Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Notes from the Underground


I see these two whenever I take out my wallet in search of my Metrocard; and each time I think, “oh, yeah, them…”

“Them” is a photograph of a couple; a man with a shaved head, kind of like yours truly, his arm around a lovely dark-skinned woman, who is possibly Hispanic or South Asian.

The man is wearing a dark suit, a white shirt and striped red tie. I can’t see what the woman is wearing, but she has a terrific smile.

I love you!” is written in fading ink on the back.

I have no idea who these people are, but one of them went through the Rector Street train station at least once because that’s where I found this photo. It was face down on the warning track at the platform's edge that tells riders if you step beyond this point you’re going home in a sandwich bag.

I don’t know why I picked it up, seeing as how I’m a hyper-hypochondriac and your average subway station floor could double as a germ warfare laboratory.

I can just picture my late mother seeing reach me down for the photo and shrieking “don't touch that thing!"

I thought about putting the picture back on the ground where I found it, but, in addition to being littering, it just didn’t seem right to chuck it back in the filth. I mean, “I love you!”—that exclamation point makes it serious.

I put the photo on top of a payphone and started to walk away. But if the couple came back, I knew they would never look there.

I wondered if I should turn it over to the station agent, but there were no names or phone numbers on it, and it seemed foolish to hand over a picture.


Maybe the former owner doesn’t want the thing back. Maybe they had a nasty break-up and the injured party hurled the photo to the ground and got on the train sobbing and cursing the other’s name. It is a thin line between love and hate after all.

So I put the damn thing in my wallet where it remains to this day. Now I feel like a voyeur by proxy or a low-wattage degenerate. I don’t want this picture in my life, but I can’t seem to toss it.

I’ve never met these people, but I’m really starting to dislike them. Why didn’t I listen to my mother?

Make A Note of That

I know what it's like to lose stuff on the subway. I recently lost a prized notebook somewhere between Rector Street and 86th Street in Bay Ridge and I still can't believe it.

I carry it around to write down ideas, dreams, thoughts, impressions, bits of overheard conversation, ravings, fears, movie and book titles, and the occasional doodle. It’s kind of like a transcript of my psyche.

I started doing this years ago because I got tired of forgetting ideas or writing them on paper napkins and junk mail envelopes. I slip the notebook into my jacket pocket or my gym bag every morning and off I go. When a bolt of inspiration strikes, I’m ready to take it down.

I’m never without this thing—until one recent Monday evening.


I was running late for an appointment and I did my usual nutbag-psycho-curse-under-my-breath routine as I scurried down to Rector Street.

Naturally I had just missed an R train so I sat down on the bench and took out my notebook. I wanted to write down a description of two sign-wielding men whom I had seen outside St. Paul’s Chapel on Broadway.

One guy was leaning up against the church’s iron fence with a small cardboard sign reading “Stranded, Broke, and Looking for a Miracle” beside him.

Just a few feet away, directly in front of the stranded guy, was a local fanatic whom I’ve seen before, wielding his placard that said “Stop Fornicating...Repent…Stop Sinning” and ending with “Jesus Loves You.” (No exclamation point.)

I decided to make a note about them, so I took out the little book and started writing. The train finally showed up, I got onboard, and took a seat.

Somewhere along the way I fell asleep and I remember waking up suddenly, convinced I had dropped something. But I saw nothing when I looked around, so I thought I was okay.

I remember getting off at 86th Street and idly regarding a young woman with a bright red streak through her hair and four rings dangling from her lower lip.

I stepped off the train, walked toward the stairs, put my hand in my jacket pocket and found…nothing. My notebook, the raw material of my brilliance, had vanished.

I quickly looked into my knapsack, looked around, while the train prepared to leave the station. Get back on the train, my brain screamed, get back on the train now before it leaves.

But I hesitated for one elastic second, long enough for the doors to close. The train pulled out and I stood there with an empty pocket and escalating blood pressure.

I ran up to the next station like an aging purse snatcher, but the work crew had already cleaned out the train and they didn’t find anything in the trash bins. I was stranded and looking for a miracle, but nothing came through.

I know something like this happens to all writers sooner or later. And to be honest, I think the quality of a lot of the material in that notebook was questionable.

Often I can’t read my scribbling and when I can, many times I wonder what the hell did I write that down for? I’ve got a new notebook now, but it’s just not the same. And it bothers me that some fornicator may have my idea book.

I keep meaning to post a notice about my missing notebook on the MTA’s Lost and Found site, but I’m having trouble figuring out how to do it.

This morning I reached for my Metrocard and found myself looking at that happy couple. I’d like to run into these people someday and tell to be more careful with their goddamn pictures so I don’t go through this misery again.

Then I’ll ask them if they’ve seen my notebook.

7 comments:

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Rob K said...

Wow! Thanks to both of you for reading my post! I'm really touched by your insights. Stop by any time!

Brenda from Flatbush said...

LOL! Yes, I get some of those insightful comments on my blog, too. Your found-photo story reminded me of my Dad. Sometime in the 1940s, he glanced down at the Manhattan gutter and saw a funeral Mass card with a tiny picture on it of this pug-nosed 30-something Irish guy. He looked like an irascible punk, the kind of guy "only a mother could love." My dad stuck the card in his Catholic missal (where one kept cards in those days to remember to pray for the dead), and prayed for the guy on All Soul's Day for the rest of his life--because, he said, that mug looked like he needed the prayers to get out of Purgatory, or perhaps had no one else on earth to remember him.
Who knows what your found photo will say to you...or what your found journal might inspire in someone else!?

Rob K said...

Thanks, Brenda. That's a great story about your dad, praying for a total stranger. I hope my journal inspires someone to do great things.

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BestViewInBrooklyn said...

Fabulous story. Both halves. Just think, without losing your notebook you wouldn't have the story. Of course, you may also read en eerily familiar tale in The New Yorker...