Twilight People: Subways Are for Sleeping

Joe Kloc in the Paris Review:

SubwaysCover-PR-178x300Every now and then I come across someone on the subway who defies easy categorization. I remember, for instance, a man who boarded the 3 train in Brooklyn a few years ago wearing military fatigues and a bandolier packed with little glass bottles of liquids. “Who is man enough to buy my fragrances?” he shouted. (When one rider replied that he wasn’t sure, the man responded, “Are you man enough to kill a hooker in Moscow with a crowbar?”) More recently, there was a man on the uptown 6 wearing a pair of oversized New Year’s glasses—the ones where the 0’s serve as eyeholes—who played atonal jazz on his saxophone and asked for no monetary compensation in return. I could keep going, but no doubt anyone who has lived in a city for any length of time has their own mental list of these self-styled subterranean eccentrics, grouped together not so much by any particular characteristic other than the fact that they seem only to exist underground.

Over the years I’ve made casual study of this joyful band of accidental philosophers as they’ve decorated my dreary morning commutes with their Bedazzler guns of mischief. A few months ago I had the good fortune of getting to know one of them on the R train. I was reading Joseph Mitchell’s Up in the Old Hotel when a man whom I’ll call Z. (because he asked me not to use his name) approached me and said, “That’s a great fucking book.”

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