I try. I belong to the neighborhood YMCA in the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn at which I work out three times a week. On the off mornings, I can often be seen running around the perimeter of McCarren Park. I subscribe to The New Yorker and Vanity Fair magazines and the Sunday edition of the New York Times—preferring the Magazine, the Book Review, and the Real Estate sections, though over the course of the weekend I usually make it through the whole paper. Two or three times per week, I receive DVDs in the mail and try to return them promptly, just as I make sure to promptly pay the rent. My clothing is usually clean, though I do confess to often wearing the same unwashed workout clothes to the gym for more than a couple of days in a row. Still, I visit the dry cleaners on a regular enough basis that the young Polska behind the counter knows my name and telephone number by heart. On average, I read one or two books per week, with topics ranging from poetry, fiction, belles lettres, literary nonfiction, and biography, though my taste leans toward Russian literature and satire. Each month I purchase a new unlimited Metro Card, because it is more cost efficient given my new Manhattan-based job and the humble lifestyle it affords me. I enjoy the confidence of several close friends, as well as a warm and generous social circle comprising writers, artists, academics, lawyers, musicians, public-policy analysts, PR flaks, editors, and publishing professionals. In addition to meeting at area bars and restaurants, we go to gallery openings, literary events, movies, concerts, museums, and the like. There are parties and the occasional wedding. By most accounts I think I would be considered a civil and well-adjusted person—perhaps even a gentleman—at least I try to be.
Recently, when I swiped my Metro Card at the entrance to the G train's Greenpoint Avenue station I was told to “Please swipe again,” so I swiped again. It was, however, necessary for me to swipe yet again. We danced this dance some seven additional swipes until the digital message on the turnstile changed to “Just used,” rendering my subway pass useless for the next eighteen minutes. But a helpful man in uniform servicing a turnstile to my right pulled out a special Metropolitan Transit Authority employee card and swiped it for me. Next, I was told by my turnstile that I could now “Go.” I thanked the MTA worker and he smiled back modestly—a pleasant exchange that I thought bode well for the rest of the day in particular and for humanity in general—then, I descended the stairs to the platform to await the train to take me to work.
A moment later I was hurrying to catch the train that had just barreled into the station. Because it is the shortest in New York’s subway system, the G train stops midway down the platform, often leaving its mostly Polish passengers scrambling to reach the train before its doors close again. So I found myself hurrying along with about three or four others. I was just starting a new job after a desperate period of prolonged unemployment, so I didn’t want to be late. Beside me, another desperate man yelled “Prosze! Hold the doors! Prosze!” He was at least sixty years old and was obviously struggling. A young woman’s heels clacked a desperate staccato against the concrete. An older, heavy Polish woman’s breath erupted in short, audible gasps beside me as she endeavored valiantly to reach the train before it left her behind to face the consequences—termination from her job? A missed appointment at the hairdresser’s? What did it matter? It was unfair, and painful to watch. I wanted to beat them all to the train so I could hold the doors so they could slow down and not have to work so hard. Then, a loud, forceful “Hey, I said ‘stop’!” rose to the fore of this commuters’ din.
Actually, the voice came from right behind me. It sounded so commanding that I was sure that it would literally stop the train in its tracks. Still trotting along, I stole a backwards glance to identify its source. It was a police officer, but he wasn't trying to catch the train. He was trying to catch me.
“Didn’t you hear me yelling?” he barked.
“No, I didn’t . . . sorry. Is something wrong?” I asked, panting after my run.
“How did you get in here?” He ignored my question. His tone was accusatory, his posture aggressive.
“Through the turnstile at the end of the platform,” I answered obediently, looking back just in time to see the train pull out of the station and leave the old Polish woman wheezing in its wake on the platform. At least the old man had made it. But why hadn’t he held the door for the woman? My efforts had been for naught.
“No, how did you get in here!” His eyes hardened and his lip curled a bit on the right, like a snarl, or it could have been just a facial tic because it recurred throughout my interrogation.
“I swiped at the turnstile down there,” I said, while thinking that I would be fired for sure, and imaging how difficult it would be to find another job when it came out that I had been fired because I had been questioned by the police.
