Hopping turnstiles is wrong, I got that, so please spare me the morality lessons and guilt trips. I won’t even attempt to justify my actions by using the outrageous price of a single ride fare as an excuse. What I would ask is that you try to see it from my point of view. When I don’t have the fare and can’t convince an exiting passenger to give me a swipe, and can’t locate a guy who knows how to bend 1 or 2 trip expired metrocards to squeeze an illegal free ride out of them, when the overnight weather prevents me from sleeping outdoors, I have to find shelter somewhere and the subway system is the last chance saloon. It’s not without its share of risks though. Plain clothes cops are hip to the deal and bust fare-dodgers on the regular.
But that’s not the point of this post. I want you to sit right back and listen to what happened to me last night:
I’m not sure what it is about me, my genetic makeup, my lot in life, or if I just give off a certain vibe, but the truth is I cannot attract good people into my life and last night was a prime example. After midnight, when a few of the remaining public atriums shut down, I begin my shark prowl, always on the move, trying to build up ambient body heat to keep myself warm. It works pretty good for a while, but somewhere around 2:00 am the temperature begins a noticeable drop and the wind picks up and the only thing I’m looking for is a place to sit and shut my eyes for a couple of hours without being exposed to the elements and risk getting sick (homelessness and a cold/flu is not a good mix). So, I hit a subway station.
Depending on my location, I try to steer for one of the few stations that have a couple of spots to cop a squat outside the turnstile area. When I got to the station, I had company. There was a woman sitting not too far away. White, late twenties/early thirties, bleach blonde, pockmarked face. A once pretty woman brought low by a hard life. If I were casting a movie, she’d make a perfect junkie hooker.
As is customary when more than one person is waiting to hop the same turnstile, I played the waiting game, you know, see who makes the first move. What I’m actually doing is feeling out whether the other person is a cop or not. Under normal circumstances either a third party will breeze in no hesitation and hop (which if it doesn’t flush out a cop usually signals the coast is clear), or one of the potential fare-dodgers will admit defeat and leave, or bite the bullet, hop and hope for the best. none of these scenarios played out last night.
I unburdened myself of my backpack and attempted to get comfortable when leather-jacketed drug whore stepped to me and demanded to know what I was doing in the station. I’m a native New Yorker, which means my first response is to ignore strangers and the their unsolicited conversations. It was none of her business and I had no desire to explain myself. Boy, did she hate being blanked, but what did I care? I ignored her some more. Then she accused me of stalking her. Now, I was forced to respond.
I attempted to convince her that I couldn’t care less about who she was, where she was going, or what she was doing, but these things are really indefensible. Just how do you prove you’re not stalking someone? She insisted I was hired by someone (she never mentioned whom) to follow her. When she saw I wouldn’t be moved, she began berating me with every stereotypical insult a woman could hurl at a man. I was ugly, smelly, a loser who couldn’t get any pussy, yadda yadda yadda. Strange thing is, I wasn’t insulted. I just stood there and stared at her, head cocked to one side like the RCA/Victor dog staring at the victrola. I was trying to consider whether she was crazy or not, but I noticed something odd: as close as she got to me, she never touched me. All her threats of bringing me down low until she forced me to leave the station and she never once invaded my personal space. Also, whenever people came up to the turnstile she turned away and her attack toned down a bit.
It was clear she simply wanted to hop the turnstile but needed to chase me away. I’m sure in her world, psycho bitch clears the room pretty damn quickly, but I wasn’t going anywhere. I was tired from walking for two hours and sleep was nipping at the edges of my consciousness. Probably not the smartest move. I could have left the station and waited for the next train so she could hop in privacy, but simply I plugged my earbuds in and went back to ignoring her.
I can’t tell you what new batch of insults she hurled my way because The Pretenders drowned her out but I can say I’ve never seen a person turn that shade of red before. Seeing how unaffected I was, I guess she decided to up her game. As the next train arrived she made an unexpected lunge for my backpack. My assumption was she intended to sling it over the turnstiles, forcing me to either pay the fare or hop first. Well, you know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and psycho-leather-clad-prozzie-smack-heads. Her hand never touched the bag because I shoved her away. Wasn’t even aware I did it. I was on complete automatic, protecting my bag. It’s the last of my worldly possessions and nobody touches it without a fight. She was a tiny thing, 90 lbs. soaking wet, and she was more than a little shocked that the shove moved her back so far.
I unplugged the earbuds and the verbal assault was going full force. She swore on her family’s life that she was going to make me leave. I told her she could rant all she wanted, as long as she didn’t touch me or my belongings. She made another half-hearted attempt of grab my backpack and I was forced to put it back on (the thing weighs a ton and my back was aching). Then it dawned on me: in shoving her, I physically touched her, which was technically an assault. And just like that, my mind began traveling down a path that did not bode well for me. What if she claimed I attacked her? Attempted to sexually abuse her? All because I wanted to find a place to sit and recharge my body and brain for a few hours.
Again, I should have left. If this were a movie and I was sitting in the audience, I’d be screaming at the screen, “Just walk away, you moron!” What did I do instead? I dug into my pocket for my iPhone that hasn’t had service in over three years and pretended to call the cops. She dared me. This woman was so committed to her cause that she was going to call my bluff. As I had begun the stupid charade, I engaged in a mock telephone conversation with a 911 operator. She stood her ground… but the yelling stopped. She paced the station as I told the imaginary operator where I was and relayed the entire interaction. She was actually going to make me play this through to the end.
When I began to describe her, the sluice gate of insults started up again and I held the phone out in her direction. “Can you hear her? She’s crazy. I’m afraid someone might get hurt or worse.” And that was the clincher. Leather Tuscadero pivoted on her studded boot heels and left the station, cursing all the way.
I got extremely luck that time, I’m well aware of it. Maybe next time I’ll have the common sense to just walk away.
I doubt it, though.
Until next time, I sincerely hope I don’t see you on the breadline.