Part two of BTR’s strangest stories starts with a gasp, but ends with a sigh.
We decided to play along as we answered each of the stranger’s questions.
“Do you think she would have forgiven me?”
He wore a burgundy suit that looked pressed to his body. A meager and sallow complexion rendered his features sickly–and oddly desperate.
“I think she will,” I heard myself say.
He’d practically snuck up on us as we waited for our train on the crowded platform; packed shoulder to shoulder at the heart of the city’s rush hour.
Nearby, an old man played a steel pan with calloused hands. The notes cascaded in water droplets of sound that sparkled and disappeared into the darkness of the tunnel.
“I did something bad the other day,” he said to us.
My friend and I exchanged glances.
“What did you do?”
“I just can’t forgive myself,” he sighed. “Maybe I should hop the next flight and leave here forever.”
“You can’t run from the past,” I told him. I think I meant it.
The nervous flitting of his eyes slowed to a dull stare that settled on my own.
“I’ve got a second chance,” he said in a whisper. “Everyone can have a second chance.”
“That’s right. You have an opportunity to make things right. But only if you want to.”
Before I knew it, he wrapped his large, cold hand around my own.
“Thank you, stranger,” he said to me as he leaned in close.
In a whisk and a whirl he was gone just as quickly as he’d arrived; swept away by a train departing in the opposite direction. My friend and I stared at one another in silence, baffled by a mystery with no answer in sight.
All the while hands struck the steel pan, reverberating like lost ghosts along tracks that could never be empty for long.
In the ripe years of pre-teen angst my best friend and I experimented with the dark arts. Yes, Ouija Boards, midnight séances, and candlelit walks through desolate graveyards. (Don’t judge, there’s not a whole lot to do in rural Vermont!).
One weekend night in particular, we were liaising via the Ouija Board Oracle with our favorite ghost, Baby Frankie, whose grave we had blessed with pagan chants from a leather-bound book weeks earlier.
“Baby Frankie,” we timidly asked, “when will we die?” Our trembling hands followed the pull of the planchette as it spelled out “T-U-E-S.” We sat, frozen, staring into each other’s eyes. “D-A-”… But, just as our answer was about to be completed, sealing our fate for three days hence, we heard a bone-chilling sound. It grew in intensity, louder and louder, until we realized what it was: classical music, blaring from her kitchen!
We ran into the next room, following the screeching violins to their source–a Bose sound system, flashing 12:00 am in red, and ever more thunderous with each passing moment. Clearly we had an ally on the other side, who had interjected to communicate that the end was not nigh. We urgently turned off the music, and both of us lived to tell the tale.
The trains in New York City seem to attract quite the cast of characters. At this point, I’ve grown accustomed to subway performers. On the rare occasion, I find myself pleasantly surprised by a Mariachi band or busker, but mostly I’m rather unimpressed by the talents people showcase. I have learned when to duck from those who flip on poles and dodge the ones who kick their hats.
As I rode the train downtown one evening after work, a man stepped into the car with his trumpet. I braced myself for a noisy, but mostly composed tune. What happened next, however, was unlike any performance I had ever experienced on my commute. The man began to play the most horrendous, ear-piercingly awful noise from him instrument.
After my initial annoyance, I felt uncomfortable and embarrassed for this person. Did he know that he wasn’t hitting a single note? He answered my concerns rather quickly.
“If you give me money, I promise I will stop playing this trumpet.”
He knew exactly how insufferable these sounds were and he was ready to capitalize on his lack of skill. And quite honestly, it worked. Plenty of passengers reached into their pockets and handed over their spare change.
New York is filled with people who need to make a quick buck when they can, and sometimes, their talentless tactics can get them further than they might expect.
I’ve had plenty of strange encounters in New York. By the third year of living here, many of them are sifting through my brain as I type. Once, I saw a man pee from his wheelchair onto the sidewalk, as far he could into the street; a beautiful arc of golden liquid streaming where no one could walk past him (or through his urine).
Another time, walking down Kingston to the C-train, a man stood outside of a deli and wiggled all over, asking me to dance with him. On Halloween, 2014, I saw a guy dressed up as Doc from Back to the Future sprinting down the street and yelling, “We have to get back to the Delorean!”
But the strangest thing I’ve ever seen? Could it be the person I saw wearing a beautifully crafted dress made of cards in Bushwick? The man who jumped into the bagel shop at Barclays and hissed like a cat? The time I saw two penises on the same street in the span of three blocks?
No. The strangest things I’ve seen in New York involve compassion. When one person helps another, by giving them food, or eye contact, or holds a conversation with a stranger about anything at all–those are the days that are “different” to me.
Just last night I walked off the subway after having a conversation with a total stranger about NAFTA, the TPP, and the droughts in California and Texas. That is what sticks out–when we are all kinder to one another and remember that we are all human.
Feature photo courtesy of Ryan McGuire.