“Let me see your Metro Card,” he demanded. Dutifully, I pulled it out of my wallet and showed it to him. He also took my wallet.
“Is this the card you swiped with, Mr. Kinsella?” he asked while looking at my driver’s license.
“Yes . . . no . . . I mean, it kept telling me to swipe again so the token guy swiped his card for me.” He was so loud and intimidating, I was beginning to stutter. I don’t know how the witnesses on Law & Order can always be so flippant when interrogated by the detectives of the Special Victim’s Unit. The cops show up at their place of employment with questions about a rape or other heinous sexual assault and they coolly go about their business as if they couldn’t be bothered, or as if their bosses couldn’t care less. Me? I was a nervous wreck. It’s no wonder the innocent confess to crimes they did not commit! It’s just easier.
“Token guy? There aren't any token guys anymore.” His lip curled again. He was right, of course. There aren’t even any tokens anymore, just these flimsy cards that never worked properly despite increasing fares and mounting surpluses; let alone cries of protest regarding public safety.
“Right, I mean the MTA guy who was servicing the other turnstile,” I corrected myself.
“And he swiped for you? Why would he do that? What's wrong with your card?” He sounded doubtful, suspicious, even. As a matter of fact, he looked trigger happy and nervous, as if I posed some sort of threat to him, which was flattering, but it made me feel uncomfortable all the same. It wasn’t the least bit of help that my license photo looked like a mug shot. He was huge, about 6 feet and maybe 280 lbs. For the record: I’m 5’ 7” and weigh about 150 lbs. When I'm nervous my stomach gets upset--even hurts. I felt like I was going to vomit then and there.
“My card wasn't . . . uh . . . working . . . so he . . . helped me.” I was getting so nervous I was struggling with my answers. I even sounded suspicious to myself!
“What's wrong with this one?” He boomed while holding out my card in front of him. It looked like a tiny Post-It Note in his enormous hand.
“I don't know. I think it was the turnstile.”
He looked uncertain, like he didn't know what to do, but he handed the card back to me.
“Okay, come with me to the end of the platform.” He took my arm and nudged me in the direction from which I had just come.
“But I've got to go to work,” I said meekly as another train barreled into the station.
“I said ‘Come with me to the end of the platform,’” he repeated angrily. “I'm searching your bags.”
“You’re searching my bags? But what for?” I still sounded guilty and as far as I could tell all I had done wrong was to have failed to hold the door for an elderly woman—but I had tried—unlike the old man! Didn’t that count for anything?
“I don’t have to tell you.” He was resolute.
I was carrying two bags. My mind raced to remember what was in each of them, as if I may carrying something illegal or even dangerous, which was unlikely. One contained my laptop computer and its many accessories; the other, my personal effects like eye glasses, a novel, an old The New Yorker magazine, a date book, some clothes, a couple of CDs. Nothing “bad.”
The cop pulled out my laptop computer, looked it up and down and asked, “What's this for?”
“It’s a computer,” I tried to be helpful.
His eyes narrowed and his lip curled on the right side again. He thought I was mocking him! “I mean, why are you carrying around a computer with you?”
“It’s for work.”
“What are you, a salesman?”
A salesman? “No, I’m a writer, sort of a reporter.”
“Yes, well I write for a trade publication, not really a newspaper—a Web site. So I really don't consider myself a reporter per se . . .” He didn't care. I was rambling. I ramble a lot when I'm nervous or upset. He had already moved on.
“There’s a change of clothes in this bag.” Proceeding with his search, he lifted a pair of dark-green corduroys, a blue button-down shirt, a t-shirt, some boxer shorts, and socks. I packed them up this morning thinking that it was a good outfit to wear to work tomorrow. My new girlfriend likes the pants and the shirt brings out my blue eyes, or so she says. I was hoping to stay at her place tonight, though we hadn’t made plans that I would. We had just started dating and I didn’t want to make any assumptions, but I was nonetheless hoping that I would, so I took a change of clothes for work just in case. Now they were strewn about on the filthy platform. Up to this point, my underwear had never been exposed on the subway. They had been my favorite pair--dark green with gold chevrons--and though clean, now they looked about as sordid as a used condom discarded on the sidewalk.
