This is a story about memory, in its full life and in its casualty. It is a recollection of “maybe”s and “probably”s and “most likely”s and “yeah, I could see that happening”s. It is a story about a stupid man living in a new city, afraid to be frugal and content with being cheap. It is a story about subways, of drunkenness, of stolen identity and, ultimately, of letting go.
And there’s enough wood in the pit to take you there.
He was in the Lower East Side. During his first year getting used to the lay of the land, the mostly young man had the energy to go out more often. Seattle had provided a home for the previous 24 years of his life and he had left for new beginnings in the Big Apple. Apparently growing up in a state full of them just wasn’t enough. New York’s “LES” had a street that provided a familiar backdrop to one of the many he had grown accustom to frequenting in Seattle. Ludlow Street might as well have been Capitol Hill as far as he was concerned. Same vibe. Same people and atmosphere. And the cherry on top? This particular night he was spending it with many of the same people who had attended his college and had grown up in or around the city he was raised in.
It was first and foremost familiar.
Whether they were at Piano’s or No Fun really doesn’t matter. It’s not certain whether they were at one or the other. What is certain is they were at one of them.
Debauchery. Drinks. Alcohol. Consumption. Shots. Bodily response. Seesaw. 180. Upside down. The night had begun and was quickly spiraling towards its inevitable ending. Exit Pianos. Exit No Fun. Pizza. Cheap. Dollar slices. More dollars. Uber. Subway. Transfer. Construction. Uber? Goodbyes. Subway.
As the communion of friends came to a close the next chapter was just beginning. The man walked to the train. It could’ve been the F. It could have been the M. It could have been the J. As long as he could transfer to the D at one point he would have been fine. So, that being said, we can eliminate the J.
So the man gets on the F or the M. (I still can’t decide which one it was). The trouble is I know it revolved around Delancey or Essex—but, of course it did, because the F and the M run through there.
He’s at the subway station. It’s packed with people. There’s a fight happening. People observe and, through their willingness to watch, egg the opponents on. The homeless and temporary homeless from the night of downing mixed drinks sit on the benches like discarded dolls on the edge of a bed. The fight ends and trickles out of the turnstile (was it just play fighting?) and the train arrives, leaving the station to take on a new life as a suddenly spare cemetery that would receive a new shipment from the stairs in the coming moments.
The man had the right idea on this F or M train, but then again he can thank the 2:00 crowd for that. Despite holding onto the pole for dear life, the hypnotizing say of the train was working its lullaby magic, making drowsy eyes turn to syrup and eyelids turn to sludge. Luckily, the Broadway-Lafayette transfer point provided a sudden awakening—making sure that he didn’t end up in Queens.
Did the D come soon after? It’s anyone’s guess. Perhaps if we pulled up the MTA records of that fateful day in August or September 2016 we would learn if the late night train arrived at its scheduled departure time, but the most important piece of info is that, at one point, it did come.
It was on the D train that the young man in the black Levis pants would sit down and start a conversation with the sister of Selenis Leyva of “Orange is the New Black” fame. The younger sister was very pretty and pretty tipsy, herself. The fatigue of the deepening blood alcohol level and lack of sleep was one thing, but the swaying flirtation of the pretty lady in front of him was entirely another. It was friendly. They connected immediately, but there wasn’t much to it beyond that. Cute introductions, slurred sentences, a giggle here, a giggle there, maybe a “this is my sister” at one point. Before they went their separate ways, they exchanged phone numbers. Isa, continuing on her way to the Bronx, and the man, on his last open eyes, was left to the final transfer, from the D to the A at 145th St.
The A. The goddamned, fucking A train in all its misery and glory, waited, like an imminent nightmare, to arrive. Equipped with the darkening sky outside and a screech of impending doom, the A train slid to a halt like the Night Bus from the Prisoner of Azkaban. Assuming the man was conscious at this point, he probably would have thought to himself that he had merely five stops (on the now late night local train) before his 181st St. exit. He’d be just fine, he thought.
The darkness of night was becoming the pink of dawn burgeoning like an Alice and Wonderland Rabbit Hole that had grown fed up with a world below and couldn’t wait to demonstrate a bad trip of kaleidoscope dreams and coral reef rainbows to the world above.
Underneath the man’s eyes.
155. 163. 168. 175. 181.
Inwood, 207th St.
When the man awoke he didn’t know where he was, but he did know there was no more going left for the train. All around him were mostly men, young and old, drunk and sober, but all tired, all asleep in varying positions of slumber. The man, who had been seated at the middle part of the subway car, but at the end of the row, slowly got to his feet and stepped out of the doors, which had been left ajar for the people to enter. He looked left and looked right. He had missed his stop. He was at the end of the line. Inwood 207th St. It was around 4:30 in the morning. As he was heading back to the train to grab his seat again, he remembered that his phone was dead and had been dead for quite some time. It was resting safely in his right side pocket that had been protected by the side of the row. For one reason or another this led him to his second realization, that his left pocket was no longer a pocket and had been cut open by way he couldn’t fully wrap his head around. His left pocket was dangling like a cast-away flap and what was no longer there was his wallet. His wallet. The wallet. And everything in it. Still drunk and practically sleep walking, the man semi-rushed to the booth at the entrance of the station to tell the man within the booth what had just happened.
