The morning had been as usual as most any other. I tapped my way down the sidewalk at the appointed hour, and reached the subway platform about ten to six. It was warm down there, but at least there weren’t too many people. Half a dozen, maybe.
As I walked toward my regular pillar to wait, I passed a young Japanese couple. He was on the payphone, while she wandered in what seemed to be aimless circles around him.
I paid them little mind, took my spot, and stared at the ground. The air was awfully thick down there. After a few minutes of staring at the ground and making occasional pointless glances in the general direction of my watch, I noticed that the Japanese girl was on the move. Her boyfriend was still talking to someone on the phone, but her wanderings were now taking her down toward the far end of the platform. She was swinging her head to the left and right as she walked, as if looking for something.
“Miss?” a middle-aged woman shouted after her. In her slacks and Polo shirt, she looked like she was on her way to “casual day” at the office. “Miss?!”
The young woman stopped and turned around. “Yeah?” she shouted back.
“Are you looking for your bag?” the older woman asked. They were still some 30 yards away from each other, so they had to yell past me. “Did you leave it down here at this end?”
“Yes! Do you have it?” The girl was jogging back toward her now, smiling, clearly relieved.
But as she drew closer, the middle aged woman told her that the bag was no longer there, that the police had come and taken it away.
“What?” The girl froze in her steps.
“The police took it.”
“Ahh!” the girl cried. “But – but can I… where can… Ahh! Frank!”
Then she bolted up the stairs, emitting a small, panicked grunt with each step. I watched her go. Where exactly she planned to start looking up there, I couldn’t really say. Her boyfriend continued talking to whoever he was talking to for a few minutes longer. He seemed more annoyed by all the shouting than anything else. Then he hung up and headed toward the stairs to follow her. He didn’t seem nearly as excited as her. Perhaps he just didn’t care.
It seems the proverbial unattended bag, threat to us all, had struck again.
It was only then beginning to dawn on me that the train was late. No, it was worse than that. Since I’d been down there, no trains – neither uptown nor down – had come through the station. Not a one. And now I knew why. They were either holding them one station away or rerouting them until they knew for sure that the danger had passed, and that the Japanese chick’s bag wasn’t loaded with TNT or anthrax or cow dung. It also occurred to me that even though they were keeping the trains a safe distance away, they seemed to have no problem at all with letting the rest of us wait down there on the very same platform where that potential bag full of death was found.
Not that I was concerned about anything like that – I just found it interesting. Another facet of the MTA’s cut and run policy for handling emergencies.
Now consider for a moment the two major forces at work on the platform that morning: On the one hand you have someone so desperate, so intent on being a Good Citizen and getting a pat on the head from the cops that he or she was all too willing to drop a dime on a neighbor. Or in this case on an unattended purple Hello Kitty knapsack whose owner, in all likelihood, was nearby.
(I can’t say for sure, by the way, that it was a purple Hello Kitty knapsack – but I wouldn’t have been at all surprised if it were.)
And on the other hand there’s Ms. Oblivious over there. I realize it was still mighty early – not even 6 a.m. yet – and that not all of us are quite together yet at that hour, but my God. How out of it do you have to be to not only leave your bag on a New York subway platform and wander away, but to not even notice when the cops show up, scrutinize and securing the bag, and take it away? I’m amazed she’s remembered to breathe for this long.
I don’t like the fact that we’re told every time we turn around that we’re supposed to be all jittery about forgotten bags. I consider it useless and dangerous and unnecessary. But we are told that, and people are awfully susceptible. Given that, putting a bag down and wandering away is just plain stupid, and she deserves to have her iPod taken away and stomped on for it. But on the other hand, people who can turn stoolie so fucking easily just sadden me, and cut one more chunk out of my meager faith in humanity.
In a struggle between the criminally witless and those people who can’t ever seem to mind their own goddamn business, who wins? Not me, that’s for sure – I was the one who had to wait an extra half hour for the train that morning on account of their foolishness.
Assholes, both of them.
Later that afternoon, I found myself standing on a different subway platform. It was warm down there, too. It was warm all over.
When the train finally arrived and pulled to a stop, I began heading toward an open set of doors. The conductor was hanging out of his window scanning up and down the train.
As I passed him, I heard him mumble something. Figuring he was just mumbling to himself, I ignored it and kept walking.
“Excuse me?” I heard him say. “Sir?”
Still not sure he was talking to me, I stopped and turned. Then I walked back to him.
“That’s a hot car,” he told me. “This one over here’s got air.”
I looked back where I’d been headed initially, and saw the people lined up to get in. Man, they were going to be an annoyed, stinky bunch before too long…
I thanked the conductor, not exactly sure why he’d chosen to let me in on this, and stepped into the air-conditioned car.
I suppose it was a kind of snitching, sure, a sharing of privileged information. But at least this time the intent was decent.
Jim Knipfel is a free lance writer living in Brooklyn, New York. He is the author of the memoir, Quitting the Nairobi Trio, the Novel, The Buzzing and several other works. His new novel, Unplugging Philco (Simon & Schuster) hit the streets on April 14th of this year. His weekly column, Slackjaw, can be read at www.electronpress.com