The Big Spender

by

02/18/2002

50 7th Ave, New York, NY 10001

Neighborhood: Manhattan

I met Marty between Fourteenth and Forty-second Streets after having waited most of my ride for a seat to free up. One finally did, next to him.

“Is this Fourteenth Street?” he asked as soon as I sat down, ignoring the fact that I was deeply engrossed in the Metro section.

I replied that it was. He then continued as if we’d been in the middle of a long conversation. “You know, the woman who sat here before, she didn’t believe that I’m ninety-nine. I had to get out my ID and show her. You want to see my ID?”

He showed me and I expressed disbelief at his age. “You don’t look a day over seventy-nine, even sixty-nine,” I said to his apparent delight. He had smooth, almost wrinkle-free skin and bright, lively blue eyes. When I commented on his lack of wrinkles, he said, “Yeah, but I’m breaking out. It’s all the chocolate I eat. My doctor warned me about this.”

We rode in silence for a second, then Marty said, “I’m going to the dentist,” and showed me his bottom front teeth. “They’re all mine you know. I drink five or six glasses of milk a day.” He paused for effect, then added, “I get a bit sick of milk. Six glasses is a lot of milk. You know, this dentist, he usually charges a lot. But he doesn’t charge me as much. I guess I should buy him some doughnuts or something, butter him up.”

Suddenly, he gave me a sideways glance. “You got a boyfriend?” he said.

“I’ve got a husband,” I replied. “Do you have a girlfriend?”

He laughed. “I’ve got three or four,” he said. “It’s like with a car: you gotta have a spare tire in case one blows. I call one, if she can’t make it, I try another one. I take them to Wendy’s. Sometimes I’m a big spender. I say, ‘You want another burger?’ None of them know I’m ninety-nine.”

“Where do you live?” I asked.

“Brooklyn,” he said. “Flatbush. I’ve lived there my whole life. I know lots of people. Of course, I have to keep meeting new ones because my friends keep dying.”

I thought about giving Marty my number, in case he needed anything. Then it occurred to me that he didn’t appear in need of much. After all, he had his three or four girlfriends. At Forty-second street, he leapt up and said goodbye. As I watched him go, it struck me with a kind of sadness that it had been a long time since I’d been hit on by anyone as interesting as this ancient stranger on the subway.

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