Notes from the G train . . .
Couple with two kids. Dominicans, Puerto Ricans – and very fat, not flabby fat like white people from small towns or the burbs, but ghetto fat, people who don’t drive but consume very bad food. Tough-looking, not unkind but dulled.
The kids were maybe five or six and keep acting up. First the mother tried to control them, then the father intervened, growing more exasperated as the boy talked back and finally the father who I guessed was actually just a boyfriend of the woman gets up and grabs the kid’s ear and gives it a twist. Not a hard twist, but just enough for the kid to yell, then cry with no tears, yelling at the boyfriend who sits down and yells back, “don’t you be yelling at me like that in front of people, don’t be making a fool out of me!”
The white people on the train glance over uneasily, wondering if they should intervene as the kid yells some more at the boyfriend and the boyfriend looks more and more angry and exasperated, everyone wondering if he is going to attack the boy, if it is right to twist a little boy’s ear. But even if I grew up with violence in the home, I am not entirely unsympathetic to the boyfriend since the boy is out of control, jumping up on his seat, hitting his sister and making her cry, ignoring his mother. I thought, what could the guy do?
The guy looked around wearily, but the tension had dropped and everyone went back to staring at the ground. Even with the warm weather, white, black, Hispanic, whatever looked tired, drawn – even defeated – I didn’t think I’d ever seen New Yorkers as beat down as this winter and the whole scene, the family, the train, depressed me.
Then, on the upper platform of Bedford-Nostrand, I heard a violinist. I didn’t register him at first. After everyone had walked ahead of me off the train, the station was almost empty and I almost walked by, closed off in that way you get in New York. I noticed the sound, ringing off the station walls, filling the dank space of the station, and one guy standing alone, his head covered with a hood, his violin case half full of bills. I gave him a dollar and leaned against the wall to listen. He was playing something that sounded like Bach, and the sound was as full as a violin playing in a concert hall, so full and loud I could feel it all around me like a vibration or a liquid, feel it trailing down into the platforms, through the metal bars into the halls and up onto the street.
When he’d finished I went up and thanked him. He had an accent and looked like he came from southern Europe. I asked him if he played in the station all the time and he said no, he’d been on the subway and stopped at random then been amazed by the acoustics so he’d stayed.
I didn’t get his name. He said he’d be back but I never saw him again.