It had been a bad day, Carmen decided, as the train car sped along out of Manhattan on the F line. He looked around the car in which he was standing (hoping for a seat) and did some math. There were about four rows of people and about eighteen people in each row, give or take – more in the center standing rows than were sitting. So there were probably at least eighty people, including himself, and Carmen decided unilaterally that his had been the worst day of them all.
His long grey hair sat collected in a ponytail on the back of his faded green jacket. Carmen had not received a haircut in over three years and had not shaved in months. This could have been a contributing factor in the first rotten thing to happen to him, which was at about two thirty in the morning at the Grand street subway station.
Holding onto a pole in the subway car, Carmen thought about his twelve hour work day — not twelve hours of sitting in front of a computer doing whatever those odd people did that made them the big bucks.
Rather, he had been out on a construction site for those twelve hours with barely a half hour break to eat something. It was close to being as bad as the sweatshops he had read about when he was in history class during high school, slowly carving his name into his desk while wondering how much more bored he could have been. Labor conditions were still fairly bad in certain parts of the world, where people were treated as chattel rather than individuals with lives and dreams.
Carmen’s job today consisted of transporting large concrete bricks from one part of the work site, where they were made, to another part, where they were used. You may be wondering, as Carmen initially did, why the manufacture of the bricks could not be closer to the place where they were put into use. It turns out that the vehicle used to bring concrete to the work site was a few inches too large to get to the place where the bricks were used and so this was the strategy used. Why not just get a smaller truck? Good question. Between the numerous forms needed to return the first truck and the forms needed to replace it with a similar yet smaller truck, complete with justifying why the exchange was necessary in triplicate typewritten on the company forms using one of the five Selectrics left at the company, it was easier to hire someone to move the bricks. Hiring someone took just one form and could now be done on the company intranet site.
Carmen’s day started well before he started the muscle building labor that exhausted him to the core. It started when he made the mistake of agreeing to one more drink with a friend who found out that his spouse was cheating on him. Five or so drinks later he was fist bumping his friend and wished him all the best, and then stumbled to the subway to get home. If he made it on time he could count on at least two sleep cycles which was plenty for him.
Somehow, he just missed the train and so sat down to wait for the next one. Carmen closed his eyes to think about the long day ahead and found himself drifting away. In the city of New York, one of the biggest crimes you can commit is to fall asleep in a subway station. You certainly would have thought that this was the case by the way that Carmen was suddenly jolted awake by the force of a police officer’s boot giving him a swift kick in the side. His long hair, beard, and aroma of beer mixed with whiskey was probably a contributing factor to this — a clean shaven man in a suit would have probably gotten a gentle tap and an “Excuse me, sir…”
Carmen had the sense not to try to fight back but tried to explain his case as best as he could which was difficult through the haze of semi-sobriety. It may have even been his years of being told about the importance of speaking to figures of authority respectfully by his grandmother that got him as good of a break as he did because as soon as he finished explaining himself, the officers helped him back up. It wasn’t long before he was on the next train and soon he was tucked into bed, a little bruised for the wear but otherwise not too bad considering the swift beating that he had managed to avoid by knowing how to address the police, even when drunk.
A few hours later, Carmen managed to get himself to a small diner and was trying to have a cup of coffee with a bagel and cream cheese when he had a rather unpleasant encounter with a fellow patron.
For the last few weeks, a gentleman had been coming into the diner and sitting in the same section as he did, perhaps for a similar reason — their waitress, Angela. The only difference was that Carmen sat in Angela’s section because he preferred his tip money going to her, whereas this other gentleman seemed to have other intentions in mind in choosing his seat.
Angela had been working at the diner for at least twenty years and the number of vile and distasteful remarks did not seem to go down after her husband, his memory should be a blessing, succumbed to testicular cancer. If anything, men no longer feared getting cornered in an alley by Paul and getting stomped by a couple of rough looking men who had necks thicker than their tree trunk legs.
