Literate Panhandlers

Overheard on the Subway

At 77th Street, a guy walked onto my car on the 6 Train.  He had stringy black hair, curly, hanging off his head in wisps and carried a small, 2-foot bamboo baton he kept slapping into his left palm.  All of the riders straightened up, our hackles raised.  This new fellow straphanger looked to be trouble.

He put his back to the door and glared out over the rest of the train.  Mr. Christian,” he screamed.  Mr. Christian!”  He looked around the train again and broke into ‘Tracks of My Tears’ by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. 

Once the train pulled out of the 68th Street station, he was back at it again.  Casting me adrift thirty five hundred miles from a port of call. You’re sending me to my doom, eh? Well, you’re wrong, Christian! I’ll take this boat, as she floats, to England if I must. I’ll live to see you – all of ya – hanging from the highest yard arm in the British fleet!”

After the next station, he started in with Motown again, this time a Martha and the Vandellas tune and then back to the 1935 version of Mutiny on the Bounty.  Frankly, I was impressed.  I looked up at the guy and he definitely had the look of a street hustler.  Dirty beige slacks, torn sneakers and tattered black shirt, complete with beaten up coffee cup, people should have been moving away from this guy.  Hell, he even had the stench of a human being who disregarded the concept of the shower for a year, minimum. 

Yet, my fears about what this guy was capable of doing waned.  Perhaps it was his desire to be Charles Laughton, a film star from the 1930’s or maybe he just seemed like another one of those guys who communicated by quoting movies.  Whatever the reason, even though he was armed, he appeared to not to pose a threat of any kind.

“I’ll live to see you – all of ya’ – hanging from the highest yard arm in the British fleet,” he screamed at several of us as we left the train.  He did, however, shake his bamboo baton at us in a teacher like fashion.  Now that got to me.

So this is the new crazed street guy for the 21st Century, film obsessed to the point of being didactic in his threats.  Somehow, I flashed on my 6th grade teacher Ms. Crosby wagging her finger at me because I forgot my book report.  I wonder, because my fellow riders and I seemed to upset this guy, does that mean we can’t go to Camp Dearborn with the rest of the class?



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