Part of the NY-uber-cool-attitude is to seemingly ignore everything around you while simultaneously being acutely aware of your surroundings. As such, the weirdness on the subway is too much to a handle. While you tuck yourself away under your iPod you're secretly looking at what other people are reading, checking people out, blatantly staring, and trying to decipher what the person next to you is listening to on their iPod while secretly hoping that they see what you're listening to so they can see how good your tastes are. Okay so maybe that last point applies to just me, but in general this strange dance happens discreetly on every train line, every day, every stop.
Cue music. Dim the lights. Enter the hobo.
The job of the hobo is to poke fun at people, talk with tourists, and say provocative things which makes you giggle in enjoyment yet sigh in relief for not being directly involved. For instance my ride last nite on the #4 train proved to be just the deal. After talking it up with some Aussie tourist sheilas our main man proceeded to give his fashion commentary on my fellow riders. Top comments:
- "Hey there mistah, nice hat and glases, you look real sharp, like Denzel on a train. Look it's Denzel! Remember the Titans! Remember Denzel!"
- "Oh baby, you need to go back to the store and get more fabric"
- "Why do all the Goth chicks gotta be so dang ugly?"
- "Hey there Condoleeeeza Riiiice, stop holding the door open!"
The weird tension amidst all this is when each hobo tells a story deserving of sympathy (and money) yet you're unsure if it's genuine. In my case our hobo mentioned that he was happily married until last year when his wife suddenly passed and now he's trying to feed his kids. He even had pictures. What more proof do you need? Is he just making all this up? Maybe. But what kinda bastard would question a guy who may have gone through all this? However, I can't just go around giving a dollar to everyone who asks for one...
...This by the way is how you attempt to justify ignoring beggers in India in order to look at yourself in the mirror each night. Seeing children your age in such dire conditions makes you wonder how much of a crapshoot your fate can really be. There really is no good reason why I was born where I was and other kids where they were. I mean I'm a Hindu and I guess that implies I believe in nirvana, but you have to be kidding yourself if you can seriously use that as a rationale for feeling emotionless to others.
But I digress, studies show that strangers are more likely to give money to beggers if they don't mention anything personal or emotional about themselves. The theory being that people don't want to get involved and would just rather walk away. But in a train hearing these stories in a temporarily confined position is enough to squeeze a dry sponge just a lil bit more and get an extra dollar or two from people.
The clincher was at the end of my ride when the hobo pointed to the lady next to me and said "you know my wife passed away so I'm single, I'd marry you if you wanted" and merrily moved to the next car. Instead of taking it as a semi-rude gesture, the tacitly agreed upon decision of all the passengers was to look at the lady and see if she was in fact pretty enough to warrant this awkward compliment. The funny thing is that she really wasn't, but oddly by the smile on her face he made her day. It left a good feeling in our section of the #4 train and you could see my gawking trainmates relax their cheek bones just enough to display a bit of pleasure in the whole event.
Only on trains can people behave so independently in sync.