Sunday, 22 November 2009
When in a hole stop digging
The 22nd August was my first day alone. Term started on September 8th after Labour Day. On September 5th I found myself in trouble, an incident that could have gone either way. By then I was well on the way to mapping the mysteries of New York’s subway system. I’d run across rats the size of small dogs, and once fell asleep from drink and exhaustion on a train that was locking its doors for the night. I was awakened by a thunderous knocking on the windows by a crowd of concerned New Yorkers who had a greater concern for my welfare than I clearly had. Falling asleep in the subway in 1981 was not always wise.
I was on the subway most nights. In the morning there’d be news-reports of stabbings, muggings, gun crime on stations I’d blithely passed through - not always asleep. And yet I saw nothing. Statistics are fairly meaningless until one hits you.
On Saturday, September 5th I was still at the stage of making little hand-maps with written instructions on where to change and relevant platforms. I’d discovered that to reach The John Barleycorn and other Irish pubs, I took the IRT to Queensborough Plaza and change to Lexington; by now the puzzle was beginning to make sense and confidence ballooned.
That afternoon I bought my customary token at 74 St. Jackson Heights. As I made my way to the turnstile a young Jamaican appeared from the shadows, pleaded poverty in beguiling patois and suggested, quite convincingly, I thought, that two could as easily slip through the turnstile on the one token.
We’d barely made it through when an armed cop appeared from the shadows. (How many people are there in those shadows? Probably thousands.) Just over a week in New York and I was to be done for malfeasance. He ignored the Jamaican completely. In his eyes he was clearly damned – which, because I am stupid, offended my sense of fair-play. Instead the cop established my status in the USA.
Naively I began defending my partner-in-crime even as the policeman was trying to save my bacon by dumping the blame on the boy without a token. Almost too late, I realised I didn’t really want this to go any further and fell into line: I was, essentially, the innocent dupe, but then those who know me knew that all along.