I ain't seen the sunshine since I don't know when

by Jim Knipfel

The doors of the R closed and the train lumbered off just as I dropped my token in the slot and pushed my way through the turnstile. That was fine; I make it a policy never to run for trains. Few things in this world look quite so foolish as a man running for a train. Besides the air underground was too thick, to fetid to consider running anywhere. I walked over to a bench and sat down to wait for the next one.

Not too many people ride the R into Manhattan on early Sunday evenings. That's why it seemed so odd that when the next train showed up, and I stepped onto an empty car, and I sat down next to the door, that the fellow who got on behind me decided to snuggle in right next to me.

"Well, that's odd," I thought to myself, "A whole car full of seats, so why'd he decide to sit next to me?" Like I said, it was hot; I wasn't thinking too straight.

While I was starting to chew on that one (well, for a few seconds at least), someone else stepped onto the train and stood in the doorway next to me.

"Newyorkpolicedepartmentwouldyoupleasestepoutofthecarwithmeplease?" It poured out of his mouth like a turgid one-word river, and it took me awhile to pull it apart in order to figure out exactly what the hell it was he said. But once I turned my head a bit and saw the silver badge dangling in front of my nose, it all became crystal clear, and my sputtering neural transmitters started spinning in a new, ancient direction.

"Awww, Jesus Christ, what the hell did I do now?" I said. It was a natural, automatic, preprogrammed response. I'd heard a voice like the cop's saying similar things too often not to think it was directed at me. I let my eyes slowly move up the detective's body, from the badge in his left hand, across the chest, up the tie, finally landing on a face that, thank God, was looking at something behind me. In that quick nauseous snap, I had completely forgotten that someone was sitting nestled in tight back there.

Once I realized that it wasn't me the cop was after, I both relaxed and geared up for the inevitable gunplay. Hell, it happens every day someplace in the city, so why couldn't it happen right here, right now?

Unfortunately, just as the hot lead and spurting blood started splashing around in my mind's eye, the kid next to me just said, "Awwww, maaaahhn," stood up, and walked out of the train with the cop, nice as you please. It all took about twenty seconds. The doors closed and the train pulled away, leaving me alone in the car again.

When I finally reached 8th Street, the events of a few minutes ago had long faded into memory, and I was busy humming some whiny little song to myself. As I stepped through the turnstiles, I saw two nervous-looking skinny white guys standing near the token booth both looking down at their shoes like they were trapped there. Then, from somewhere beyond them, from some place I couldn't yet see, someone started giving them the business.

"Faggots! Fuckin' faggots! I'm gonna fuckin' kill you, you understand? Look at me!"

I stepped around one of the pillars down there to see a mountain of angry ugliness, Swamp Thing gone urban, filthy matted beard, hair pointing every direction towards nothing, his black eyes burning with concentration upon the mists of Venus.

"I'm gonna pull the dagger outta my back pocket," he screamed, reaching behind him, "and I'm gonna fuckin' stab you fuckin' faggots a hundred times!"

Unfortunately (I seem to use that word a lot), he was standing in the middle of the staircase, right in my way. I suppose I could've just turned around and taken the other staircase, which would've simply dumped me out on the other side of the street, but that wasn't any fun. Besides, I'm too much a helpless creature of habit. So I decided to take my chances, to do a little shadow boxing with fate, to cast my life to the wind.

"Whazzat, eh? You tryin' to pretend you gotta gun? Well, bring it on up here, faggot! I'll show you! I'll stab you one hundred times!"

As I started up the stairs, as I started towards him, not letting my eyes waver from his, trying to figure out just what the hell I'd do should he decide that his intended victims had divided into a hundred little white guys and one of them had turned into me, as he stood there, patting his back pocket, screaming about this dagger of his, I decided that the best thing to do would probably involve cowering.

I just slipped behind him without incident and left. Maybe he just sensed that bright aura of manliness that surrounds me and decided it best not to take his chances.

See, if you choose to--if you just sit back and let it happen--every day is full of tiny little adventures.

Copyright Jim Knipfel. Published originally in the NYPress. Artwork copyright Bob Hires. All rights reserved.

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