An ordinary ride on the subway is never ordinary. There’s always someone doing something that even the most hard-boiled of New Yorkers would consider offensive. (And yes, here is where you picture a shiny, slippery egg dressed in a wrinkled suit and scuffed shoes, holding onto the horizontal pole* with one eggy hand and holding a folded-over New York Times with the other.)
Sometimes the offensive behavior cannot be ignored, such as when the offender loudly proclaims that he is hungry and would very much like it if you would help him out with spare change. Or when a 20-something Hispanic guy and his six-year-old sidekick, both wearing headband-bandanas, use the crowded aisle as a stage on which to show off moves that recall the Moonwalk and then the guy tosses the boy in the air and the molecules of the boy’s nose scrape the subway car ceiling and he lands on the filthy floor with what you hope isn’t a spine-breaking splat. And you hope it wasn’t spine-breaking because it would be rude to just step over his paralyzed pre-teen body, but really, you have places to go and you’re late already, so what’s the protocol?
So, anyway, that’s the subway. Always an “experience”. Which is what you say when you know it blows but you have to live with it and pretend to love it. And shake your head in faux appreciation of the big wacky world that presents itself to you underground.
Yesterday was no exception. Yesterday, on the ride up to Bloomingdale’s, a Korean man sat on my right in a separate set of seats on the other side of the double doors. He just sat there quietly, his Korean newspaper in one hand … and his nose in the other. More specifically, his nose was in his fingers. One at a time.
You see, this man had decided to pick his nose in plain view of anyone who had the misfortune of not having been born blind. And not only did he pick his nose, but he did so with such brilliant disregard for the fact that what he was doing was largely regarded, in so-called “polite” society, as fucking disgusting. A no-no with his nose-nose.
But it wasn’t just one finger, no. It was a succession. A trial and error. He tried three fingers on each hand, excluding the thumbs and pinkies. He needed the right tool for the job. His methodical mission led him from left ring finger (shockingly devoid of a wedding ring!) to right ring finger, including all other fingers, including the classic picking digits — the index fingers — in order of arrangement on his hands. This man must be a fix-it whiz around the house, carefully selecting the proper wrench for home improvement projects. Or a favorite with the kids, while acting out a nose-based rendition of Goldilocks.
Once this nasal archaeologist found a finger that best suited his purposes (the left index), he excavatated his left nostril with measured precision. The product of his efforts lingered on his fingertip. But did he dispose of it immediately? Did he perhaps flick it into oblivion, rub it on his jeans, return it from whence it came after a thorough inspection? No.
With the same thoughtful consideration a couturier would tender to the rarest of coveted fabrics for his latest take-the-world-by-storm collection, this man rolled his prize between the foraging finger and his left thumb, luxuriating in the tactile experience of his hand-picked delicacy. He rolled and he rolled, until there was nothing left to roll anymore. He looked a bit forlorn when there was nothing left of his beloved bit but a cherished memory.
That is what it is to me now, too. Just a fond memory. But I know that this is not the last time I’ll see this. The cold weather invites colds to roost. And with colds come new nosefuls as stuffed with potential as the subways are jammed with those to realize it.
* Amazing what I’ll do to avoid saying “rod”. Not like “pole” is any better. But still.