Miserable end to a miserable day. Three dirty martinis sloshing around my stomach with a dinner of stale popcorn, cocktail peanuts, and greasy olives. A sickening stew, so I threw in a couple of Twinkies for good measure. No buzz from the Grey Goose. Just a headache like a shiv between the eyes. Killer wave of sick on my horizon. Tried to drown my troubles, failed.
West Fourth Street in the Village. No cash for a cab. VISA’s maxed. Top of the stairs to the F train platform. Eleven o’clock on a Tuesday night. What the hell’s going on? Looks like Woodstock down there. Surging crowd, thumping din. I’m all the way uptown, but I need to get to the downtown end.
Dip one toe in. Just one toe. Come on in, the water’s fine.
Rhythm. Black boys bang out beats on buckets. Relentless. Staccato. Precise. A roiling river. Choppy, but pure. I wade deeper, fight the tide, kick up some wake. Faster, faster, heels click click. Pick up my pace. Pick up the beat. Exquisite pinching on my toes, but I let my hips swing – just a little. It’s easier to walk in stilettos when you do. Hasidic family’s watching the drummers. Crazy, furry footstool on the papa’s head. How many kids’ve they got – ten, twelve? What’re they doing in the Village on a Tuesday night anyway? Mama jiggles the baby on her hip in time to the beat. Bonk-ada-bonk-ada-thunk-thunk-BONK. We’re in sync, so I keep moving.
Come on in, the water’s fine.
Pounding sound fades, subsumed by a clinkity-clanky twang. “Jolene.” Instrumental version. Up ahead three burly beards in flannel shirts stomp their way through Dolly’s big hit on banjo, guitar, and stand-up bass. No vocals, but it’s got a rocking groove, the only freight train in this station. I like the tune, but my hips don’t swing. Bluegrass can’t touch your center of gravity. It’s a toe-tap, head-bob, thigh-slap kind of sound. Toward the middle of the platform the crowd thins out. A blissed-out bald girl with ink on her face and pennies in her earlobes does a spastic little thrash. I’ll bet nobody fired her today.
Come on in, the water’s fine.
Still no trains. B and D delayed. Hence the crowd. But I’m an F rider. I’ll be out of here in no time flat. Downtown end of the platform’s in sight, so I just go with the flow that carries me away from the dying plinkity-plink.
Tide washes in the evening’s final act. Is that an electric guitar? How’d he get plugged in down here? The other guy’s got a full drum kit. What kind of maniacs hump all that equipment all this way down? Somebody jonesing to play “Sexual Healing“ in the subway, I guess. Modern day Marvin Gayes with dreads and dashikis instead of ‘fros and disco drip dry. Wake up, wake up. Wake up, wake up. Singer’s got a voice like warm molasses, smooth and dark. Feels like it’s running down the back of my neck. Nobody’s talking down this end. Just standing, listening, swaying here and there. Full moon rising over Sixth Avenue and Montego Bay.
Platform starts to roll just a little so I lean up against a dirty I-beam. Dog-fur dry mouth, but there’s seltzer in the fridge at home. I close my eyes, for just a minute. No sleep for the wicked, so I open them back up and try to look alive.
Homeless couple dancing by the trashcan put me in mind of the number ten. He’s a lanky boney beanpole; she’s round and low with her cheek up against the soft spot between his ribs. They’re doing a raggedy box step in dirty house slippers. Hypnotic, kinda.
C’mon in, the water’s fine.
Underground the chop’s all gone; everything’s flowing smooth now. Bwah-wah-wah-WAH. Guitar Gaye just teased out a supple prelude to “Let’s Get it On.” Thrumming sound builds and the F finally rolls in, but I let it pass. Home can wait. I’m wondering what the hobo pair’s gonna’ do next. Maybe someone’ll ask me to dance.
Photo by InSapphoWeTrust from Los Angeles, California, USA (Subway musicians Uploaded by russavia) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.