On The Line
Wednesday afternoon, the uptown 6 train....
Having forgotten to "dress nice" for work today, I am standing on the platform in Grand Central Station, waiting for an uptown 6 train to rush me home for a quick change before meeting a new client at the end of the day. We'll likely be taking him out for dinner, and my Old Navy t-shirt won't exactly exude professionalism from across the table at the tony Union Square Cafe.
The usual hodge-podge of midday train riders are on the platform with me. Tourists, students, the unemployed. I can't help noticing the very handsome Latino man standing close to me. He's short and thick and his Popeye forearms are criss-crossed with prison-quality tattoos. He's the sort of rough trade that you can find on the covers of a certain genre of gay porn, stuff with titles like "Prison Papi Chulos" and "Blatino Thug Party". Or so I'm guessing.
I lean over the tracks and peer down the tunnel. I hate when I do this, it doesn't make the train come any faster. A minute later, I do it again. This time, the handsome Latin man has moved down the platform so that when I peer down the tracks, I'm looking right into his face. An almost imperceptible look flashes across his face. Is he cruising me? Or sizing me up for a mugging? I'm reminded of when my friend Ken was lusting for a similarly rough looking character and I told him, "Wow, I can't tell if he wants to fuck you or punch you!" Ken murmured, "Either one, baby, either one."
I step back away from the edge of the platform and lean against one of the tile-covered columns. My cruiser/mugger walks over and stands next to me. I'm not too worried, I've got plenty of potential witnesses. I notice his hands. They are toughened, scarred. Whatever this guy does, he does it with his hands.
By the time the train arrives, there is quite a crowd on the platform. As I push onto the train, I think I can feel the man behind me. Is that his hand, resting just above my belt, guiding me, more than pushing me? I move to the center of the car and hold onto the pole with my right hand. I feel the man move behind me, his shoulder brushing across my back. Then he's next to me, holding onto the same pole, his thick fist scarcely an inch below mine. He looks up at me and for the first time, I notice his eyes, emerald green with flecks of gold. He nods at me and I nod back. This is getting....interesting.
The train lurches into motion and for once I'm glad to have the person next to me slam against me. I pretend to read the ads over the seats but can't resist looking down at this man again. He smiles and nods, again. I nod back, again. After 51st Street, the train thins out considerably and it looks a bit odd for us to be so scrunched together, so I sit down. He sits down next to me.
Worryingly, he says to me, "I know where you are going." His accent is thick, Brazilian, I think. His "you" sounds like "Jew".
"You do? Where am I going?" I say.
"You are going to 68th Street."
How does he know this?
"Good guess." I say.
"No guess. I know. Me and you....we have talked....on the line." With "on the line", he makes a keyboard typing gesture with both hands.
Ah. There it is.
"We have? Wow, I would think I'd remember somebody like you. I'm sorry."
He shrugs. "We talk to lots of people on the line. Some you remember, some you don't want to, yes?"
"And I told you where I lived? I don't think I usually do that."
"Well, we were going to hook up, " he offers.
"But we didn't."
"No, you had company."
"Oh, OK. Sorry."
He nods, "It's cool."
The 59th Street stop is announced. He gets up. "I get off here. I go to Queens to work on a house. I write to you again sometime? OK? On the line?"
I nod, perhaps too vigorously. "Yeah, cool."
The doors open and as he moves past me, he grabs the back of my neck and rubs my head, thrilling me just a little bit. I watch his butt jump as he bounds down the platform towards the E train. He catches me watching him as the train slides by and gives me a sly smile. I get out at 68th Street, thinking about all the missed connections I seem to have lately. Ten minutes later, I'm in my apartment giving a white dress shirt the ironing of its life.