Wednesday, January 7, 2014. 6:25 am. I’m warm and snug in my bed, in a stage of blissful, content sleep. The elated feeling that I have can only be compared with one that might come from, say, walking down the summer streets of Paris while holding the hands of a giant human-sized chunk of brie and an equally giant chunk of fresh French bread. That’s how into my sleep I am. I don’t mind that cheese and bread have hands, because I am happy and warm and fuzzy.
And then my alarm goes off and suddenly I’m wondering why I am awake. And not in Paris hanging out with brie and baguette.
As badly as I want to swipe snooze and roll over, I know that if I don’t leave my apartment within the next 35 minutes to head to Park Slope I will most likely be late to work. 6:25 am is not normally early for me, but I’d spent most of the previous night researching sex toys and sexy lingerie for my most recent freelance assignment. It beat writing about funeral homes, which was the last assignment I’d chosen.
For a split second, in those first few minutes of cajoling myself to get out of bed, I questioned why I had opted to quit one stable job that allowed me to sleep until eight in order to work two or three jobs at a time that sometimes started as early as 7:30 am and ended as late as 9 pm. It was the first time of 2015 I would wonder this, and probably not the last. But the knowledge that I would be done by two and have the rest of the day to myself was enough to get me moving.
Once I managed to pull some clothes on, toss a Carolina Alumni hat on top of my head, and break out into a morning that was still too dark for my liking, I was finally feeling like something of an awake human being. By the time I got on the L, I was maybe 50% of a functioning person. I felt like I was a whopping 75% of a functioning person by the time I got off to transfer for the G–enough, apparently, for me to whip out Kitty Genovese The Murder, the Bystanders, the Crime That Changed America1.
I hopped on the G. It took a couple of stops but I found a seat, next to a slouched over man who didn’t smell too great. So when the majority of passengers got off at a major stop (Hoyt-Shermalackalacka, or Hoyt-Schermerhorn, as more adept Brooklynites pronounce it), I low-key switched seats, opting for a window seat by a corner. I still had half of my ride left, and about 15% until I felt like I was a complete functioning person.
My butt had barely murmured “hello” to the bright orange plastic seat I’d decided to plant myself in before the young man taking a seat in the subway seat perpendicular to mine started talking to me.
I couldn’t hear him at first–or was I ignoring him? it was too early for conversation–so I continued reading.
He muttered something else. Cursing myself for not wearing headphones and seeming like I actually couldn’t hear anything, I peered up at him behind the binding of my library book, allowing the brim of my baseball cap to cover as much of my face as it possibly could. The guy stared at me anyway.
“How are you?” he murmured, too awake for my liking.
I murmured a finethanksyou back–these were the first words I’d mumbled of the day–and then dipped back into my book.
“What are you reading?”
Here we go, I thought. It was 7:30 in the morning, for Pete’s sake. I held the book up for him to look at more closely.
“What’s it about?” he whispered.
I felt like I was talking to my little sisters. Except while their curiosity is endearing and comes from a place of pure innocence, this guy’s was just plain annoying. I could tell where this was going.
“It’s about a murder,” I said, emphasizing the last word. Would that be enough to scare him away?
“Oh,” he murmured, deciding instead to take that information and run with it. “Do you like mysteries?”
“Yes. Well, no. This isn’t…” I struggled to find the words to say. I wanted to say that this wasn’t a “mystery” book per se. It actually happened. It was nonfiction. But that would invite more conversation, so as politely as I could, I simply said, “I’d really just like to read my book, please, if you don’t mind.” I looked back down, hoping my body language would do the rest.
He turned to face forward, and the subway chugged along for about forty-five more seconds before he looked back at me and muttered something else. Why he was speaking so low, I wasn’t sure, but I’m glad he was because otherwise I would have felt bad for rejecting him so publicly. “Where are you headed? Are you going to school?”
I told him I was going to work. Where? A coffee shop. (No names, no descriptions. Four & Twenty has been on Food Network; it would be too easy to find).
Me: Sigh. “Please, I am very tired. I would like just to read.”
He nodded. Feeling bad, I admitted that I felt bad for being so short with him, which I did, and hoped that would be the end of that.
Things were quiet until I had about three stops left. He told me I had a nice smile. I didn’t remember having smiled once during the interaction, but hearing this comment always makes me smile involuntarily, and I thanked him anyway.
“I could see from even before I got on the train you had a nice smile,” he said (and for some reason, remembering this comment and this entire encounter reminds me of the premise of Amiri Baraka’s play Dutchman, except for the fact that he wasn’t a crazy white woman but was instead a mild-tempered black man. But it was still enough to feel a little creeperish of him.).
Once the subway went above ground as it normally does for Smith & 9th Streets, he pulled out his phone and started scrolling through his contacts. Thinking I’d finally fended him off, I retreated back into my book, relieved.
A few seconds later he muttered something else. “Can I ask you something?” I thought he’d asked.
I was almost at work, so I figured I’d humor him one last time. “Yes?”
He handed me his phone.
“Wait, huh?” I said, confused, waving it away. No.”
“I asked you for your number, and you said yes.”
Seriously? I thought to myself. A tiny part of me felt somewhat flattered–after all, I was shrouded in baseball cap, scarf, puffy coat, and sleep, and someone still managed to find me attractive. And I had to give him props for trying–at first.
I’ll go even further to say that maybe I had acted like a bit of a bitch. Give this guy a chance! you may cheer, after watching too many big screen romance movies. He likes you even when you feel the least attractive! And he likes your smile! This is how so many love affairs begin–chance encounters! Fate! The Unknown!
I couldn’t agree with that last statement more. In fact, a few days before this encounter I had a similar one with a guy in Central Park. He’d asked me for money for a tournament his basketball team couldn’t afford to attend on its own. After giving the kid (read: he was twenty) a dollar and being given a Look (with which I responded my own Look that said “listen, I don’t live around here, I’m a student and you’re lucky you’re getting even this much), he asked me for my phone number. I said no. He protested that he could be the love of my life, that this would be the story of how we met, but how would I know if I said no? The kid had a point.
However, I also believe that fate is not enough, nor is one person being interested enough–you have to be open to love in the first place. That viral article that appeared in the New York Times, “To Fall in Love, Do This” points this out perfectly in its closing lines: “Love didn’t happen to us. We’re in love because we each made the choice to be.”
I had not made the choice to be open to falling in love with the kid in freezing cold Central Park that day. Nor had I been open to falling in love on the G train at 7:30 in the morning, especially when I had made this fact clear. I was cold and sleepy and wanted to read my book.
So when the guy on the subway thought I had agreed to give him my number, I was incredulous. Had I not been forward enough? I thought I’d been more forward than I’d ever been. Does he really have the impression that this has been a successful interaction?
“No, I’m sorry. I’m not interested,” I refused, suddenly wishing I was back in my bed, or that I had at least stayed seated next to the homeless man. I guess that’s what I get for being bougie about my nostrils.
(Edit: When it came time for me to get off, I did tell him goodbye, and wish him a good day. I promise I’m not that terrible.)
1A book I’ve been reading about the woman who was stabbed/sexually assaulted outside her apartment in 1964 and received no help from any of the three dozen neighbors who heard her screaming for help.