“They’re for work,” I volunteered.
“What do you need a change of clothes for? What’s wrong with what you’ve got on?”
“I might not come home tonight,” I answered, stating what I felt was the obvious.
“You might not come home? Why don't you know? What are you doing?” He was getting more and more suspicious of me--and aggressive. I couldn’t for the life of me think of anything I could have done wrong but I was scared to death about what would happen to me. My only crime was that I hoped to have sex tonight: a thought crime at best. I didn’t even want to move because I thought any sudden movement might give him a reason to shoot me and nip my new career and nascent relationship in the bud.
“I was thinking about staying over my at my friend’s . . . I mean, my girlfriend’s, apartment tonight.
“Which is it: your ‘friend’ or ‘girlfriend’?” His eyes narrowed when he caught me hesitating. It was a good question. While we had been seeing each other for a couple of months, I still wasn’t sure. I mean, as far as I was concerned, she was my girlfriend. But she was still on the fence. We had been friends for nearly a year. She was just coming out of a long-term relationship and wasn’t sure if she wanted to commit to anything serious just yet, which was understandable. I, however, was sure that I did. And though we saw each other several times a week, she insisted that she was just continuing to “make a mistake” and so prohibited me from calling her my “girlfriend” and, in turn, did not call me her “boyfriend.” And I’m sure losing my job because of a police interrogation couldn’t help my prospects with her.
“She’s my girlfriend,” I said, in a rare defiant moment, more so to her than to the 280-pound cop on the platform, whom I was fairly sure didn’t want to hear the details our complicated courtship.
“And you just happen to need a change of clothes?”
“Well, I don't want to . . . uh . . . wear the same clothes to work.”
“It wouldn’t look good.”
“What wouldn’t look good?”
“To wear the same clothes to work two days in a row.”
“Why not? Do you have something to hide?”
“Well...I guess, people would talk.”
“Why, because it looks suspicious?”
“No!” It escaped my mouth a bit too fast, like a confession! “Because my clothes would be dirty.”
“How would your clothes get dirty? I thought you said that you were a reporter?”
“Well, I don’t suppose that they’d be that dirty, really. But, I . . . uh . . . mean that people would know that I hadn’t gone home last night.
“So what? Why should you care what anyone thinks? Are you doing anything you’re not supposed to?”
“No, I just don't like sharing that kind of information with my colleagues.”
“What kind of information?”
“My sex . . . I mean, my private life.” Why was he putting me through this?! Why should I have to tell him that I hoping to have sex tonight?!
“Who said anything about sex?” He asked, screwing up his face in exaggerated disgust throwing my bag on the ground like he just realized he had accidentally picked up the aforementioned condom. But my answers finally seemed to satisfy him and he told me to pack up my things and get on the train. He left without even saying goodbye.
I hurried to gather my things so I could catch the next train, which was now pulling into the station. I made it just in time, just as flustered and out of breath as I had been just before my interrogation and the subsequent search. It was as if the incident had never occurred—let’s hope that my boss saw it that way.
Once in the car, I quickly set about recomposing myself. I slung one
bag over my shoulders and held the laptop case in one hand while I smoothed
out my sports coat with the other. That’s when I noticed that my fly was
down. I know very well that these pants have an unreliable zipper but they
look good on me. They’re slimming and fit well. And they look good with
my sports coat—they sort of complete the look. It’s just that when I wear
them I have to keep checking the fly. Is it up or is it down? Usually when
I check, it’s just starting to make its descent. Other than the zipper,
there’s nothing wrong with them. Unemployment had taught me to make do.
So I continue to wear them. But how long had it been down this time? Did
it happen just now, when I ran for the train or was it down the whole time
the cop was squatting down in front of me in the dark shadows at the end
of the subway platform, crudely handling my underwear, inquiring as to
why I didn’t want anyone to think that I might not sleep at home tonight?
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