On the Subway: ‘Woiking Goil’

Yesterday on the A train I gallantly resisted the urge to snarl at a phone-addled bimbette who obliviously bounced her ugly bag in my face as I was trying to read. Clearly, my spot in the upper levels of heaven is now duly secured.

The incident reminds me of a piece I first wrote about in (Parenthetically Speaking), circa 1994, on the phenomenon of respect for individual space in a city as populous as New York:

I’m headed uptown to get to Columbia University, where I’m meeting with Margaret Barry, who heads the School of Business’s PR department. Margaret has hired me to write the annual report – a nice gig for someone who’s just landed in La Grande Pomme from the swamps of Louisiana a mere week or so before.

I need to connect to the One train from the N/R train I caught at 8th and Broadway (the stop nearest my first apartment in the City, on 4th Street). This will necessitate a swap at Times Square. I’m finally on the One train, which will take me the rest of the way to 116th at Columbia’s Broadway entrance.

There are only a handful of people in this car, since we’re past the morning rush. I find myself sitting opposite a late-20-something woman who looks like she’s an extra for the Staten Island Ferry opening scene of the movie “Working Girl,” (the very best opening scene of any movie, IMHO). Big Hair, long, polished nails, and lots of “stuff” with her – including a fishing-net catch-all bag that cinches all her belongings together.

I can’t see a kitchen sink through the fishnet bag, but there’s pretty much everything else: at least two pairs of shoes – one is high-heels and the other one is sneakers – what looks to be a Greek-flag-blue teeshirt with something white stamped on it, a big bottle of water, a box of Kleenex, and what I soon learn to be a makeup kit tucked inside a small pink fishing-tackle case.

As Working Girl pulls out the makeup kit, I am trying not to stare. The Guy Next to Me has no problem gawking. The train rumbles along the long stretch from 42nd Street to the Upper West Side. WG starts in with her foundation first. Then come the mascara and eyeliner. The GNtM is transfixed. I’m doing my best to be nonchalant – I’m now a New Yorker and we New Yorkers aren’t supposed to stare at people, which is considered more creepy than rude.

Anyway, WG is going full steam on what now looks to be her daily subway “toilette,” if the ease and naturalness of her movements are any indication. Now she is about to start spritzing her sizable crown of blue-black Big Hair, when she stops long enough to notice that GNtM simply cannot look away from her.

This is when I learn that my hunch that WG is most assuredly from Staten Island – she speaks: “I’m havin’ a poisonal moment hee-ya!” she bellows at the GNtM. “Do you moind?!”

“I’m havin’ a poisonal moment hee-ya!” she bellows at the GNtM. “Do you moind?!”

Now, I cannot help myself. I let out a yelping, “Ha!” before stifling myself, lest WG starts in on me, too. I’m trembling with giddiness that this has just happened in front of me. The GNtM looks at me, as if I have something to say that will soothe WG’s ire. My lips are pursed in a feeble attempt to compose myself.

The train comes to a stop at 116th and Broadway. My stop. I ponder the consequences of standing up Margaret at the business school. It’s just an annual report – that will pay me a few months’ rent! I get up and walk out to the platform. Inside, WG is gesticulating at the GFormerlyNtM. The train pulls out of the station. I can only imagine what happens next.


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