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Wednesday, July 10, 2002
By Paul Ford
In which I become the most hated man in all of New York for a full minute.
At 5:20 on Friday, July 8, I walked up out of Penn Station, having come via three different trains from Paoli, Pennsylvania, and began to sweat in the sudden heat. I wore the same clothes I'd worn the day before. I had with me a large suitcase, a heavy backpack, and a bicycle.
I walked a block east and went down the narrow stairs at the Herald Square F/V/B/D/PATH station. Tall and big, with my case and bike, I took almost that much space across as I did vertically. The stairway was solid with people. I was a walking wall. Cruel things were said, and I suffered them.
I had to. I have hated people on the train with their bicycles, or with their bags bumping my body. I had never seen someone with bicycle, bag, backpack, and 6'3" to boot. As the rear wheel of the bike barked the shin of some poor bare-legged woman I became, between 17:31:30 and 17:32:30, the least liked person in New York. Someone must always hold the title, and for that moment it was me, because to do what I was doing at rush hour was wrong, a violation of the subway social contract, and to be very sweaty and slightly rank made me almost a criminal.
Since my only other option was to unhinge the wheels from the bike and hope they fit in the back of a cab, then spend over $20 to get home, I decided to bask in the loathing, feel my role as an enemy of the people fully, learn from it. I'd report my findings, except being loathed on the subway is exactly the same as being ignored, with a few additional mutterings and some comments from teen girls speaking boldly about your behavior.
Once I got through the three sets of stairs and on the Ftrain everything smoothed; some people were kind, holding train doors to help me in; they received in return only my humility and a thanks, with the appropriate honorific appelation, whether sir or ma'am, but I know from helping strangers on the train that that is enough, that an earnest thanks can make you feel unlike a wretch for a few minutes, lift your afternoon a yottameter or two.
As the F rolled into its stops, I moved away of the opening doors, and made sure no one had to walk around me. Balance had been reached. When I got home I told a friend what I'd done. He said, you were the most hated person in all New York right then.
I said, yes, I'd actually been given the title, worn the crown for a full minute. When I hung up I got dressed to go to the gym, even though my muscles were sore from throwing away sofas at my father's two days before. As I put on my socks I thought of the things I've lugged, the problems solved in my carless existence. On the train I've brought home 6-foot bookcases, a television, a stereo cabinet, recently pressed suits, piles of Christmas gifts. I've carried women and children on my shoulders and lifted up drunken friends who'd stumbled into the street. I'd taken myself to JFK on the A train with two huge suitcases packed for months of travel, and gone by bus to LaGuardia. With my trundle-cart I've brought home fans, air-conditioners, computers, fax machines, lamps, walking them through the streets of Brooklyn. Once I picked up a nice, heavy bookcase from the sidewalk, but it fell apart as I carried it home, and when I got to my door I had only a pile of lumber with nails sticking out, which I threw away. Later that night I went to Home Depot to buy a pile of raw lumber - two 84-inch and 7 30-inch slabs of half-inch pine, and some screws.
On the way home through the nasty gut of Southwest Brooklyn, crossing the Gowanus Canal, weaving with my precariously balanced pile of wood, a prostitute propositioned me. Her intent was not very clearly stated but was obvious. She wore white leggings. I named her Wanda to myself and said “no thank you” as clearly as I could above the traffic, the smell of exhaust and the fetid canal mixing in with the sight of her dry skin and white leggings and tube top, her eyes a little wild. I thought about what it meant to sell yourself to 23-year-old boys lugging wood on trundle carts, or, more likely, to men who drove big red cars with vinyl backseats under the green length of the Gowanus Expressway. It could not mean anything good. I built my shelves and for a few days I kept thinking of her, as if she was a ghost, all the awful and erotic aspects of our two-statement exchange, then I forgot her.