Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Subway Manners

When it comes to the various modes of transportation, to name a few, mankind has experienced horse-and-buggy, donkey, mule, camel, boat, ship, airplane, automobile, street-car and subway. From this list, I wonder which one peaks your interest. Let me think. Is it the horse-and-buggy or the subway? I have a strong feeling it is the subway so let's go with it.


As I look around, it would appear as if the New York City Subway is becoming like a fast food establishment when it comes to entertainment…stop, look and take in a scene as you go. On any given day, there is a battery of performers lining up to unleash their artistic qualities. To whet the appetite, in the line up are break-dancers, musicians, preachers, songsters, poets, comedians, incurable romantics, hard-luck story tellers, magicians and the list goes on and on. Keeping the business real, some performers are granted permission whereas others take a chance. Irrespective of what the rules are, I never cease to be amazed by the various scenes which of course includes those that didn’t even last as long as a snow ball in hell. In the end there is always something of value to take away from the scenes. Slice them, dice them, and select.

As a straphanger I have the opportunity to choose my slices as often as I can. Thus, as I write from the eyes of Subway commuting in New York City, I hope all is wise when it comes to health because in this modern era germs seem to be traveling faster than the speed of light. Unfortunately, I am not a healthcare professional therefore it is not my prerogative to outline the commandments of good hygiene or promote public health awareness. However, there are some circumstances which often force individuals to take certain measures to protect their well-being. On this topic, I stand convicted. At least nine times out of ten and I say this without any exaggeration, closing and opening doors in public places usually stir a sickening feeling within me after I discovered that I had collected unwanted materials on my hands. The hand bars and poles on the trains were no different. They too were coated with a lot of stuff which probably could have led to poor health on my part.
Whether or not this was the luck of the draw, I could not deal with the situation much longer. It was imperative that I shield my hands from germs that were lurking on doors and on the hand bars and poles in the trains. Consequently, I took a vow with paper napkins. I promised to have and to hold as long as I shall travel about. On the train, with my new habit in place, reactions from the straphangers began. Ever so often, I receive a wink or a nod of approval whereas others stare or commend me aloud. I remember one afternoon, as I went about my business on the train, a woman saw me holding the hand bar with a paper napkin and without any hesitation she told me that her husband does the same thing. I smiled, excited that I wasn’t the only person with such an idea. My excitement eventually reached the point where I considered getting rid of the paper napkins and use gloves instead. The gloves would be classier, showy, and in the long run more cost effective. Ultimately, I dropped the thought because first and foremost I reckon if any germ is trapped in the paper napkin, I can dispose of it before going home. Ensuing that, my purpose is not to seek attention. It is about an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.

On the flip side of the situation, maybe in conversations, I am referred to as the weird woman on the train, the woman with the paper napkins or the scornful woman. Some of my friends have one opinion. They believe that a little germ is good for boosting the immune system therefore they will not go out of their way to guard against it. Well, after careful consideration, I remain firm in my habit because it is noted that a puss and a dog do not have the same luck. In other words, heeding their advice could lead to my detriment whereas they remain as fit as a fiddle while they continue to meddle and dabble with germs.

The subway, if I am permitted to say, is a marvelous maze brimming with people like a vast garden of variegated flowers. Once in a while, in my path or on the train to be more specific, I encounter the stench of a bloomed vagrant, nose pickers who pick and flick and people who wipe their dripping noses with their naked hands and then daub the walls of the cars on the trains. The repeat offenders are also among the bunch. They are the ones who cough and sneeze over and over again without covering their mouths, corrupting the environment with their gush of breeze and spot of shower. Even though the behaviors of these people are troubling, now and then I will find the situation amusing because of their nonchalant manner. At another time I wish I had the guts to standup and reprimand those that are lacking in judgment without having to hear them say that the train is a public transportation and not a taxi or a living room.

Inasmuch as the train is not a living room, it certainly does not discriminate when it comes to nap time as we use it to go to and from our destinations. If a roll call was enforced for all the straphangers who nap or has ever napped on the trains, rest assured that I would be included amount the throng. I bring to mind the morning I entered one of the cars on the train and sat beside a rotund man who appeared to be dozing. One of my neighbors who happened to be there gave me a disapproving look as she stood and rested her hands on the hand bar above me. Maybe from his appearance he gave the impression of someone who would snore or drool or probably yell and hit while sleeping. Nonetheless, I ignored her warning and remained seated. I was too tired to be up on my feet like her.

The man stayed quiet in his seat while the train traveled along noisily and made its stops. This was a good sign so I pulled out a note book from my bag and began jotting down some thoughts. The train was approaching its fourth stop when the man shifted in his seat, drawing my attention. I turned around just in time to see him in a tilted position, resting sideways with his bottom turned up, aimed at me. With that pose, I knew his intention was dire and before I could escape he released the wind from his body with rapid precision, setting off a rancid odor and sending me to my feet. I went from shocked to laughter. I laughed until tears flowed while my neighbor and the other straphangers took action against the bad odor. Some pinched their noses in a tight hold. Some used their hands as fans while others fanned with books and newspapers...New York Times, Daily News, and New York Post and believe it or not I glimpsed a copy of the Jamaican Gleaner and Star. In the midst of all the excitement a woman took time out and looked at me in my uncontrollable state of laugher and began laughing too which then led to a chain of infectious laughter. The rotund man, now turned culprit, in the meantime showed not even one iota of guilt. He sat upright in his seat, with his eyes closed and his hands folded, resting on his chest.

