Overheard Conversation: Mustachio and the Asian

subwaysketches

This happened in July when I was in New York a couple years ago. On the subway in the row across from me a woman was scrunching her head into the man next to her. Both of them had drinks in paper bags. The mustached man was looking around, as if trying to protect her. For six minutes she sat with her head in her hands in his stomach. I couldn’t figure out if she was crying or afraid or both. The man turned to the guy two seats away.

“This going to 33rd?” he asked.

“Yeah,” the guy said, and then retuned to his activity of facing forward.

“And you’re going there?”

“Yeah.”

“I’m putting it on you to make sure I know when we get there.”

“Sure. Yeah. That’s fine.” Asian man smiled.

“Cause I don’t want to miss it. You know,” the mustached man said, “I spent seven years in the slammer. Seven years. And now people act like they can disrespect me.

The Asian guy wasn’t quite sure what to do with it.

“I set this backpack down,” mustachio indicated the backpack taking up the seat to the left of him and his girl, “So no one would come and bother us. So we’d get some space. This guy comes up to us, and is like, ‘Can I move this?’ like I don’t get it. Like he’s more important or something. Like. You know. What’s with some of them. I said, ‘excuse me. No. That’s my bag. Get out of here.’”

The woman, meanwhile, was pushing herself into his belly, crying, not able to reveal her face. He was acting like it was no big deal, like this was the normal state for the two of them. He took a sip from the brown bag he was holding between his legs.

“You better not have a problem with the bag,” mustachio said.

“No,” the Asian guy muttered.

Mustachio verbally jumped, “Because that’s my bag. You get it. Don’t touch it. Don’t move it. Nothing. You know, you seem all right.”

They got into a quieter tone that I couldn't hear. I didn’t have to. The body language was enough. Mustachio, who was about twice his weight and four or five boxing classes up from him, was leaning in, delineating some points with his hands. Asian man’s feet were turned inwards. His head lowered until mustachio stared him straight in the eye, and spoke a bit, “Cause a lot of people just ignore me. You know. And I get so mad,” at which point the Asian man looked up again and started nodding. I wasn’t the only one noticing this. Everyone in the car was doing side long glances to the jail bird and the business man, trying to not be noticed, afraid to get on the darker end of mustachio’s wrath. I had my ipod buds in my ear, sound off, unflipped book in front of me.

He turned to the woman hunched into him.

“Get up,” he said.

She looked up at him, bug eyed glasses pushed slightly down so I could see her face. She was the sort of attractive skinny that only worked in a submissive, she-will-fuck-up-the-life-of-anyone-who-crosses-her-path sense of the word. Not that she’ll be some pre-madonna but that with her low level of self confidence, yet belief in her ability to manipulate, she’ll find the worst man and drag the two of them together into some black hole of hate.

“Get up,” the guy said.

She was holding on to his midsection. He got up from his seat and looked down at her.

“Drink this.” He had a vitamin water bottle in front of him, holding it up to her mouth.

“No, no.” She said in a thick italian accent. I was expecting a mousy higher voice pretending to be something. Her voice was low. It didn’t match her body.

“Drink,” he said.

She took the paper bag by her, and drank it, raising it above her head, holding it in that position until it was clear nothing was left. The guy glanced at me watching this. He saw me reading, unable to hear over my ipod.

They started talking quietly again so I couldn’t hear them. She was fumbling in the back pack as he had turned to say something else to the Asian guy. She took out a pill bottle, and with shaking hands went to open it. He put his hands over hers, and took a pill for himself as well. She put the bottle back. Then mustachio said, “You need to drink this.”

“Fine,” she said. She took the bottle and started drinking.

“Drink, drink, drink,” he said.

“I feel like you should be chanting chug, chug, chug,” she said.

“Just drink,” he said.

She was sitting upright at this point speaking back at him going off about something, though I couldn’t say what, and he continued his same demeanor. The crazed I’m-ready-to-beat-up-a-stranger-if-you-push-me way that he’d been carrying since the start, and probably drew her to him originally. I’m just guessing at this point.

The train had passed 23rd and mustachio placed their brown paper bags and discarded vitamin water in a crevice below the seat.

“You don’t do that,” she said, “You need to throw that out. Don’t be that guy.”

“Well I don’t see any trash can. You see a trash can? Because if there was, I’d throw it out.”

“Listen, you’re not going to be one of those guys that throws litter on the subway.”

“You see a trashcan? Do you? I didn’t think so.”

She took the litter off the floor, and went to lean into him again. He went to confer with the Asian fellow about what her deal was. But I already knew. Everyone already knew. If she didn’t yet know she was with that guy, she wasn’t going to figure it out. It was too late.

WritingJeremy Shuback