I'm friendly with Rob, the token booth clerk at 238th street on the 1 line. He's in his early fifties, but you'd never tell by looking at him--he looks at least ten years younger. Rob is a big Yankee fan and is a charming, gregarious man. He's been at 238 for three years and knows at least sixty percent of the customers that pass through the station. When I have the time, as I did last Friday afternoon, I stop and chat.
So there we were, talking about the Yankees. Rob was saying how impressed he's been with Mussina. I told him that I hoped Moose comes close to winning twenty games this year. Then I said, "I hope Alex hits forty homers too."
Just then, a squat, disheveled man walked into the station--which is three flights above ground level (the 1 train is elevated in the Bronx).
"Did you say you are going to hit forty homers" he said, slurring his words.
"No," I said, now smelling the stench coming off the guy, a mixture of dried sweat and alcohol, "I said I hope A Rod hits forty."
"Why not make it sixty?" He roared and slapped me on the shoulder, then staggered away. Rob tilted his head to the side and raised an eyebrow.
The man stood in front of the turnstiles for a few minutes. Rob and I continued our conversation, with one eye on Ned the Wino. Then we heard the sound of an approaching train. Several people, out of breath, came into the station and went through the turnstiles.
The drunk man looked ahead and said, "If only I was younger."
He took a step back from the turnstile as the train rushed into the station, put his right hand into the back of his jeans (he was not wearing underwear) and pulled out an unopened can of Fosters. With the beer in his right hand, he lifted his left leg, as if he was going to hop the turnstiles.
Rob did not raise his voice but said, "Uh...No-no."
The man remained frozen in the pose for a minute, as if he was a fat, washed- up wrestler about the climb into the ring. Then, defeated, he lowered his leg and placed the beer back in the crack of his ass. Then he turned around.
"I guess I'll be walking to Staten Island," he said as he wobbled past Rob and me out of the station.
"That's some long walk," said Rob.
Rob and I looked at each other and we both raised our eyebrows. Just then, a sleek young Spanish woman walked in and the foul smell was replaced by the warm scent of vanilla and feminity. Rob chatted with her, she batted her eyes, and I smiled, gazing at her narrow waist, amazed at how quickly the smell in the place changed. I was also amazed at the drunk. Why climb three flights of stairs if you aren't going to bust out and jump the turnstiles? I couldn't remember the last time I saw a benign, completely harmless wino like that.