One of my weekly rituals is my Tuesday night basketball game in Manhattan. I live in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, so to get to the game in the Lower East Side, I switch at Atlantic Avenue to either the B or the Q. The B takes me to Grand Street, where I walk to the game; or the Q takes me to Canal, where I switch to the M to Essex. But that’s neither here nor there. (Sorry, bad pun.)

Usually, during the B/Q leg, my head’s buried in a book or my iPod, but the other day, in the section of tunnel right before the train emerged from the Dekalb station into the open air of the Manhattan Bridge, I was idly glancing out the window… and I saw the coolest thing! Flickering by against a background of bright white was what I took to be a complex graffiti mural, something like you used to see in abandoned stations but rarely see in the subways any more. But as I watched the images unfold I realized this was much more than a long string of graffiti. The images moved, morphed, danced, and, at the end, took off in a rocketship! Here’s what it looked like:
(Don’t you love the running commentary?) I did a little Googling and quickly discovered this is a newly restored piece of urban art by Bill Brand called "Masstransiscope". It’s actually a zoetrope — individual paintings (in this case, 228 of them) separated by slits and "animated" by the moving train. Really ingenious — and a technique only over 100 years old, ya big dunce! (It also turns out the art was painted in an abandoned station, "Myrtle Avenue," no longer serviced by the MTA…)

So next time you’re on the Manhattan-bound B or Q, leaving the Dekalb station, keep looking out the right side of the train: you’re in a free Big Apple cartoon treat.



This dude was passed out on my train last night. He was gone! The amazing thing, though, was, that right before his stop (which also happened to be mine), he raised his head, opened his eyes, saw which station it was, passed out again for one more stop, and then popped up and exited the train with me. He tottered into a building a few doors down from mine to continue his night’s rest.

In high school, on the hour-and-a-half trip (each way!) I had to make from deepest Brooklyn to Spanish Harlem each day, I perfected that move; never failing (well, almost never) being able to awake from deep slumber right before 125th Street. But I never did it when I was drunk.

Kudos, giant yuppie man!

Celebrities & Cranks on the 2/3


Because I work at home, I’m lucky enough to not have to ride the NYC subways during rush hours. Instead, I end up on the trains at odd hours, or on reverse commutes, where I’m heading into Manhattan when everyone is coming back into Brooklyn. It’s a much different experience — not the least because the trains aren’t crowded, you can always get a seat, and you can indulge in one of the great New York pasttimes of checking out the other riders.

Ridin' the bum train


So there we were at 42nd Street, on the #2 platform, coming back from a day of X-mas shopping and a friend’s holiday party. It was about 1 a.m. and we’d already been waiting a while. Finally, the #2 rolled in. As it slowed to a stop, I noticed the car we were about to board was mostly empty, which was odd for that time of night, when so many of our fellow Brooklynites are returning home after their weekend revels. The reason why didn’t hit me until we got on board. The car was occupied by every NYC commuter’s nightmare, the stinky homeless guy!

Slumped into a corner two-seat bench, the rag-clad vagrant snored peacefully, unaware of the malodorous rays he emitted. Sari had already been feeling a bit nauseated that evening, and I was really afraid she might toss her cookies right there and then. So I steered her on past the man to the other end of the train. But, horrors! That end had one too!

This guy was leaning against a pole, balanced on a crutch, all greying rags, filthy beard, and noxious fumes. It was a battle of the bums! And the passengers were all losing! (The amazing thing to me was that some people were actually submitting to the stench, steadfastly holding their seats while being assaulted on all sides by the aura of decomposing garbage. Anything for a seat on the subway, I guess.)

Oblivious of the new MTA rule that you’re not supposed to move between cars while the train is moving, I pushed Sari through the doors into the next car. It would be worth being stuffed like sardines into a crowded car for the long ride home than to stand another second of the sickening stench. That’s when we realized that we were the victims of a horrible joke.

Entering into the new car, we almost collided with yet another fetid bum. And this guy was clearly the king of them all. Enshrined in his wheelchair and encased in layers of coats, sweaters, and scarves, his red eyes gleamed from behind his matted hair and bramble beard. He cackled in triumph at the terror — and dry heaves — he inspired in the poor sufferers around him. He was like the devil’s idea of Santa Claus. The smell of this guy reached new heights of rank, somehow combining landfill with cheese shop. It was truly awe-inspiring.

Eyes burning, we clawed our way past him, all the way to the other end of the car (past the huddled tourists returning from a Broadway show, hands over their mouths & noses, terrified eyes darting around looking for rescue), and again through the doors into the front car of the train. And there we found relief…

No homeless people in evidence, only the usual sensations of floors sticky with unknown substances, poles greased with other people’s sweat, and of course crowds of fellow survivors. The rest of the ride home was made more entertaining by the exchange of stories, jokes, and knowing comments about the running of the Bum Train 2006. And Sari never did lose her lunch.

The Senses: Touch — or, A Perv Moment


When I got on the Q train, right away I noticed an attractive woman seated in one of those perpendicular benches by the window. I ended up sitting near her, in one of the seats built along the side wall of the train, so she was looking right at me, in profile. I had gotten just a glimpse of her when I came in and had this weird desire to look at her again, but I couldn’t do it without being obvious. So I pulled out something and began reading. Of course, I was intensely conscious of her presence, whether or not she was looking at me, or what I was reading. (It was the latest issue of The Washington Spectator.) I found it really hard to concentrate because I became obsessed with this mystery person. What did she look like? Was she pretty? Did she wear glasses? What color was her hair? And did she even notice I existed?

Anyway, after going over the Manhattan Bridge, we arrived at Canal Street, and she got off, without a second glance at me. As she exited, I finally got to eyeball her: pretty, dark hair, glasses. But, just to make sure she had really been there, I impulsively reached out my hand to her seat and touched it.

It was still warm.

Get Your Red Cross Transit Strike Hot Chocolate Right Here


Image hosted by Photobucket.comMy friends at the Red Cross asked for my help when the MTA went on strike. So I showed up at the frigid base of the Brooklyn Bridge for yesterday’s “commute” home, as Brooklynites streamed back into the borough after their first full day of no trains or buses. (There were also quite a few folks going the other way, heading into Manhattan at that late hour. Tourists, I guess.) We set up three tables at the end of the pedestrian walkway, each one loaded with drink Cambros, and from about 3:30-8:30 P.M. (with about seven other volunteers), I handed out hot chocolate, coffee, and cookies to the throngs.

The Red Cross sent over an ERV to deliver and prepare the hot drinks, and stepping inside almost gave me flashbacks. Clearly, a transit strike isn’t a disaster (at least not one on the scale of a Hurricane Katrina), but it was great to be able to do folks a mitzvah, to ease their trip home. It was also a kick to don the vest and ID again, to be part of something.

After all my experiences in Mississippi, it was almost surreal to be doing similar stuff right here in my hometown. It was also nice to work with local volunteers, to be reminded that there are other New Yorkers in the Red Cross — and that they’re just as eccentric and irascible as the rest of us. Mainly, it brought back that incredible sense of wellbeing that only comes from giving something away. When you’re out there, distributing free food, you get visions of another (less complicated) world, a society where people just get what they need, no money exchanged, no questions asked. Paradise.

It being the first day of the strike, a sense of adventure was in the air, and even though people were tired and freezing, they were almost uniformly upbeat. I got more smiles and looks in the eye, more genuine expressions of thanks, more actual personal exchanges, than I normally collect in a year. Plus I spotted four friends, including deuxchiens and her man Doug.