The Attempt



W 96th St & Broadway, New York, NY 10025

Neighborhood: Upper West Side

Just short of the 96th street station the kid next to me started to get really agitated. He was digging around frantically in his pockets for a pen, and since I was sitting next to him he kept pushing and bumping me with his shifting. He finally found his pen in his pocket, but he didn’t have anything to write on. He started his craziness all over again looking for a piece of paper. He even looked at me and my book as though he were going to ask me to rip out a page I’d already read so that he could write on it. He finally pulled a receipt out of his wallet and starting trying to jot something down on it. I couldn’t figure out what he’d thought of that had gotten him so excited he had to flail about so bad to get it down before it flew out of his head.

For a few seconds I imagined he was one of those ecstatic writers that’s so moved by his thoughts and ideas he can’t help but write day and night with the urgency of a meth addict. When I see these people on the subway they shame me, and I hate them. I never get very excited about my ideas. When I do finally get to writing my ideas down I always wonder if I’m wasting everyone’s time.

I tried to read what the young man was writing, so I could find out what one of these ecstatic writer’s thinks of that’s so important as to inspire manic episodes. His pen didn’t work. It was out of ink. He looked up desperately at an attractive older woman across from him who was getting up and gathering her bags to get off the train at 96th street. She was about ten years older than he was and she looked tired. She didn’t look like she had the energy to put up with any bull shit.

He begged me for a pen. I didn’t have one. He looked at me for awhile to see if I would change my mind, but I went back to my book. A couple across from us was hunched over a crossword puzzle. The kid lunged at them for their pen. The boyfriend looked sternly up at him and told him that her pen didn’t work either. The kid looked around hoping a pen would come from somewhere and rescue him before the 96th street stop. A woman to his left silently handed him a pen. She must have been admiring him as I was. He grabbed it without a word and began writing on his receipt.

He looked between the older woman now waiting at the doors and the paper. He was writing her a note. I wondered where the receipt was from. What if he gave her receipt from some embarrassing purchase? $12.95 for a bottle of Lotrimin AF made specifically for curing jock itch. A crotch fungus receipt. If I wrote a note to a woman on a train, I would pull a crotch fungus receipt out of my wallet to write it on.

As we pulled into 96th street and stopped the kid’s hand frantically scribbled to get the note down. The doors opened and the woman stepped out. The kid shot up and shouted, “Wait. Excuse me.” I don’t know how the woman knew she was being addressed, maybe she’d noticed him staring at her before 96th street, but she turned around and faced him just after stepping out. The kid handed her the note through the door and she took it. She looked at it and then looked up at him confused as the doors closed. She asked him, “Did I drop this?” He just stared at her as the door’s separated them and the train pulled them apart.

When he turned to sit down again everyone in our section between the doors looked at him. When he looked back, we all looked away. He sat down next to me again and relaxed. A chubby black girl a few seats down and across from us giggled and snuck glances at him every few seconds. He noticed and looked back at her. He laughed with her. I doubt that woman ever called him. She was a lot older. March 10th, 2002

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