Okay already. I'm missing my dinner to write this. 700-plus words, 25 minutes, stone sober.
Small Life in a Big City
Julian didn’t think his life was small. He had a very exacting job, working for the Metropolitan Transit Authority scheduling maintenance. And then there were the rivalries between the needs of the subway-riding residents of New York and the MTA’s need to make sure each piece of equipment received its preventive maintenance.
He was on the platform at 14th Street waiting for the F train express to come in…just about…any minute.
A minute passed, and then another. In fact, 15 minutes and no train meant several thousand people were getting packed tighter and tighter. A rumble of shouting in the back flowed to the front where Julian was standing, toes three inches from the edge of the platform.
A woman next to him—a girl, really, who sort of looked like his cousin Sarah, the one in Canarsie, whispered loudly. “I can’t take it anymore. I’m going to faint. I’m going to throw up. I’m having a PANIC ATTACK!”
He turned to face her. “Miss....” Her eyes—large brown eyes—rolled in her head. “Be calm. The train’ll be here any minute.”
“That’s what they always say. And it never comes when I need to get home. I have things to do. I’ve been on my feet for eight hours.”
“All right!” Julian shouted. The people near him turned to see who was freaking out. Eight million people in the big city almost guarantee someone will go bonkers and rip off his clothes or beat on a taxicab hood or run into traffic screaming “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” That was always worth an anecdote when you had lunch with your pals or sat down to have a beer after work—usually the most rewarding part of any day.
“All right!” he shouted again. “I work for the MTA. We got a responsibility to you guys,” he said looking right in the eyes of the woman who resembled his cousin—well, second cousin once removed. “I’m making a call, everybody. I’m calling the chairman of the MTA. I have his cell phone number. I know I’m not supposed to do this. Not supposed to have his number—but, well, I got it so here goes.”
Hundreds of people were looking at him, maybe thousands. 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. Walder, this is Julian Markowitz, you don’t know me, but… I said Julian Markowitz. Oh, it’s Mrs. Walder. Mrs. Walder-Cummings. I’m sorry to interrupt your dinner, but there are a thousand people here on the F train platform at 14th and there've been no trains for I don’t know how long.”
A silence had fallen over the platform as the horde of passengers stared at Julian, expecting perhaps they were witnessing Jesus calming the waves on the Sea of Galilee.
“Well, I’m sorry Mr. Walder 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 in the underground subway and Julian was perspiring as he waited with the phone to his ear. He heard Mrs. Walder-Cummings call to her husband and an exchange of works 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 too, Mrs. Walder-Cummings—and you have a good evening too.”
At that moment the silence was broken by the sound of steel wheels grinding over steel rails as the F train express rolled into the station. A mighty roar went up from the crowd and Julian felt hands slapping him on the back and pumping his hands. The woman who looked like his cousin Sarah put her face close to his and said, “My panic attack is gone. 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 saved us, and that’s what’s important. Will you be getting on the train with me? I live in Forest Hills. I know it’s a long way, but if you’re not married or—oh, I’m sorry to be so personal!”
“No, no, I’m not married. And I’m not a hero, but I would like to know your name—in case we see each other again. This is a pretty big city for small people like us.”
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