MONDAY: Small Life in a Big City

BY WALT GIERSBACH

Copyright is held by the author.

JULIAN WAS a small man, perfectly formed and even good looking, but just five feet five inches tall. He was the sort of person who could be overlooked in a city of eight million large, fast-moving people. His exacting job scheduling service for New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority subways and buses required constant balance. There were the needs of fare-paying riders and the MTA’s need to make sure each piece of equipment received its preventive maintenance.

He stood sheep-like on the platform at 14th Street and Sixth Avenue waiting for the F train express to come in . . . just about . . . any minute.

That minute passed, and then another. In fact, 15 minutes and no train meant that now a thousand people were packed on the platform like olives in a jar. The grumbling and curses by the turnstile flowed to the front where Julian stood, toes three inches from the platform’s edge.

A woman next to him — a girl, really, who sort of looked like his cousin Sarah, the one in Canarsie, whispered hoarsely. “I can’t take it anymore. I’m going to faint. I’m going to throw up. I’m having a PANIC ATTACK!”

He looked at her. Actually, looked down because she was a few inches shorter than Julian. Her eyes — large brown eyes — rolled in her head. “Miss,” he said, “be calm. The train’ll be here any minute.”

“That’s they want you to think. Never an announcement. And never a train when you absolutely need to get home. I got things to do. I’ve been on my feet for eight, nine hours.”

“All right!” Julian shouted. The people near him turned to see who was freaking out. Eight million people in the city almost guarantees someone will go bonkers and rip off his clothes or beat on a taxicab hood or run into traffic screaming, “I’m fed up and it’s making me crazy!” That was always worth an anecdote when you had lunch with your pals or sat down after work to have a beer. These stories were often the most rewarding part of the day.

“All right!” he shouted again. “I work for the MTA. We got a responsibility to you guys.” He looked right into the eyes of the woman who resembled his cousin — well, second cousin once removed. “I’m making a call, everybody. I’m calling Tom Prendergast, chairman of the MTA. I got his home phone number. I know I’m not supposed to do this. Not supposed to have his number — but, I got it so here goes.” This last was directed to the short woman with big eyes.

The crowd, yards deep and shoulder to shoulder, stared at him mutely. Julian didn’t feel embarrassed or self conscious. He felt good, like a sergeant maybe, telling his men to follow him over the hill.

“Mr. Prendergast,” he said into his cell phone, “this is Julian Markowitz. You don’t know me, but . . . I said my name is Julian Markowitz. Oh, it’s Mrs. Prendergast. Say, I’m sorry to interrupt your evening, but there are a thousand people here on the F train platform at 14th Street and there’ve been no trains for I don’t know how long.”

The silence lay heavily in the humid air. The would-be passengers gaped at Julian as if they were witnessing Jesus calming the waves on the Sea of Galilee.

“Well, I’m sorry Mr. Prendergast is indisposed, but we’re indisposed too. You will tell him, when he gets out of the bathroom, won’t you? Tell him Julian Markowitz wants to go home. A lot of people here want to go home too, maybe to the bathroom even. Can he do something?”

The heat was overpowering as Julian felt perspiration trickle down the small of his back and he waited with the phone to his ear. He heard Mrs. Prendergast call to her husband and an exchange of words he couldn’t make out. Then she came back on the line, said she’d see what she could do, thanked him, and told him to have a good evening.

“Thank you, Mrs. Prendergast — and you have a good evening too.”

At that moment, the silence in the catacomb was broken by the sound of steel wheels screeching over steel rails as the F train express hurtled unconcernedly into the station. A mighty roar went up from the crowd and Julian felt hands slapping him on the back.

The woman who looked like his cousin Sarah put her face close to his. “My panic attack is gone,” she said. “What you did, Julian . . . well, what you did was heroic.”

“I may lose my job,” he told the young woman.

“Heroes don’t worry about their jobs. You did a great thing, and that’s what’s important. Are you getting on this train? I live in Forest Hills. I know it’s a long way, but if you’re not married or — oh, I’m sorry to get personal.”

“No, I’m not married. And I’m no hero, but I would like to know your name and phone number. We could see each other again. This is a pretty big city. It’s easy for a people to lose track of each other if they’re not careful.”

8 comments

  1. Mitchell Toews

    I liked how I felt kinda quesy because of the overcrowding on the platform and nervous about the edge. And I liked it too when little Julian, invisible from the front of the crowd, shouted out his take-charge announcement. I had DeVito and Rhea Perlman on the red carpet in my mind’s eye, at the end.

  2. Debra Campoli

    It was such a lovely story that felt real! Great job Walter, Our Mentor….Your writing was very explicit whereas I pictured Julian and the girl perfectly in my mind’s eye. Did they get together after, fall in love and have a few kids? hee hee I just always want more!

    PS Walt, I would like to ask you something but don’t have YOUR email..I only have the one that goes out to the whole group. Pls email me so I may get in contact before our next meeting! Thanks deb

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