Although the situation was disgusting, I could never compare this man’s behavior to the time when I was squeezed tight against a pole on a crowded train from 14th Street to Grand Central 42nd Street. I had absolutely no room to twist or turn as someone fondled me from behind. Only God knows who had assaulted me as the morning rush hour express train hauled and pulled us. Fear coupled with pride and took control. I couldn’t even muster the strength to scream. Silent tears flowed. The train ride seemed endless as I stood against the pole helpless, waiting to see Grand Central Station. Eventually, I heard the brakes screeching, then a halt and as the door opened I got off backwards…the only way I could.

Just when I thought I had seen and experienced the most blatant acts of indiscipline on the train, none had prepared me for the act that surfaced on the morning of April 9, 2009 as I traveled to work. It was Holy Thursday, the holiest day in the Christian calendar. Most people had taken the day off as a salute. I recalled the moral and Christian principles I learned from childhood which should be observed throughout the day and the following day which would be Good Friday. There should be no display of worldly behavior such as the playing of secular songs. No Beyonce’s If you liked it you should have put a ring on it, no Shaggy’s It wasn’t me or no Chaka Demus’s Young gal business control Jamaica. There should be no taking of the Lord’s name in vain, no profanities and avoid altercations. I should not say the word HELL because sometimes its usage can be unsavory. If I dared to use it, I should say H-E TWO STICKS just like my father did when he used it in the presence of children. To keep me poised in the Lord, I should be penitent and wear a solemn look as I reflect on one of the works of Handel Messiah…The Hallelujah chorus and also the popular hymn There is a green hill far away which can be found in the Moravian hymnal, the foundation of my religious being. I should also have my bible in hand ready to flip to Psalms 23, the all purpose Psalms, to denounce anything that is not pleasing in the sight of the Lord.

As I recalled some of the moral principles surrounding Holy Thursday and Good Friday, the train increased its speed in a frightening manner, changing my focus to the car that I was ridding in. My eyes roved from one end to the next. Eventually my eyes came to rest on the four digit car number in the rear…the perfect number to play in the daily win four games. I began planning, in my mind, that I would play the number at a lottery store as soon as I could. I would spend one-dollar on that number…fifty cents box and fifty cents straight. The dividend would be great if it played.

The plan sounded great and winning sounded even better but then it dawned on me that gambling is not in accordance with Christianity. I then turned to open my bible for good thoughts and in doing so I was astonished to see a pint-sized man with curly black hair, sitting across from me, scouring his nostrils with his pinkie. To say the least that was disturbing but my jaws dropped when I noticed that the name of a restaurant was printed on his jacket. Is he really a restaurant worker, I wondered or did he borrow the jacket. I looked away and came face to face with a burly man seated about two feet from my left. His complexion was cherry red, maybe the result of drinking too much Bloody Mary instead of tea or coffee. We both laughed as our eyes met. He too had been watching this brazen nose picker. We began talking to each other across the aisle, while the picker carried on with his act. “It seems as if he works at a restaurant, I said to the burly man. “I hope not,” he replied. “Look at his jacket,” I said. “The name of a restaurant is written on it.” “You are right,” he noticed. Our conversation grew louder as we looked at the man still carrying out his act. He had the most joyful look on his face as he pulled his body to the edge of the seat and dug deeper into his left nostril, screwing it with the pinkie on his right hand. After about two seconds he pulled out the pinkie, flicked and then rubbed it clean against the palm of his left hand.

Observing his filthy behavior, I decided that the time had arrived to take a stand for health’s sake. I checked the passengers in the car for people I knew, particularly Jamaicans because I was about to shed my prim and proper self and defy all the Christian principles in semblance to Holy Thursday, ultimately becoming a virago. Luckily the passengers were all strangers. My stop, 42nd Street, Times Square, was fast approaching so I had to act fast. I got up from my seat with my eyes set on the nose picker. He was still at work, totally absorbed in his world. I made one step, two steps, three steps…I moved with stealth towards him and without winking an eye I stamped my foot against the floor and then shouted, “Stop pick yuh nose, yuh nasty rass yuh.” He jumped, dropped his hand on his lap and looked up at me with an impish grin. I laughed, pleased that the good dose of down to earth Jamaican patois had taken effect. The train pulled in at Times Square 42nd Street at the right time. The doors opened. I looked at my burly buddy. His eyes shut as he laughed. I smiled and as I stepped off the train he wished me a nice day. The doors closed and I continued the final leg of my journey on the shuttle train to 42nd Street, Grand Central with the hope that the rest of the Thursday would remain holy.

Tah-tah! We free our minds when we are able to laugh at our calamities

Grace Dunkley-Asphall, Copyright © 2009


  1. Stop riding the subway Grace!

  2. Watch out for perverts on crowded trains. I knuckled one once and sent him running. It's a pity that we have to endure this kind of behavior as we go about trying to make our daily bread.

  3. Good job Grace! The part about you telling the man to stop picking his nose is hilarious...glad it worked!


  4. Thanks for sharing this, need all the laughter to get rid of the stress.