I was standing at the platform waiting for the Q Train in the deep underbelly of the Atlantic Avenue station. I shouldn’t have been there. It was a Sunday afternoon and if everything had gone according to plan, I should have already reached Prospect Heights off the 3 train, if only the trains were running the way they were supposed to. I know—it was a lot to ask of the MTA on a Sunday afternoon.
Judging by the number of people milling around on the platform, I could tell I hadn’t just missed one. I picked a spot towards the end where the back of the train would be if it ever arrived, careful not to stand under any of the mysterious fluids that dripped from the ancient overhead structures. I couldn’t imagine what I would do if I ever got nailed by a drip. I imagined it burning an immediate hole through my skin forcing me to be rushed to Methodist—something I did not want to experience.
I was trying to be patient and not stare into the tunnel willing the headlights of the oncoming train to appear. I was attempting to be all Zen-like but always found it hard to fight the impulse. Just then I heard a woman’s voice resonating off the underground structures, “Don’t cry for me Argentina…” I turned around to face the direction I thought the full-bodied tones were coming from. But the singing had stopped and I didn’t notice any divas in sequins and chiffon, standing around waiting to catch their breath, preparing for the next stanza.
As I turned back around, it came again. “The truth is I NEVER left you.” The voice was getting louder; the mystery singer was really belting it out, evidently caught up in the echo quality that was more than a few notches up from a normal singing in the shower experience.
Only now I thought I figured out whom the show tunes vocalist was. The strong, falsetto soprano was actually a slightly overweight, balding man with glasses carrying an unmarked shopping bag. He was neatly dressed; the kind of average guy that would go unnoticed had he not been singing at the top of his lungs in a high, extremely loud voice, that wasn’t too bad.
He stopped after each line, like he was savoring the reverberations of each sound. He didn’t want to rush through it. And while I could appreciate this desire to sing, given the acoustics provided by the underground tunnel, even in a voice atypical of one associated with a male, he had crossed some sort of line. He had entered into that area reserved for the not quite right. Those who should know better but can’t seem to help themselves. I knew I was being judgmental but we couldn’t all just go around doing whatever we felt the urge to do. I mean, I’d like to belt out “ROXanne,” or something similar, but I don’t because, well, I just don’t.
The train pulled into the station and as I boarded I glanced down the platform to see if the diva was headed my way. I was secretly happy to see that he was. I stood by the door, where I would be exiting at the next stop, Seventh Ave. He took a seat next to a man who appeared to be Pakistani. He said something to the Pakistani man that made him smile and nod in agreement. I watched, riveted, thinking, about how the world works--how one can never tell when they are talking to a man they think is “normal” or one who dreams of being Patti Lupone.
As he sat there with a wry smile on his face, I heard his falsetto softly starting to emerge. Was he using all his wits to keep from singing or was he just warming up? The train pulled into my stop and as the doors opened and I stepped off, I heard, “Don’t cry for me Argentinaaaaaaaa.”
Fran Giuffre is a freelance writer from Prospect Heights, Brooklyn whose work has appeared in The New York Times, Newsday and this web site. She is currently teaching elementary education in Brownsville.