Right around the time that Jason Giambi launched his grand slam Sunday afternoon, I was on the IRT headed downtown. At 225th street, a tall, scraggly-looking man in shorts entered the subway accompanied by a seeing-eye dog. The man sat directly across from me. The car was almost bare. A Latin couple sat to my right and a young girl--no more than 9 or 10--sat to my left. Next to her was what appeared to be her older brother. The dog--a golden retriever--wore a leather harness and had a red bandana hanging from its neck.
In no time, the owner asked if I wanted to pet his pooch. Somewhere in the back of my head I couldn't remember ever interacting with a blind person's dog, but since I love retrievers I didn't hesitate. Before long, the dog was in love, and true to its nature, it couldn't get enough of me. He pressed his head against my legs and slobbered on my lap. Later, as he faced his owner, he leaned into me hard (I love how dogs lean into you as a way of being friendly). The girl next to me looked cautious.
"She's afraid of dogs," the blind man said. I started to wonder if he had only partial vision. His eyes were clear, but what do I know? I figure he had heard the girl speaking to her brother.
I got to chatting with the guy. He had just returned from upstate via the Metro North railroad. Now he was headed back home--turns out he's from 70th street on the Upper West Side. I tell him I'm originally from 103rd steet. The first thing he asks is where I went to school. If you are from New York City, this means high school, not college. So I tell him that I actually went to school in Westchester. The expression on his face went cold and I could tell that I had just gone down a notch in his book. This is a common attitude you'll see from kids who grew up in the City. (I used to feel terribly lacking, completely un-cool, that I didn't go to high school in New York, but I'm just too grown to care about that kind of nonsense anymore.) Thing of it is, dude was older than me, but I could just tell he never outgrew his I'm-too-cool-for-you, Manhattan-snobbery.
We continued to shoot the breeze. He went to Stuyvesant high school and was classmates with Tim Robbins. The longer we chatted, the more I realized I didn't really like the dude too tough. My Spidey Sense was tingling. He asked what I did for a living and when I told him I was a sports writer he told me a long, rambling story about a sports writer he knew that became a junkie. He didn't care about following sports at all--"I play them, I don't follow them." (In fact, he was running hours late for a volley ball game.) I found myself wanting to prove myself to him. "My first book was published this year," but the more I pressed, the more he looked completely bored and distracted.
That I was letting this guy get to me says as much about me as it does about him. Regardless, I finally asked, "So, just how blind are you?" His eyes twinkled, and he said, "I'm not blind at all, I just train seeing-eye dogs." It was as if he had not only been waiting for me to ask, but had been timing me, sizing me up by how long it would take me to call him on it. He explained that the dog is trained and he rents him out for months at a time as a seeing-eye dog. Further, he simply likes the company and by pretending that he's blind, he gets away with taking the dog on public transportation. "Nice schtick. So you basically con people," I say. He tells me that he doesn't tip his hand one way or the other, but clearly, he gets off on playing with people's heads.
At first I felt vindicated that something wasn't entirely kosher. "I knew there was something off here." Then I thought, "Man, this dude is a complete toy. What a dickhead."
The train became progressively more crowded as he moved downtown. I figured the dude was going to get out at 72nd street, one stop after I planned to leave. I tried to return to my book but he wouldn't let me. He persisted in engaging me in conversation, probably for no other reason than to entertain himself. (That's what you get sometimes...if you open your mouth and start chatting, you never know when and if it'll ever end.) I was frostier now but continued to talk. At 110th street, two police officers entered the car. The guy says to me, "Time to go to work" and drew the dog close to him. A woman entered the train and sat next to him and they began a conversation. Naturally, she assumed he was blind.
Yo, I had half a mind to rat this guy out to the cops. For real, I was just so put-off. I didn't, and when the cops exited the train at 96th street, the guy starts talking to me again about how what he's doing isn't wack. It's like he picked up on how much I disapproved and was now trying to justify himself. I chose not to call him on it any further. I guess I passed.
Anyhow, he was now more interested in talking with the woman next to him. "How many dogs do you have?" he asked. At least I was able to return to my book. I didn't want to tip my hand as to what stop I was getting of at--I just didn't want to talk to the guy anymore. The train pulled into the 79th street station and the dogs opened before I closed my book, grabbed my bag and made a quick move for the exit. The guy looks up and tells me to take care. I look back at him and in a loud voice I said, "Keep it real, bro." (Something I would never say with a straight face.) Then I put my right index finger underneath my right eye and pulled down slightly. "I'll see you around, huh?"