickered their mild amusement. I just shook my head even though I secretly agreed with the challenger. I gave her credit for having the nerve to speak up, something I fantasized doing myself, but never did; even if doing so put her at risk of being judged a nut job.

Next stop was Atlantic Avenue and I noticed the subway car getting warmer as it filled with the bodies of sweaty New Yorkers on their way home from work. From the opposite end of the car, voices louder than usual could be heard over the ding dong of the closing doors.

A man's voice boomed, "I didn't fuckin' touch you so shut the fuck up."

A muffled woman's voice could barely be heard arguing back but again his voice rang out, "Oh cut the shit already."

I sat slumped in my seat staring blindly ahead of me waiting for the familiar lurch of the train, eager to get to the next stop, Seventh Avenue, where I could escape the madness that had permeated the car.

Spacing out and still groggy from my nap, I was thinking about the tempers flaring around me, when the woman standing directly in front of me said, "Are you finished checkin' me out?"»

Snapped from my daze, but not sure if she was speaking to me, I asked, "Excuse me? Are you talking to me?"

"Don't you play stupid," she said. "Yeh, I'm talkin' to you. I seen you lookin' me up and down."

Shocked at this accusation, I said, "Honey, I didn't even see you."

"I ain't your honey," she spat back. "You been eyeing me up and down ever since I got on."

I felt a small drop of her spit hit my upper lip as her anger sprayed over me. But now she had my attention. I noticed her thick, round glasses, short hair, and a button down shirt she wore open over a tee shirt with an African motif (that must have been the locus of my zoneout, hence the problem). Upon closer inspection, all things considered, I had to say that she did look gay.

"You need to chill out," I said. I looked around to see if people were witnessing our interaction and if they were as shocked as I was. I wear my hair short, sometimes leading to the assumption that I might be gay. Not that there was anything wrong with being a Lesbian--it just didn't apply to me. I was dressed in a short, black sleeveless dress and platform sandals that I thought gave me a particularly feminine look.

"Fortunately, I'll be getting off here, so you have a nice day," I said.

Standing up, I made my way to the door as she yelled after me, "Bye, you bisexual bitch! Bye, dyke! BYE!"

I quickly stepped off the train, shaking my head in disbelief, glad to have successfully escaped Dante's traveling Inferno. I turned back to look at two women who had exited the train behind me. "Wow, there was some weird vibe going on inside that car," one woman said.

"Yeh, some really bad energy," I agreed.

I laughed it off but in truth, the ride had rattled me. Could the short fuses be chalked up to heat and humidity? There were more 95 degree days forecast for the week. There was no telling what hell would break loose in the city by the time a cold front rescued us from ourselves. Add some high strung personalities with "issues" into the mix and you've got the potential for some real action.

I live for the summer months and was commiserating with a co-worker about the summer being half over. But now I found myself thinking, how are we going to get through August? So my plan for the commute is to bury my head in a book or develop a major interest in the tile pattern on the subway floor. I want to be sure not to offend anyone. For all their tough skin and hard exteriors, New Yorkers are a touchy bunch.

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