Hours ago, I was on the uptown 1 train, heading to Washington Heights. There my girlfriend was napping, blissfully sheltered from the Christmas frenzy that makes New York so chaotic in late December. She does not celebrate Christmas, but it only seemed right to pay her a visit before the strict, family-only attendance policy was put into effect for the next 24 hours or so. So, there I was on the subway – again.
The train filled up at 96th street. A very large man pulled up next to me in the depths of the car. He was at least 6’3″ tall, with a big bulky frame. Other than his sheer size, his other notable characteristic was his attire. I would classify it as somewhere between a vibrant urban statement and a gaudy eyesore. His outfit’s coup de grace was his hat. Imprinted all over the brim and body was the New York City subway map, blindingly adorned with some combination of real and fake jewels. I couldn’t take my eyes off it. Unfortunately, it was at this moment when he turned me and asked “does this train go to 125th street?”
Then I heard myself say: “You could consult your hat.”
My eyes widened. I had said a stupid thing. For all I knew, this man was under tremendous duress. He could be down to his very last dollar and fearing for his financial future. He could have just spent all day scouring the city for an evasive and rare gift, and grown pugnacious because of his failure to find it. He could have an apartment full of unpleasant, imposing, and unwelcome inherited family at home, and he was down to his absolute last nerve. Any and all of these things were possibilities. Plus the guy was huge. I braced for a right hook to the jaw.
He recoiled for half a second. Then he grinned sheepishly. “Yeah,” he said with a conciliatory chuckle “I guess I could, couldn’t I?” He removed his hat, found his answer, and braced himself for the train’s impending movement. We stood side by side until he got off at 125th street with a cordial “Merry Christmas.”
That I still have all my teeth is truly a Christmas miracle.