Roshomon on the 1/9 Train



122 Amsterdam Ave, New York, NY

Neighborhood: Upper West Side

I was riding downtown on a 1 train after basketball with two of the players from the game, Nick and Tom. Tom and I are both 6-6 and had spent the previous ninety minutes beating the crap out of each other on the basketball court.

We were much like the fox and the sheepdog in those great old Warner Brothers cartoons who punch a time clock and then spend the workday stalking/saving the sheep and devising all sorts of mayhem for the other. Then, when they are finished, they punch out and say something like ‘Goodnight Sam – See you tomorrow Fred.’

Now, Tom, Nick and I were sitting on the train chatting amiably about the poor actress who had been shot to death on the Lower East Side during a robbery. Tom said he understood where her impetus to get in her killer’s face had come from. He said he could get that way – kind of "mouthy." We continued to talk about the sad details of the case when the guy sitting next to us interrupted us to say something like, "you think you’d get in the guy’s face?"

Tom said he would – that he grew up in the city and that he had always been – he repeated – kind of ‘mouthy’. The guy sitting next to us had some sort of longish, dreadlocky hair. He was clearly interested in our conversation – and not unpleasant but he also brought a certain angry edge to it. He said to Tom something like, "if I came up to you with a gun, you might not be so mouthy." Tom agreed but only a little bit.

The conversation continued with dreadlock-guy in this vein for a while. It was sort of vaguely non-threatening, but still had an edge and attitude to it that was unsettling. Sensing this and uncomfortable with the direction it was taking and being the son of a diplomat, I changed the topic back to our basketball game (a topic I particularly liked since our team had an unusual string of four straight wins that night).

Then we were at the Christopher St stop – Tom’s stop. He got off. The guy with the dreads exited as well along with a buddy who I had not noticed was with him. The previously silent buddy said goodbye to Nick and me and they were all gone. I assume to different destinations.

As Nick and I dissected the scene afterwards, we discussed the notion of being ‘mouthy’ in NYC. The city is as I understand it, a kinder, gentler place than it used to be when Tom and Nick grew up here (I was raised in comparatively pastoral Washington DC). Nick knows the unpredictable dark side all too well as he was close friends with the guy who was killed in the famous karate-kick-to-the-head incident outside the Dublin House many years ago.

Still as the city changes, it also always maintains its underlying menace as well. I have three kids under the age of ten and this makes me wonder if they will be mouthy or embrace their diplomatic lineage and learn to walk away or defuse potential trouble.

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