When you live in New York and you leave town, you don’t know you take them with you. I had been in Central New York for a week. I was staying with friends, surrounded by green grass, trees, fresh air, and pleasant people in the town I was visiting. I was driven around by my friends in their cars and for a while, I regressed back into that comfortable, seemingly normal way of living. There was polite conversation, and porches, and children, and the relatives they belonged to. Everything made sense in that world.
After my visit was over, I said goodbye to my friends and took the Amtrak back down to the city without incident. But as soon as I got on the A train at Penn Station in the middle of an afternoon on a Monday, it hit me.
I was in a relatively empty subway car headed downtown. There were only a few other people there besides me: a guy scribbling in a notebook and muttering to himself, couple of teenagers tongue wrestling and feeling each other up through their clothes, and a man contorted like a pretzel so he could smell his foot.
I blinked. It occurred to me that they had been missing from the tableau of normalcy that I had enjoyed upstate. In the next second, I had to stop myself from almost saying out loud, “I missed you crazy fuckers!”
Even if they’re silent, the crazy people are always the loudest and the ones who seem to take up the most space. They peel back a layer or two of reality so that you sense something genuine about the human condition. Sometimes they don’t know they’re being crazy. It could be that they just stole a big bag of fish and they had to take it home one way or another. I’m sure that if we asked them, they would all have a workable explanation for what they’re doing. I don’t want to get into the psychology part of it too much. I’m more like a bird watcher, except I’m not watching birds.
So, not claiming to be an expert or anything, here are some of the crazy people subtypes that I’ve identified in my public transportation travels thus far:
• The Ones who Should be Scary but are Funny
A very angry guy on his cell phone, pacing up and down the A train at rush hour, repeating, “I’m gonna do somethin’ awful. I’m gonna peel his balls off and clip em!”
• The Ones who Should be Funny but are Scary
A homeless man sitting across from a girl, reaches into his cart containing all his worldly belongings and pulls out a French roll and a jar of mayonnaise. He rips pieces of the bread and dips them into the mayonnaise and eats them, all the while glaring at the girl, as if daring her to look away from him.
• The Ones that People Don’t Look Twice At
A man with a large nose, carrying a briefcase, dressed as a frumpy grandmother with support hose rolling down his hairy calves.
A man running into a subway car a split second before the doors close stands to catch his breath while he holds a black trash bag full of raw fish that has ripped and is seeping fishy water onto the floor of the train.
Two women sitting side by side, sharing a jar of pickles.
• The Fanatics
Otherwise known as the proselytizers. These ladies and gentlemen think it wise to undertake fiery, passionate diatribes about the hellfire and damnation that will surely befall all of the people around them if they don’t repent. The proselytizers like to speak or yell at unnaturally high volumes, usually in the early hours of the morning, and always in crowded subway cars or platforms in order to maximize the number of sinners they reach with their message.
• The Heroes
These are the brave souls that tell the proselytizers to shut up. The best example that comes to mind is one man whose name I don’t know, but who seemed to speak for all of us in the standing room only A train headed into Manhattan at 7:00 a.m. that was being (morally) hijacked by a very loud song about salvation. We were all suffering through it, when he interrupted the song with, “Aw hell no!” And then proceeded to tell the singer to shut the F- up because it was too early for that Sh-.
• The Pervs
Luckily, this is a subtype I hear about and don’t see with my own eyes. I have an acquaintance that claims that she’s been “wienered” many times by different men on the train. She was incredulous that I had not been wienered even once. We concluded that she must be a wiener magnet.
• The Lovers
Among the early morning weekend passengers on any subway train you can usually find those that are engaged in the “Commute of Shame.” Those who could not walk home from their random hookups, trying not to look embarrassed in the now crumpled clothes they wore during their conquest, bearing some of the battle scars of the night before, their eyes are glazed over from lack of sleep, sometimes accompanied by a slight trace of euphoria, and other times, by a world weary disappointment.
Then there are the people who commit to no more commutes of shame. Like the couple that was sitting at the front of the B65 bus with their bags of groceries at their feet. Something about the blue interior of the bus must have inspired the woman to ask the man, “Will you marry me?” And the man, slightly taken aback, to ponder for only a few seconds before answering, “Okay.” And then for the two of them to high five, and the woman, who was wearing shorts but you know wears the pants, to announce, “We just got engaged!” and for old the Caribbean ladies and the stray hipster and I to break out in scattered applause.