Tipsy older lady, with Masters from John Jay college nonetheless, tapped me on my shoulder and started talking to me on the Q train. Her husband was “probably two or three cars down,” because they had an argument. She asked me if the train was going in the direction that it was going, and I said that it was. She said the name of my stop, and I said, “yes,” that I was going there, too.
I can’t really say if we are going where we are going, or not – I’d say, sometimes –
She tapped me again, two thirds through a dance remix of You Will Never Know by Imany – a French pop-soul singer big in Russia but not known in America – playing in my headphones, and asked if I wanted to see something funny. When she tapped me the second time, she had to reach around an older gentleman who sat down in between us, which prompted him to get up and move to a different seat. Pausing my iPod, I said yes, like in improv class. The lady pulled out her phone and started looking for a video she wanted to share – a parked car with an alarm going off next to a restaurant with outdoor seating in Tribeca.
“I’m coming from a dinner party, and this was my dinner party,” she explained.
The video went on to show other restaurant patrons dealing with the noise, like real New Yorkers – with annoyance and a sense of humor. A few were laughing and looking at the car and then back at each other, others simply ignored it. I told her about the car alarm I sometimes hear at night, when a contractor from Pennsylvania finds a parking spot on my street and sleeps enough blocks away not to hear it. I have a pic of his license plate in my phone because one night I was so angry at the noise I wanted to vandalize his car, but using common sense kept my “Black Horse” at bay.
The tipsy lady then told me how before her dinner party she went to John Jay to get her transcript. She was thinking of going back to school. I told her that I, too, recently went to my high school to get my transcript, and that I wasn’t just thinking, I was going back to school. “Oh good,” she said, not overly impressed, as if she didn’t believe me, but I thought it was an interesting coincidence.
The tipsy jumped the subject and said, “I don’t talk to stupid people, tell me what books you’ve read.” As I thought of what I’d read most recently, she changed topics and said she used to live in my neighborhood, but that she didn’t like it as much anymore because “all these Russians moved in everywhere.”
“I’m on my way to visit my parents,” she said.
I didn’t tell her I was Russian, and I guess she was too tipsy and busy listening to herself to hear my slight accent. I did manage to mention that I had just taken an online course in Philosophy, and how much I enjoyed all the reading I had to do for it. She said she’s taken Philosophy herself. Turned out we both liked Plato’s Euthyphro dialogue.
Euthyphro is the name of a young guy who gets trolled by Socrates for wanting his father to be tried for the murder of a servant, a servant whom Euthyphro’s father put in a ditch for murdering someone else, and who died in that ditch waiting for authorities, for days without a drink of water. Euthyphro prides himself for not giving his own father any special treatment, charging his father’s guilt, but Socrates points out flaws in what Euthyphro considers to be his virtue – a desire to please the Gods.
What if judging strangers and judging your own family is not different? What if the definition of nepotism is changed to include everyone?
It is from Plato’s Republic that I learned about Parts of the Soul, and how we all have a “Black Horse” and a “White Horse” within us.
Two hours later I was jonesing Chinese food, pork Lo Mein to be specific, so I biked a couple of blocks to Coney Island Avenue to my nearest takeout place. As I ordered, a younger white girl waiting for her order asked me what kind of pancakes did she hear me order. I said “scallion,” and the girl went into disorder, in her mind that is.
“I’ve never heard of scallion pancakes! Never!! I only know the American pancakes that my parents make, but I’ve never heard of scallion pancakes. What is that?”
“It’s like a piece of toast… but with more fat… It’s like fried dough,” I tried to explain and succeeded.
“So, it’s like a potato pancake?”
“I’m Jess,” said the girl smiling. Jess was missing the left half of her top front teeth. That didn’t diminish her friendly smile. I’m missing a couple of side teeth myself, it just doesn’t show when I smile. I told her my Russian name, and said it was nice to meet her, shaking her hand.
“Is that Russian?” she asked and I confirmed. “You see my bike?”
Jess eyed her bike outside the Chinese takeout. I took a few steps out to see, realizing I did notice it on my way in. There it was – a medium sized vintage bike with some fun night lights, that seemed more like party lights, front and back, and a kind of comfy-looking throne- like gadget covering the seat.
“Wow, your bike is awesome!” I said, and meant it.
“It’s old and too small for me, but I found it on the street – it was just missing a seat and a wheel,” explained Jess with humble pride.
“My Schwinn is over there, it’s like thirty years old, too,” I said eyeing my bike a little further away.
“What’s a shwin?” giggled Jess.
“Oh, Schwinn is a brand name – I just mean that my bike is over there.”
“Oh okay. I see – it’s a nice bike. Hey, do you want these checkers?” asked Jess retrieving from her backpack an aged checkers box that looked like a prop from The Mummy franchise.
“No, thank you. I do have checkers at home, and I don’t really play.”
“I don’t know what to do – I want to get rid of it.”
“Leave it in this payphone booth, someone will take it by the morning,” I suggested pointing at the relic of the past in front of the Chinese takeout.
Payphone like museum.
“I was at the game today. The Mets lost… to the Yanks. It sucks!!”
I nodded in agreement. “Better luck next time,” was the only thing I could find to say, but Jess liked the idea. She said she was part Irish and part something other, and two parts something else. Then her order was ready, she got on her awesome party bike, and we said our goodnights and nice to meet you’s in an orderly fashion.
“I am a Mets fan,” I thought to myself watching her ride off.
Even if I might never fully understand America’s favorite sport – I’ve been interested in trying and I do get the gist of baseball. A friend who’s an expert explained that the Mets are now what the Dodgers were before moving to LA, that Dodgers fans hated the Yanks, and once the Mets arrived most started rooting for them. Reading Brooklyn history, I fell for the Dodgers and what they meant to the community –
And here it is –
Originally from Moscow, Russia, Pavel is a queer-identified New York City-based performer and writer. He holds a Bachelor’s in Communication with a minor in Acting from CUNY Brooklyn College. Pavel's two recent poems "The Fall" and "Quiet Cars" have appeared in Beyond Queer Words and Ariel's Dream literary journals.