Sunday, March 27, 2011

Incident at 96th Street: The Third Rail

Today while I was returning from a practica at Dardo Galletto studios, the A train arrived just as I reached the platform.  I thanked my lucky stars for having a short wait.  Together with a herd of other New Yorkers I boarded the already full train.  I was soon cursing those same lucky stars.  Full trains and crowded platforms mean one thing:  the train is experiencing delays.  We sat on the platform for twenty minutes.  The conductor remained mute.  He made no announcements explaining the delay, no repeated promises offering hope that the train would soon be on its way. 

Finally, the doors tentatively closed.  They slapped open and closed five more times before they made a final, successful attempt.  The train sputtered to life, chugging slowly beneath the Upper West Side. Around 96th street, it stalled again.  Then it inched past the subway platform at 96th street.  Someone muttered something about a body bag.  I was wearing earplugs (the decibel level in the New York City subway system is above the level deemed safe in some factories).  I pretended not to hear, imagined that the man referred to some other body bag, somewhere else, at some other time.  I had my back to the subway platform.  I didn't try to look.  Everyone in the train remained silent.  No one crooned necks, no one played a peeping tom to someone else's tragedy.  There has been too much bad news lately, in the Middle East, in Japan, with the economy, hell, we might as well throw in China while we're at it.  Personally, I have been dealing with a coop board whose recalcitrance has got me questioning my faith in others.

After 96th street the train made speedy progress to 168th St., where a woman boarded, sat across from me, and asked, how long have you been on this train?  I replied, forever.  I paused to consider whether I should fill in the gap, and then did, someone said there was a body bag.  That broke the silence.  The woman next to me (who had boarded at 125th St.), added, someone jumped, or was pushed, onto the tracks.  I was on the C train.  They made us get off and go upstairs while they turned off the electricity [the third rail carries very high, usually lethal voltage], and retrieved the body.  The woman across from me, shocked and seeking communion in her distress, looked me directly in the eye.  Sometimes words fail me.  I stuttered.  I leaned forward, distracted.  As I did so, an item fell out of the plastic bag I held on my lap.  A man standing near me bent over and picked it up.  Without saying a word, he tapped me on the arm with it, returning it to me.  I had not realized the loss.

That brought back the silence.  Such is life in New York City:  the tragedies and triumphs of life lived in the open,  the fleeting, subterranean sense of community.

Resources for those affected by this, and similar, events:

Samaritans of New York: For those in crisis, for friends and family affected by the suicide of a loved one, and to increase awareness about this issue:
Samaritans 24-hr crisis hotline: 212-673-3000

For those in crisis, or needing more information about suicide and related issues:

To find a counselor or therapist:

To find a suicide or crisis hotline in your state:

National Suicide Hotlines:
1-800-SUICIDE, or 1-800-273-TALK     

Monday, March 7, 2011

Rainy Day Central Park: Best Chicken Noodle Soup in NYC

Today the sky hung low, enveloping New York in a mantle of gray. It was as if the entire city had become smaller, its sounds muted by the clouds. Winter’s bitter teeth no longer tore at the air, though the wind drove raindrops under umbrellas. I decided not to care. I had woken with a cold sore, stomach upset, and an aching head. I wanted to wander. Pooch and I climbed into the car and headed to Central Park. Except for a few hardy souls who smiled in mutual complicity, we had the place to ourselves. Most of the hot dog vendors had gone. The family gospel choir, four children and their father who set up shop inside the arches of the Bethesday arcarde, were there. But they were sheltering from the rain and not singing.

Pooch and I headed to The Boat House. Here's an insider's secret: The Boat House (not the fancy, over-priced section, but the snack bar part), has the best chicken noodle soup in the city. It's made fresh, with big chunks of moist chicken, firm noodles, and thickly cut carrots, celery, and onions. I bought a cup and sat under the small overhang of the bar in the outdoor portion of The Boat House. I delighted in breaking a small rule: in fair weather, Pooch is not allowed in this part of The Boat House. I fed him potato chips while I ate my soup. I gazed at the pond, speckled with raindrops. Live piano music escaped from inside the cafe, harmonizing with the patter of rain on the roof. Birds had spattered the area of the bar where we sat, and uncaring smokers had scattered cigarettes. I decided not to care about either. I had the place and the view to myself.

Some days call for breaking rules and not caring. Especially if a view and the best chicken noodle soup in the city are involved.