The events and characters depicted in the following are real. Their names have been omitted because they were total strangers. And because I didn't ask them their names.
The first thing I notice when I got to the bus stop are four small children playing in a snowdrift that is about five feet high. They are making it into a combination jungle gym by climbing and sliding and kicking grooves into it to make it more amenable to their games. They are as happy as pie, taking turns climbing up one side of their dirty snow mountain, and sliding down the other.
The adults the kids belong to are standing a few feet away, oblivious to the fact that the pile of snow has become an enchanted kingdom where the four brave travelers are in the middle of a pilgrimage to find treasure. There are two Caribbean ladies, one young and one old, and a white middle-aged guy. It becomes clear that the guy is the father of two of the kids, since he keeps yelling the names Barrett and Tyler. The young Caribbean woman is the nanny for the two other kids who don’t look like her or each other.
When she notices me walk up to the bus stop, the older Caribbean lady turns to me and said, “We been waitin’ since 4:00.” That puts their wait time at about 30 minutes. I start to wait for the bus, silently believing that I had gotten there just at the right time. The B65 has a way of not showing up for about 40 minutes and then two buses come at the same time.
I couldn’t have known it was going to turn into Waiting for Godot. We all take turns looking down the street trying to catch a glimpse of the bus, only to have our hopes dashed by a UPS truck
“Do you know how to get to the subway?” the guy asks me.
I give him directions to the 3 train, but the Caribbean ladies say it’s too long of a walk. “The children won’t last that long walking,” they say. I put in about 30 minutes of wait time with them. My feet start to feel cold in my boots.
The guy gets on his cell phone and calls a car service to come pick him up. We all confirm that he isn’t from the neighborhood when he gives the address of one of the brownstones behind us but tells the dispatcher the wrong cross streets.
Then a very skinny African American woman with dreads and an oversized 80’s leather coat comes up and says she saw a bus five streets away. You could tell by her shaky voice that if prompted, she could talk about drugs like careers she’s had.
All of our hopes are up. The older Caribbean lady says she’s late for church. “So am I,” the younger Caribbean lady says. We all take turns verifying that it is a blue and white MTA bus coming our way.
“You going to have to cancel that car,” the young Caribbean lady tells the guy. I am impressed that he doesn’t. Is he going to cancel it only after he’s on the bus? I wonder.
As it gets closer, we see that the MTA bus has no intention of stopping because it’s out of service. We all look at the skinny lady in the leather coat. She turns to a guy that’s walking out of the front gate of his building and asks, “Is the bus running?” The guy nods. All of the adults are now pacing like frustrated ants.
The skinny lady then takes yellow dollar coins out of her pocket and gives one to each kid playing in the snow mountain. “I take care of kids,” she says to us. “All the kids in the neighborhood come lookin’ for me.”
I’m not sure if that’s supposed to make her seem more or less credible. The car comes for the guy and he calls Barrett and Tyler away from their kingdom. Then the skinny lady comes up to me. “Are those two yours?” She points to the two remaining kids.
“No,” I say, and for some reason I thought of the gold dollar coin that’s in my wallet. A vendor gave it to me as change weeks ago.
“Cuz I was gonna say if you needed a babysitter…”
The young Caribbean woman looks annoyed. She announces she’s going to the next bus stop. As soon as she and the two kids are gone, the skinny lady also disappears.
“She was so tiny,” the older Caribbean says about the skinny woman. I nod. We are the only ones left.
“I’m going to take the B43,” the older Caribbean lady says, finally giving up on the B65. I decide to go with her and take the other bus to the 3 train. We walk carefully across the slushy street and around the corner. The B43 comes within a minute. She gets off the bus before me. I don’t get to say Happy New Year to her before she leaves.
I get to the 3 train. At the station is a lady wearing a long camel colored coat over a hospital gown. Every 2 minutes she peers at me from the column she’s hiding behind.
It is 3:10 a.m. on New Years Day on a crowded downtown 2 train. There are several people wearing disposable hats. There are several groups of out of towners talking about their flights back home. There is a nose picker with inflamed red lips and pimples sitting next to me. He has begun to eat the boogers he has harvested. It is the need to transfer to the 3 train and disgust and the fear that he will try to wipe them on my coat that makes me get out at Fulton Street.
