Posted By: John Black
Life in Manhattan is give and take. It’s love and hate, and it’s all about having the ability to balance out those two extremes while doing your best to not become a complete and insufferable prick in the process. I can pinpoint the exact moment where I realized that I had a love/hate relationship with my city.
I’ll paint the picture: It’s December, 2015. The ever-maddening Hallmark holiday season is in full swing. There are tourists as far as the eye can see; they’re on every street corner, crammed in to every store, packed to the very brim in every subway car. Still, the unique thing about the city during the holiday season is that you can be surrounded by millions of people at every turn, yet still be so depressingly lonely.
I, being a 28-year-old male who, I’m pretty sure hadn’t had a good romp in the bedroom for months at the time and had been single for two years, in one of the busiest cities in the world? Yeah, it’s safe to say I wasn’t feeling in the Christmas spirit. I had just survived one of the worst years of my life, and like most people who frequent the major transit hubs in New York, all I wanted to do was just get the hell home and self loathe in the privacy of my own abode.
I was standing by myself at the F Train station in the basement of Macy’s on 34thStreet, pretty much Ground Zero for all of the holiday hubbub. I always tend to gravitate towards music in the subway when I hear it because, well, duh. I could hear the sounds of old Motown echoing through the tunnel from the other side of the track, so of course I started to make my way over towards it.
As the sound drew closer, more clear, better focused, I peered past the people on the platform, through the clutter, to see an opening in front of a staircase where a solo singer stood, singing along to a karaoke version of an old classic through a portable speaker powered by an iPod. I struggled to remember the name of the song as I approached, but I had heard it so many times before.
One thing I’ve always loved about music, and its power, is that it can take you out of whatever funk you’re in and transport you to another place and time entirely. Which is exactly what it did for an elderly couple sharing the platform. Upon hearing the song begin, the two of them, seemingly minding their own business, lit up like the sun, kissed each other, and told the singer, “Louder! This is our wedding song!”
There, right in the bowels of Hallmark heaven, in the dirty, rat-infested, overflowing trash-filled subway station, the couple gleefully shared a dance with one another. They could’ve been anywhere in the world and it would not have stopped them from sharing that moment together, transported to another place and time entirely, as if it were their first dance as husband and wife all over again. The soft sad sack in me nearly welled up in tears as I watched that wonderful scene unfold alongside any number of total strangers that now also shared in this beautiful display of decade’s worth of love, manifested right before our eyes spontaneously. “This is why I live in New York.” I thought to myself.
I watched for a few moments, almost voyeuristically, getting a brief glimpse into the life and times of this aging couple, before starting to feel odd about staring and moved on.
As I walked towards the other side of that same staircase, the scene changed drastically. There, right on the flip side of where the couple danced in front of the singer, moving along to that very same song, was a dirty, smelly hobo, wildly and enthusiastically flailing his exposed genitalia in circles to the beat of the music.
In that moment, uncomfortably witnessing a deranged lunatic wave his steadily hardening erection to horrified, unsuspecting passerby’s in public, I thought to myself, “I need to get this hell out of this miserable hell hole.”