Monday, November 12, 2007
Sitting With Soda: Osama Strikes in Rockefeller Center
I read an essay positing that miracles happen. A friend posted this thesis on Facebook yesterday, concluding that his ability to procure two chicken sandwiches six minutes past a restaurant’s closing time—at half cost, no less—evinces, in finality, that the miraculous is real. I happen to concur with this take on the arguably inexplicable, and I could elucidate hundreds of stories akin to his—stories which posit our universe’s preternatural tendency to cater to us, to indulge our indulgences. These stories are not just about chicken sandwiches at 360 seconds past zero hour, nor do they merely celebrate paying half price. These stories are the ontology of dumb luck: serendipity is real.
Such serendipity is how I came upon the most important cup of soda in the history of mass transit. At 3:00 am on Saturday night/Sunday morning, Sideburns and I (remember: Sideburns is a girl. Sideburns does not have sideburns) are taking the F train back to Queens from Manhattan. We initially navigate to the 63rd and Lexington stop, since it is the closest one to Queens. However, due to construction, the Queens-bound train isn’t running, so we take the F two stops downtown to Rockefeller Center, where we will be able to cross over to its Queens-bound iteration.
Upon our arrival, the Rockefeller Center platform has all the trappings of a late-night subway station: quiet, a little sad, hung over in the way that an underground, rat-infested nucleus full of transients is bound to be. In the scant hours that separate the nighttime frenzy from the morning order, the platform feels like the shell-shocked end of a once-raging house party. It is not the place for discourse, and it is certainly not the place for conflict; unlike the bellicosity that streaks the subway during daylight, the wee hours are usually softly humane.
In addition to the chance train stoppage that necessitated our being at Rockefeller Center, Sideburns and I are uncharacteristically tired. Resolute city walkers most nights, we opt for the benches—the second bit of dumb luck that facilitates our encounter with the esteemed soda.
We are exhausted, in an exhausted place, already steered out of our way, and battling malignant 3 am bitterness (I am, at least. Sideburns is suspiciously kind-tempered). There are two available seats at the end of the bench, upon one of which is perched a white paper soda cup, a straw jutting from the top. The soda, presumably, belongs to the young man sitting in the next seat, who looks to be about 23, helmeted by a red baseball cap and earphones. As I swoop in to sit, the young man glowers at me, but I don't think he is taking issue with my sitting. Every rule of decorum and courtesy demands that he move his drink so that I can sit. Which I do. He doesn’t move his drink, which is sitting against my left leg, lukewarm condensation rubbing off on my jeans. He murmurs something.
“What?” I ask.
“I TOLD you I didn’t fucking want you to sit there.”
[3 incredulous seconds elapse]
“I TOLD you I didn’t fucking want you to SIT THERE.”
This man is possibly homicidal, but there’s no way I’m surrendering my seat to a soda. Exacerbating the standoff is that I’m too perplexed to respond, so, for better or worse, I look like a badass, apathetically shrugging off his vitriol.
“That’s fine,” Sideburns chirps, and cheerily moves us to two seats on the other side of insane soda guy. I sit, again, in the slot next to him, this time on the side not housing a soda. He scoffs at me, collects his drink, and moves down to the very end of the bench. He is enraged, and perhaps mentally handicapped.
A first-year St. John’s Law School student is seated next to Sideburns. “That was the craziest thing I’ve ever seen,” he says, and we assent. The F train pulls up, and Sideburns, the law student, and I sit on one end of the car, while crazy soda guy sits on the other, glaring at the three of us.
“He hasn’t taken one drink from the soda,” I say. “Nobody buys soda in a paper cup to bring home. You buy a bottle if you bring it home. Why hasn’t he taken a drink?”
“That’s right, you don’t take a cup home,” says the law student. “He hasn’t touched his soda.”
We all realize that he's not drinking his soda now, and he's not going to drink it later. And he was irate that I came near the cup. We are stumped.
“Maybe there was gold in the cup,” I offer. “Or maybe a million dollars' worth of heroin."
“That’s right,” law student says. “How dare you, sir, sit in the same seat as his cup of gold? The terrorists have won.”
Indeed, the terrorists are winning. I encroached upon the autonomy of a cup of soda, I displaced its owner to the end of the bench, and my offense engendered a segregated ride home. To confirm my cadre’s insidiousness, oppressed crazy soda guy delivers an extended, deranged stare before bounding up the stairs at the Roosevelt Avenue station, out of sight forever.
“Will you ever sit in the same seat as a soda again?” asks the law student.
“No way,” I answer. “No way.”
“That’s right,” he says. “Or you, sir, are a terrorist.”
Stay Serendipitous, Subway Closures