Friday, May 18, 2018

The $ Story

Jumping on the uncrowded six train, Bronx-bound, the pair quietly settles in across from each other, he next to a couple of Japanese tourists, she beside an older black man slightly the worse for wear.  Something catches her eye and she gazes down between her fur-lined boots to find a solitary one dollar bill.  With the impulse of a toddler her brain exclaims, "Mine!" just as her intuition buries the thought.  I can't have been the first to notice it, she thinks; this dollar has history.  Pulling her attention up, she makes eye contact with her friend, understanding he's arrived at the same conclusion.  Mercifully, curiosity begins to overtake her focus from her frozen bones.  The cool wind whooshing through the car picks up the bill and carries it down the aisle to her right.  The train begins to brake, and having already arrived at the next station, the doors open.  A young man, hand firmly grasping his impractical sagging pants, swaggers onto the train.  Spotting the dollar, he snatches it up and performs a brief yet spirited money dance, singing, "Money money money!  I got money!"  You'd think he'd won the lottery the way he was carrying on, not found a dollar on the floor of the New York Subway.  Cutting his celebration short, the older man sitting to her left jumps up.  "That's my dollar!"  "What do you mean it's your dollar?  It's on the floor way over here."  "It's for the homeless."  "Shiiit, I'm homeless!"  At that, the older man closes the gap with the younger, staring him down.  Money Dance wavers.  Obviously deciding one dollar isn't worth a fight with an old man, or the legal fees incurred proving possession actually is nine tenths of the law, he sucks in his breath, lets out a long, "Maaaaaaaan," and drops it, literally. 

Were a pair of monkeys riding unicycles and balancing plates on sticks to barrel down the train led by the Queen of England playing trumpet, she would not have been more entertained, or curious about the state of that six train.  The doors shut, the train picks up speed, and the old man takes to pacing the car, presumably standing guard over his dollar.  She feels this is the perfect opportunity for her friend to come sit beside her, provide some small shield to the scene as well as clever commentary.  She raises an eyebrow in his direction, but he gives one subtle shake of the head.  He seems to know this ain't over yet and is wary of getting on the old man's bad side.  Suddenly turning back on his heels, the old man reclaims his seat next to her, and the slightest hint of smug knowingness crosses her friend's face.  For a moment, she's in awe of him.  Never has she been out-intuitioned. The old man can't relax for long, because soon they're arriving at the next stop and he must again take up the cause.  The next unsuspecting stranger, black do-rag hiding both hair and emotion, looks more hardened than the first, yet takes a kinder approach, shocking other riders.  Bending down to pick up the dollar, he offers it to the man standing vigil.  "This your dollar?" he asks.  Practically growling, the old man says, "Put it back."  The young man looks perplexed.  "But..."  "I.  Said.  Put it back.  That's my son."  The eyebrows of everyone on the train, pointed towards their shoes, raise.  "It's for the homeless.  Put.  It.  Back."  At a loss for words, the young man takes the path of least resistance and releases the bill, takes a few steps forward and settles into the seat on her other side.  "You're not the first," she whispers under her breath.  He harrumphs.  The Japanese tourists giggle.

By now the dollar has made its way pretty far down the train, hovering by the pole just in front of the train doors.  Leaning on the opposite entrance, semi-dazed, the father watches over his son, ever the protector.  A sense of conspiratory community has overtaken the passengers: bound by curiosity and bearing witness, everyone is engaged, connected both to the dollar and each other.  For the third time the train comes to a stop and it occurs to her that this train's dollar story started some time before she boarded.  She had been a chapter for those who entered before her-the rare individual who didn't take the bait.  At this new stop, a man and a woman join the narrative.  With the old man hovering just beside him, the new man, looking both erudite and artistic, dips down to grab the dollar and offer it to the woman standing nearby.  "Ma'am, I think you dropped this."  She shakes her head: "Thank you, but no.  It's not mine."  The man furrows his brow, considers it a small stroke of good luck, and pockets the bill.  Collectively, the passengers of that six train pull in breath, waiting for the reproach they've come to count on, come to savor.

But it doesn't come.  The old man doesn't kick up a fuss, in fact he says nothing at all.  It is as if his son is dead to him, or maybe never existed in the first place.  A few passengers begin to look up, making tentative eye contact with the others.  Can it be? their eyes say.  After all that, he'll give up now and just let that guy have it?  Money Dance, feeling slighted, says what they're all thinking: "Well shiiit."

Based on a true story from the New York Subway, Decembery 30, 2017

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