First day in New York: I am on the subway going the wrong way.
But I don’t care. I am HERE. In New York City. In the summer. I have bought an unlimited subway ticket, so I can ride around for hours, days, years if I want. I can’t believe I am here. So, who cares if I’m going the wrong way?
Still, I need to find a way to get from here to there. But where is here and where is there?
Someone suggests I download google maps. But I hate maps. I prefer to be lost and figure it out on my own. As my dad, Norman Lieberman, world-famous chemical engineer would say, “if you make enough of the wrong turns, eventually you’ll accidentally stumble on the right one.”
So, I want to make all the wrong turns first, so I can stumble across the right one. I want to get all the wrong moves out of the way.
I am going in the general direction—I think–toward Central Park. I am smiling big and wide and happy. No one else is smiling like me. There is everything and everyone here, including, now me. Across from me on the train, a masked Asian man reads the newspaper with a happy, smiling Border Collie at his feet. A woman with a baby in her lap sits on the far side of him. Squeezed in between them is a Rastafarian man about 10 feet tall, lighting up a joint.
Did I see that right? He’s lighting up a joint. In public? In the middle of the day?
WOW. I really did come to the right place. I try, slyly, to snap a photo of him. I look up and he is smiling widely at me. I reflexively smile back, then look away. Maybe not a good idea to smile at crazy people on the train.
I get off at 59th street in Manhattan, climb up the steps from the dark underground, and there’s a big sign saying, “Need Weed”. I walk up to the man near the sign and ask, “Do you mean you need weed or are you asking if other people need weed? Or, are you offering to share your weed?”
He laughs. “Uh, no, I’m selling weed.”
“Really?” I say, elated.
I see his buddy standing beside him smoking a joint. “Right here, in the middle of the street, you can sell weed?”
He looks furtively around, worried about some crazy lady making a scene.
“It’s ok. I’m from California,” I say, trying to explain. He looks unimpressed.
I don’t want to slow down his business, so I ask, “What have you got?”
He opens up a box of buds and rattles off some astronomical numbers. I am unimpressed. Where I live in Three Rivers, weed is basically free. I interrupt him during his sales pitch and ask, “Hey, can I have a hit?”
He looks at me startled, glances at his friend with the joint, who gives the thumb up. “Yeah, ok,” he says, and his friend hands me the joint.
I take a deep hit. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh.
The man’s name is Rats. That’s because he loves rats.
He pulls out a huge rat out from his jacket. I jump back, reflexively. The rat lies flat on his back for a belly rub.
Rats smiles and massages him with two fingers on his stomach. “They’re smart like dogs, but easy to take care of like cats,” he says.
Rats recommends I go on the Alice in Wonderland tour in Central Park. “You’ll love it,” he says.
I cross the street into the park, but I don’t find Alice in Wonderland anywhere. It must be that I am Alice and this is Wonderland.
Suddenly, the day is even more wonderful than it was before. I find a patch of green grass under a tree and lay on my back, looking up at the sky. The sky is robin eggshell blue with big fluffy rabbit shaped clouds floating by.
Hours later, I am back on the train, sobering up. So far, I’ve only asked women for help with directions. But without thinking, I turn to the young guy next to me, covered in tattoos and ask if I’m going the right way. Yes, but I need to take two transfers. He’ll show me. He just happens to be going the same way.
Oh shit. What did I just do?
I resolve to stay on the train when he gets off. Better to get lost than murdered. The train stops and he motions me to get off.
“No, I’m just going to go this way,” I say.
He motions harder. “No, you’ll just get really turned around if you stay on this train.”
I weigh the options. Is it better to be lost or murdered? My feet are tired, I’m hungry, my cell phone is about to lose the charge. Shit. I’ve lived long enough. What the hell.
I get off the train and follow him. Maybe he won’t rape and murder me. I am far too old for him. But maybe he’s an equal opportunity killer. Or maybe he’s just a nice guy. I am curious to find out.
We board the next crowded train together. He stands by the doors, and motions for me to take an empty seat. I am Alice in Wonderland and I’ve just slipped down a rabbit hole. God, what did I just do? First day in New York and I’m going to get murdered. I won’t be able to run very far or very fast in these flip flops. The only weapon I have is a ballpoint pen. I take it from my purse, click it open, and clasp it in my clenched fist. I eye him warily. My fate is in God’s hands now. Either I’m going to end up dead, or end up home.
Two stops go by, and he motions me to get off the train. “Take the F train to your stop,” he says.
I get off the train and he doesn’t come with me. I wave goodbye to him. He is not a serial killer! He’s a nice guy!
I make the transfer, get off at my stop and find my way home.