The first time the gentleman said anything after ordering was shortly after getting his coffee. “Couldja get me some sugar, sugar?” He pronounced sugar as though it had no r. Perhaps gentleman was the wrong way to refer to him, considering some of the crude things that would soon start flowing out of his mouth — clearly in need of a refinery. Crude was a better name for him, in fact.
Crude started off this way — by calling Angela sugar when asking for sugar. At least he wasn’t calling her pork chop when he ordered a side of pork chops. He started crossing the line from complimentary to ugly when he started asking Angela if
she had plans for the evening an then started insinuating his way into those plans. Angela did a perfectly good job of ignoring these remarks for awhile — she had been receiving them long enough.
You may be thinking at this point that it seems odd that so many people would be making inappropriate remarks to a diner waitress of twenty years. This is most likely because all of your experience with diner waitresses comes from television, film, and the occasional actual grizzled waitress. Angela’s appearance did not indicate a person who worked hard twelve hour days just to eke out a wage with which she could keep a roof over her head, food in the pantry, and the bill collectors at a safe distance. She had a face that practically glowed and eyes that were a deep blue. Her name was quite fitting.
Angela told the man that she was not interested in making plans with him that evening and thanked him for the compliment. He did not take this so well. “Come on, ” he said, “I know just what you want.” The man looked at Angela as a paleo diet advocate eyes a Kobe steak. He was practically hissing these words. At this, Carmen leapt out of his seat and picked up the man by the neck with one hand, lifting him up in the air. He pulled back his good punching fist and was about to strike when Angela yelled out at Carmen. “Drop him, Carmen!”
The man dropped to the ground and nearly fell to it as well. He took three twenty dollar bills out of his bill-fold that appeared to have been ironed and slapped them on the table before pushing his way out of the diner. He nearly tripped over his own feet in the effort.
Angela disappeared to the kitchen in the back and emerged five minutes carrying a black tray on which there were two mugs and a small bowl of miniature marshmallows. She brought them over to a table and sat down. Carmen came over to the table and said, “Are you okay?”
“Have a seat,” she said, indicating the chair across from her. She sounded like a teacher about to explain why cheating on tests was the wrong thing to do.
“Sit yer ass down, Carmen!”
He did, and took a mug of hot cocoa.
“How long have you known me, Carmen?”
“Maybe eleven, even. In all that time, have you ever seen me roll over and get trampled like a mat, verbally or physically?”
“Can’t say that I have.”
“That’s right, and do you know why?”
“You can take care of yourself just fine without me roughing up people?”
“Right to the point. That’s why I like you so much. I should get you a cookie.”
She did get him a cookie. It was oatmeal raisin, sweetened with agave nectar rather than sugar.
“I appreciate that you care so much about me, Carmen, I do. You can’t go looking for a fight every time a guy gives me a look or says something he shouldn’t say to me.” Angela took a sip of her cocoa and looked at Carmen. He certainly meant well.
As he looked up and down the train, hoping that someone would stand up and allow him to take their seat, Carmen wondered if he had erred in attempting to pummel the man in the diner. He certainly wouldn’t be hassling Angela any longer.
“Mary!” someone yelled.
Nobody reacted, as was usually the case in the subway. People regularly boarded trains and shouted to the high heavens that they were the living incarnation of a holy messiah and had come to save the world from itself and get a gentle cough or throat clearing as a reaction. A few voices now called out the name again and Carmen looked up to see a few of the guys from the yard nimbly waking through the crowd to get to him. They approached, and one of them asked how he was doing. Just as quickly, he grabbed him and held him close before forcibly spitting, “How’s about calling me by my name?”
The man pushed Carmen off him and straightened his collar. “Tough guy, are ya?” He suddenly softened a bit and smiled. “Yer alright, Carmen! I just wanted to see if you could take it, and you can give it pretty good too. We like to mess with the new guys sometimes, calling ’em Mary and roughing ’em up, but I can see you can handle yerself just fine.”
Maybe it wasn’t such a bad day after all.