Don't Ride the Subway Nor Eat BBQ In NYC

When I moved from Texas to NYC, my family hosted a send-off in Dallas. My mother pointed her finger at my chest, sliding my body across the room into a corner like I was on a track. With a foreboding witch-like look on her face, her eyes got all wild and Barbara Bush-the-1st crazy. The room grew darker, from the corner of my eye I think I saw lightning. Her finger poked me rather hard and her voice suddenly went from sweet to raspy. I thought she was going to tell me I was adopted, or that my VISA card had a limit.

"Beware of BBQ in New York!she hissed.

Others in the room concurred, like a coven casting a vote. "BBQ?" I chortled. "How the hell can a bunch of Yankees not know how to slow-roast meat? It's fool proof - slap it on the heat, slather it with sauce and forget it for a while."

On old man got up from the corner and spoke; I don't even think he was invited. He was a huge presence that just suddenly appeared, like China.

"Brooklyn, Bronx, Queens. Stay away from B-B-Q," he warned. "And don't take the subway; that's how you end up in those places," he said.

I was familiar with the city as a tourist; however, my family was concerned that living there was going to terrify me. I reminded them that I had just finished six years in the Marine Corps. If I could wear nothing but olive green for all those years, I could do anything.

My apartment was on the 2nd floor of a pre-war building on Columbus and 70th -- a terrific neighborhood. Right above a Chinese restaurant, but I didn't trust the food, it was too close. You entered the apartment through the kitchen, which served as our foyer. As you continued into the living room, the ceiling grew to fourteen feet. At the end was a floor-to-ceiling window that opened onto a fire escape. I called it our terrace.

The first time my little brother Clay came to visit, I let him in and rushed back to the bathroom to finish blow drying my huge 1980's hair.

"Should I wait in the living room?" he asked.

"You're in the living room," I sighed.

I felt lucky to have this apartment. I particularly enjoyed the parquet hardwood floors that were inlaid with a darker outline in different wood, laid very carefully and with only the skill brought over by a teen via a ship in 1885 from Hamburg. I imagine the German immigrant that lived in the apartment, tired from a long day of cobbling or making schnitzel, coming home, thinking, "Boy, could this parquet use some inlay! I'm going to lay here on the floor and with every ounce of strength I can muster I will inlay this floor, improving my mood and the hip-factor of the Upper West Side in the 1980's." I appreciated his effort.

For my entire tenure in the city, I never became familiar with the NYC subway system. I had the impression that once you entered the subway, the doors locked shut and it sped off into a dark tunnel and didn't stop until it was good and deep in Brooklyn. Then the door opened, spitting me out into the dirty street and announcing to the awaiting horrible cast-offs forced to live there, "Fresh meat, Brooklyn. Have at it!"

Unmentionable ravage would occur, like lions on a zebra kill. Like the unseen scene hinted at in Suddenly Last Summer.

So I walked a lot in NYC. I rode the pokey buses, pretending I was a tourist. I took cabs when I could; but didn't ride the subway unless I was with friends. After acting class one day, starlet Chelsea Noble (before her role as Mrs. Kirk Cameron) convinced me to ride the subway with her. She thought me crazy not to take advantage of this rapid transport system. I thought her crazy for being young, beautiful, and inviting throngs of men to attack her and steal her innocence and morals. Turns out the right-wing did that just a few years later.

Then I got cast to play a doctor delivering Nina's baby on the soap Another World. This is great news to an actor, unless your agent tells you that they tape in fucking Brooklyn. She might as well have told me they filmed in Hell, because Brooklyn is in the forbidden BBQ triangle. Why couldn't a rich soap opera character come into the city and deliver her baby?!

My agent casually gave me my call time. In fucking Brooklyn. She told me what trains to take. "Are you writing this down?" she asked.

No. I was looking out my rear window to see which building was the highest, and if my body would disturb anyone as it fell to the ground.

"I'll take a taxi," I said.

"It will cost you every cent you'll make on this shoot! You'll take the subway." I'd signed with the agency Writer's and Artists and didn't want to anger them. I braced myself for the subway trip.

Deep breaths and baby steps got me onto the train to Grand Central at 6:30AM. I emerged into the vast terminal and looked for my train. The letters on the sign swirled, looking more like gibberish in my panic. But I found my train. It was jam-packed, like a compilation of Bee Gee hits sold on TV.

I stood, hanging onto a straps. I tried to stay calm as the train emerged from the tunnel, into the daylight, and along the top of some famous-looking bridge. I could see that I was leaving Manhattan behind. The unease I was feeling must be why Woody Allen never comes to LA for the Oscar's.

I got off the train at my appointed stop. I was the only person that did so. I stood there for a second, looking around at the warehouse-like buildings. I had no idea where I was headed and had no sense of direction. Though that might be a tremendous metaphor for my life, I couldn't grasp that and look out for bad guys at the same time. And check my hair in the reflection from a broken but taped-up window.

I walked a bit in one direction, then another. I wasn't feeling it. I'm a former Marine. I've shot azimuths hundreds of times, with a compass in vast woods, mapping out grid co-ordinates to lead my squad to an objective. This concrete jungle should be cake. The motivation that I should be on time for one of my first professional acting jobs should have prodded me enough to find the huge television studio.

But it didn't feel right. Perhaps I had gotten off at the wrong stop. No one else was around; weird when I was used to crowded Manhattan. It was as if my train ride and decision to enter Brooklyn had confirmed my family's belief that Brooklyn was evil and had caused the Apocalypse. I stood there, literally at a crossroads.

I walked across the tracks, back onto the train platform and took the next train back into the city.  Sure, I felt defeated; but I was alive. My murder and subsequent dismemberment was not going to be the lead story on the news that night. Whitney Houston and the entire casts of Cats and  Dreamgirls were not going to have to sing all of the songs at the memorial led by Elton John and Maya Angelou as previously planned.

I called my agent from a payphone in Grand Central Station. She wasn't pissed, she was in shock.

"You fucking idiot! The entire production is waiting on you to deliver Nina's fucking baby!! She is contractually unable to reach up and pull her own baby out of her own fucking uterus and shoot a pretty look into Camera B at the same fucking time!! Now you have to get in one of your precious fucking cabs and get your idiotic ass out to Brooklyn, where I live by the goddamn way! I hope it costs you every cent you have!!" She was a skoch angry.

I jumped in a cab, feel gin both stupid and comfortable. I had a great time on the show. Nina had a beautiful, healthy, plastic baby.

I've never been back to Brooklyn. And I've never eaten BBQ in New York.

When I'm in NYC now, I take great relish in riding subways. I seek out chances to ride them. I have ridden the subways on trips back to NYC, and in New Jersey, Philadelphia, Boston, London, Paris, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Buenos Aires, and Montreal. But I drew the line in Istanbul. I know for a fact that those trains do indeed lead to white slavery, and after all of these years, I'm not falling for that.

1 comment:

  1. One'st upon a time Brooklyn was criss crossed by a labyrinth of trolly car lines. Without sophisticated traffic control pedestrians were at the peril of being run down when crossing these lines that ran down the main streets. As a result they became artful "dodgers" of the trollies, a name that stuck as the nickname for their local baseball club.
    The Dodgers left Brooklyn in 1957 for points west and settled in LaLa land where now the peril is dodging Dodger fans in the parking lot. There is no subway to Dodger stadium.
    Great post, Greg.

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