It is 4:00 a.m. I wait for the 3 train for a while, then because commuting is not unlike gambling, I walk two floors down to another platform and try waiting for the A train. There are mobs of party outfits and the people who wear them. Couples, boys holding glittery high heels for the Cinderellas who have changed into flats or boots. A man and a woman stand next to me, both dressed in black, they have set their musical instruments in black cases down on the ground right on the yellow line of the platform. The woman’s makeup is smeared in a way that makes her look cruel. She micromanages the man and sends him upstairs three times to send somebody a text.
The A trains keep passing going uptown on the other side of the platform. I become agitated. I go back upstairs to wait for the 3 train. It doesn’t come. There is a defeated looking girl wearing a mini-skirt walking with her strappy high heels in her hands. She is barefoot and her round brown legs are bare. I could see that the soles of her feet have already turned black. One of the two drunk guys next to me keeps repeating, “Notluf.” It’s Fulton backwards.
That’s exactly right, I think, as the girl walks farther and farther away.
It is 4:05 a.m. The downtown 2 train comes. I get on. Let’s try this again, I think. I need to get to the 3 train though.
There are two young girls on the train—they are both black, in their late teens. One of them has braces on her teeth. They take turns berating a man sitting across from them:
“You’re selling your soul for money.”
“That’s damnation right there.”
“You’re poisoning your soul.”
“You have to be right with God.”
“Lead a righteous life.”
“You can’t sell your soul for money.”
“What’s money? What can you buy if you don’t have your soul?”
The guy is mostly quiet until he blurts out, “Yeah, I sell cocaine. What you want me to do? Have two jobs?” He says it like it’s the most ridiculous thing in the world.
The train stops at Atlantic Street. I look at the electric board that says the 4 train is coming in 12 minutes. I get out before I hear the girls’ response. I am full of hope that I will eventually get home. The 4 train, of course! It runs late night and replaces the 3 train. I should’ve waited for the 4 train at Fulton Street.
The 4 train comes in 12 minutes. It goes a few stops to Franklin Street. The two teenage girls step into the same car. This time they are going at each other.
“But that’s the way it SHOULD be.”
“But that’s not the way it IS.”
“But love and sex SHOULD come together. That’s how it SHOULD be.”
“But that’s not HOW IT IS.”
“You could LOVE someone and never have SEX.”
“It’s one thing to LOVE someone. And it’s another to SEX ‘em. Don’t get it twisted.”
“I’m talking ‘bout when LOVE and SEX come together.”
“When you LOVE someone and have SEX that’s the most pleasure you can have.”
“Pleasure is its own thing.”
“Yeah that’s why I MASTURBATE.”
“Wow,” I say as the doors open at the Kingston stop.
It is almost 5 a.m. I’m walking very carefully across Eastern Parkway to go down Kingston. I’m trying to be strategic about avoiding icy patches and the streets that haven’t been shoveled. I think about walking in the middle of the street, but it’s a mess there too. I get to St. Johns and Kingston. I notice a livery cab stop and honk at me several times. The driver waits for me to climb over the snowdrift between us.
The guy charges me 5 dollars to take me the last five blocks home. He stops in front of my building, where the whole Waiting for Godot scene happened more than 12 hours before. It’s now 5 minutes to 5:00. There are cars behind us honking as I’m paying the driver.
“Happy New Year,” he says.
“Happy New Year,” I say.
I close the door and walk around the enchanted snowdrift to the front gate of my building. As I open the door, I realize how badly I had wanted to come home and how it had seemed impossible. I try to count how many nights like these I’ve had, but suddenly realize the whole year has disappeared. I think I believe myself this time that this year will be a clean slate. The debating teenagers on the train would say that no matter how silly the kids game was they BELIEVED they had started a whole new life on the snow mountain in just an hour. And wherever they are now sleeping, they all probably have the gold coins that the crack addict fairy gave them in their pockets.