Anyone who has lived in New York City for any length of time has one. They’re as ubiquitous as a corner coffee cart; as standard as a view of the Chrysler building. They’re stories of the New York City subway, and for whatever reason lately I’ve been hearing a lot of them.
The other day the Big Man told me that he’d gotten on the L train to Brooklyn and saw one of the cast members from Girls heading towards Williamsburg, which felt laughingly ironic to him. A customer told me the other day of the wedding proposal he saw on the train a few years ago. Our friends trade horror stories of fights and psycopaths like a strange currency; whoever has the craziest story wins. One friend tells of being vomited on while heading to work one morning; last week I saw a lady eating spaghetti and meatballs out of a tupperware container, just twirling her fork into the pasta and eating the meatballs whole. Food is allowed on the subway, but I think a line needs to be drawn at anything requiring more utensils than a straw.
My favorite story, however, is one of my own, witnessed while riding the L train about a year and a half ago. I was on my way home from Chelsea Market, where I’d spent the afternoon getting my knives sharpened and buying marrow bones for a light dinner. I’d had a long day of work already; I was hot and tired and had worn myself out. To make matters worse, the moment I sat down on the train the battery on my phone gave out, taking with it any chance I had of zoning out to music on the way home. I tucked my earbuds into my purse and settled in for the six or so stops to my apartment.
It didn’t take me long to notice the old man across from me. He was positively giddy with excitement; squirming around in his seat and occasionally beaming at his younger companion. The companion would occasionally smile back and pat him reassuringly on the knee. Eventually the old man burst out with, “I’m just so happy! I feel like singing.” To which his companion said, “Well, why don’t you?”
The old man nodded, took a deep breath, and in a soft baritone began singing “Some Enchanted Evening.”
The train stopped at 14th street and more people got on, chattering. The old man’s voice rose above the noise. “You may see a stranger, across a crowded room…” The car quieted as his voice got louder, and he eventually finished, drawing out the last note in a rumbly vibrato and looking extremely pleased with himself. The entire car broke into applause and he blushed. “Thank you,” he said to the crowd. “Today is the happiest day of my life. I moved to this country when I was 14 years old. I started out as a boot black in Union Square, where I met my wife, and we raised four beautiful children together. Today, after 50 years of living in America, I have finally became an American citizen.” The car broke into more applause and then my stop arrived and I got off the train.
I often wish I had stopped and said something. I understand immigration on a personal level; the Big Man and I have been through the ins and outs of the whole messy system, full of paperwork and interviews and the painful writing of big checks. But to see someone so thrilled to be a citizen; who had lived and loved and worked in this country for so many years, and could finally say that he was now an official part of it; that made me proud and happy and emotional all at the same time.
Since that day I’ve made a point to not always leave my earbuds in; I’m too scared I’ll miss anything.
Lemon Ginger Roast Chicken
4 chicken thighs, skin on
2 large lemons, washed and sliced thin
1 large thumb of ginger, peeled and sliced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
sea salt, to taste
Preheat the oven to 425 *F. Rinse the chicken thighs and pat them dry. Season lightly with sea salt, then pace in the bottom of a deep casserole dish.
Arrange the lemons and ginger evenly around the chicken thighs and scatter the garlic on top.
Roast the chicken for one hour, or until the skin has crisped, the lemons have softened the juices run clear when the chicken is cut into. Serve immediately.