Reading Rabi’s story about a really frightening encounter on a subway platform reminded me of my train ride downtown yesterday. I was on my way to something important, directly from school, and was tired and a little nervous. On the platform in the Bronx, a man was wearing a blue shirt that looked kind of like a uniform for some company, with a huge fur (fake? real? I have no idea) jacket over it. Definitely odd, but there’s nothing wrong with odd. He kept walking up to people and handing them Commerce Bank promotional pens without saying anything, but he didn’t offer one to me. I wondered if I didn’t fit the Commerce Bank demographic in some way, and if so, in what way, and whether the Bank knew about the fur coat that this guy was wearing over his uniform, and if they knew that he wasn’t really saying anything to promote the bank, and why you’d choose 3 pm on the 170th St. D platform for a promotion… but, you know, just idle musings. He continued handing out pens on the train, and then sat down in a seat roughly opposite me, put his head in his hands, and started to talk. I was expecting something about the great checking accounts or whatever – but no: I’ll kill you! I’ll KILL you! I’ll kill YOU! They got my son, my son is dead, they killed him! I’ll kill all of them, I’ll kill you, and so on. I tried to read and just ignore him, but it was really disturbing and I couldn’t concentrate. A woman sitting next to him moved across to my side of the car. Most people just looked away and went on about their business. He got up a couple of times, paced around, leaned in close towards some people and repeated his threats… but his eyes weren’t really focused on anyone, which made it less scary.
We get so used to people who are high or off their medication or never on medication in the first place, and we discount their words, assuming they are crazy but harmless. But as I sat there, I thought about the possibility that this man had a gun or a knife hidden in that big fur coat, and that one moment he might just get up and come for someone, and if I was sitting there, it might well be me, though he’d paid me no particular mind so far. And I decided to move to the next car. I thought about telling the conductor but didn’t, partly because the doors were closing and I didn’t want to get stuck outside the train, partly for the selfish reason that I didn’t want the train held up while they dealt with him, probably harmless, after all (at dinner later, my friend said, That’s so New York, you don’t want the train stopped so you don’t mention the guy making death threats on the train…). I sat in comparative quiet in the next car, until several stops later he entered that car, admonishing us not to tell anyone, Don’t turn me in! Someone in the previous car must have spoken up.
Not the most auspicious omen but the night turned out all right.