The afternoon sun was surprisingly bright and its warmth upon those boarding the 5:35pm was just the kickstart most needed after two long days of fifty-one degrees and a sideways rain. The joke of the these past forty-eight hours all around town was: ‘We went to sleep in July and woke up in April.’ That is how quickly the weather had turned and the wind had swept our spirits out with it. Now however, it was July, almost August again and folks had that extra jump to their step and smiled in an all inclusive way.
When the doors shut, I set my phone, slipped my shoes off and shut my eyes. The sounds around me of laughter, young and old, along with the adjoining quiet conversation just added to the peaceful rhythm of the train, I knew foreshadowed a nice nap.
I did sleep but I imagine it was no more than five to ten minutes. I was abruptly awakened to shouting. At first I thought I didn’t hear it correctly but quickly it resumed. It was not a shouting match but instead one older man screaming obscenities at a young man seated three rows ahead of me to the right.
‘You f$*~^!ng mother f$*~^r . . . where did you grow up?!? I grew up in f$*~^!ng Manhattan, you a$$h0le !!’
I am awake now. The entire car is silent and those around me, including I, are in visible shock. The elder guy is standing, his seat or seats is the front four – normally designated only for families. He has deposited his luggage and a canvass wrapped painting there. He is slender, has long white hair and wears a pasty complexion currently wildly distorted by his crimson face. The young lad seated behind him could easily have played rugby but wears a nice shirt and gold cufflinks while sitting calmly and typing into his lap top, resting on the tray connected to the irate man’s seat.
I try to fathom in a blur what could have facilitated such an abusive tirade. I suspect that young made a smirk at artsy pants old with all his mess tangled amidst four seats . . .maybe he made a NYC quip, which from Boston was likely or maybe he dropped his tray fast and loud while kneeing the elders seat . . .Whatever it was, the young mans calm demeanor was rapidly escalating this scene.
‘Are we going to have a F$*~^!ng problem here, you little punk?!?’ ‘Ugh, are we you little F$*~^er?!? . . .’
The young man says something while quickly looking up from his computer but I cannot see his face nor hear what was said. The standing in fury is now purple and screaming back.
This is going to end badly, I slip my shoes back on.
The man then sits in the aisle seat next to the younger and shouts just precious inches from his face. I am by now thinking the old slender Andy Worhal look alike is both crazy and blind because this kid could end his trip quite quickly with a well placed left elbow into the man’s teeth. This is beyond way out of hand now and I am truly astonished at the young man’s self control, calmly typing away. The artist now gets up and goes to the front of the car, turns around with clenched fists and boldly pronounces:
‘Ok – a$$h0le, two things are going to happen here . . one, I am going to go to jail and . .two, you will be going to the hospital – you mother little F$*~^er!!!’
I hear a young girl start to sob behind me and her mother quickly consoles.
“That’s enough!” an authoritative voice that sounds to be behind me, to my left and to the right all at the same time. I see the young man’s face for the first time now as he has turned to see who is interjecting in these quickly dissolving seconds. He is staring towards my direction to where a man has appeared from nowhere and stood at the empty seat to my right. “Enough of this language, we have young children here.”
The artist is taken back by this new affront and throws his white flock of hair back over his beet red forehead and glowers back, frothing at the mouth. “Who the hell are you? . . . mind your own business!!”
The new voice however, does not waver in his response and does not escalate the tension in his reply. He stands half in the aisle almost by design so that the artist cannot see his left hand. “I am here simply to help you get home. How far down the line do you plan on going this evening? “
The wild eyed man with white hair is perplexed and frozen trying to comprehend this question. “What in God’s name does that mean: down the line ?? I am going to Manhattan, the Big Apple – where my gallery is . . why the Hell do you care?!? This is between me and this arrogant Mother F$*~ . . .”
”No, . . .this is now between you and ALL of us. You will sit in your seat and neither swear nor rant any further, or you WILL be getting off this train at the next stop.’ His voice is so matter of fact that all seated now stir in anticipation of the next happenings.
The artist takes a step forward towards the man, pauses and steps back laughing: “Absurd, I am not getting off anywhere but New York City, you have no authority, none at all !”
To this the man moves smoothly and entirely out into the aisle squaring off at three feet. In his right hand rises a cell phone and in his left, drawn from the seat, a pamphlet.
“Actually,” his voice knowingly soft, trusting and instructive “not only do I have the authority but each of the fifty or so folks in this car, also have the authority. You see, in each of the seventy seats in this rail car, there is a pamphlet. On the top of each pamphlet it reads: WE’RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER. . . LITERALLY. Below that is the familiar phrase: IF YOU SEE SOMETHING . . .and below that, is a number (800-331-0008). I or anyone here can dial that number and you will have an inconvenienced party waiting for you at the very next station stop.” He then holds the pamphlet up and turns back to the seated. Heads have ducked forward and show again, one by one also holding up a pamphlet. The elder mans eyes dart from one to the next, his lips curl but he says nothing. “So you see” says the stranger from nowhere who has just turned the tables calmly and most assuredly, “I, we, are trying to help you get home . . .the beauty of strength is that it is often revealed in numbers and unity is a precious commodity.”
The white haired man has turned now back to his seat in a succumbed posture, repositions his stuff, steals a last glance down the aisle at the raised pamphlets and quietly sits down, his back to all.
Next to me the gentleman from nowhere sits and contently watches. Ten minutes later, the train pulls into Providence and most young professionals, including the young harassed one, debark for the evening – he choosing the rear exit while nodding towards those seated, as he does so.
Several stops further on, my stop, I am surprised as our new friend is getting up to get off also. On our way up the aisle, he leans over to the white haired shell of a man and whispers into his ear. The sullen, seated man, while never looking up, nods in agreement.
On the platform, I turn to the stranger and thank him and ask: “ if I may, what did you just say to him?” He turns back, the setting sun illuminating his eyes. . . he is taller and more formidable out here in the light. He smiles and says: “I told him to remember what he’d heard, never forget numbers and that I’d see him again from time to time. . .”
With that, the stranger walked off towards the station tunnel and returned from where he had appeared, . . . seemingly out of nowhere.
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