Somebody. Somebody cut my pants. They stole my wallet. Somebody stole my wallet.
The man behind the counter was so unhelpful that it does not bear repeating what he said. Or didn’t say. Useless.
Either way, the robbed was shit out of luck. He felt exposed. Naked. Conned. Taken. And in a walk of shame that probably lasted a lot less than it felt, the man returned to the train and found a seat. Awake this time. He scanned the entire subway car. Nothing.
Inside he was hating himself. Doling out blame for being so stupid and at the same time he was spouting internal invective, cursing out all the people asleep on the train for not doing anything to help.
At one point the doors closed and the return commenced. And the sobering train stops to 181st hit like one subsequent ton of bricks that was collected and remounted only to fall again at the next stop. Right on top of the man’s head.
A second walk of shame lasted an eternity. From the train station to his apartment. Luckily, nobody was on the street to see his exposed underpants and single-pocket pants.
This is the type of story where, if a man was living on the sixth floor of an apartment, the elevator would be broken. So let’s say it was a broken and he walked up those six flights. Each floor a silent echo wailing, “Take the uberrrrr.”
The opening of his apartment, the walk down the railway style hallway to his room, the taking off of his shirt, the deriving of his pants (or, what used to be pants), the calling of his credit union. Gavels without the strength to be heard loud enough. Soft percussion that hurts inside, like a heartbeat gone quiet. Card cancelled. No purchases.
So was the wallet, which would have contained a few dollars at most, simply discarded when the thief knew the debit card would be cancelled shortly thereafter? Was there no desire to return the item, at all? Was the thief hungry or making his Saturday Night Rounds. An aged veteran simply reminding himself that he was still the best in the field. A quiet assassin. Wee hour validation.
Now that he had the time, despite really just wanting the night to end, he realized that it was not the wallet he missed, but the particular things inside of it. His drivers license and ID, clung-to memorabilia that felt snatched away like a stolen memory, his college ID (both versions), years of his life gone, random cards—business and leisure of people that mattered to him like siamese twins attached at his hip. The ten bought slices of pizza, stamped on hard paper that would earn him a free slice back home in Seattle. All that effort. All that pizza. All that excitement and anticipation. Gone. In the gutter of the tracks next to the maggots and the rats.
He woke up the next day from a nightmare that was real.
He kept the pants. There was something about them he couldn’t let go of. The memory. The desire to feel like he won. Like he wouldn’t be defeated, perhaps? Like he had something to keep. His mom was generous enough to sew the gaping hole and make it function as a pocket again, so he continued to wear them for the next few years. The new materialized “L” over what had been just a pocket of denim black was like a purple heart or a battle scar. A symbol of survival.
And what of it all?
The longer he thought about it the more he became impressed and scared, honestly. He had been asleep. Completely vulnerable. Like a surgeon, the thief had used what was probably an exact knife or box cutter to cut open his pocket and get the wallet from the exposed pocket. He probably would have gone after the phone too had it not been so inaccessible. He was lucky in that regard, the man thought. Although, would he have switched his phone and wallet, in retrospect? Absolutely. Phones. Replaceable machinery. And the stolen leather and plastic contents. There were—. Sigh.
What would have happened if the thief hadn’t been so professional? If the knife hadn’t been incised so perfectly? If he/she didn’t have a stable hand? I mean his penis and testicles were right there. Frightened neighbors probably trying to communicate with the brain, in some form or fashion, pleading for the brain not to wake or to stay asleep, but all in a hush whisper. For the sake of communicating at all, in the near future…
Seriously, if the man had stirred even a muscle would the minerals have been severed forever? What if his eyes had opened? Would he have had the presence of mind to simply observe and not do anything? To not react? Would he have held the gaze? And if the thief had sensed the man’s eyes looking down at him? Would he have returned it? Would a game of chicken commenced? Ah, that was the question. A never-ending list of scenarios that, for his sake, he was probably thankful he wouldn’t have to watch unfold.
Three years later his waist lane had thinned. The pants were no longer black but a faded charcoal from wear-and-tear and overwashing.
How many times had he thought of getting rid of them? Or tossing them in the goodwill bag and sending them off and elected to keeping them because they had become an invaluable garment.
It was time, he thought. He held the pants up to the light in his room and admired them. He gave them a pat down one last time and set them softly in a plastic bag, where they would eventually be worn by someone who needed them more, someone who needed impenetrable armor for a sleepy night on a subway train.
The wood was fading away. Logs on its last legs. The crisp ash levitating and crackling in the air like words of fond memories, disappearing for now, but to return again soon.