The Little Magician on E Train

It is spectacular!

Well, you might think I am using a metaphor or something.

Some of you might think, especially after you’re through with this article, that I’m actually using the magician metaphor for something else. Knowing me and having read my tons of blog posts so far, some others might think the E Train is actually a metaphor too: maybe, it means the Economy train, or perhaps, Employment train. Or, perhaps…Energy train. Something…or something else…imaginations could run wild.

But, believe me, I am not using any metaphor. I am actually talking about a little magician on the E subway train here in New York City. The only creative liberty I’m taking as the author is with the word “little,” only because, as they always say, ordinary people are little people.

This magician I’m going to talk about is a no-name magician, I’m sure; otherwise, he would not play his magic in front of a reluctant, tired New York subway audience, and jump from car to car to make a living. I tend to believe this is not even his primary job; who can live and feed mouths in Bloomberg’s only-for-rich New York on enchanting a few, sleepy subway commuters late in the evening — with their magic or music?

I’m only telling you this story because it was so exceptional. I’ve never seen anything like it in my un-magical life. I even gave him a dollar — an exceptional act of benevolence if you knew my miserly middle-class Indian-Bengali upbringing. My sense of charity and benevolence could easily match up Shylock of the Merchant of Venice!

Ah, well…getting back on with the story.

I was tired and trying hard not to doze off on the train — I became extra careful to stay alert since a few months ago, a bunch of kids tried to pull a prank on a sleepy me on the G-train. I taught myself about the necessity to stay up especially in these difficult times. Phone snatching, pickpocketing and other such untoward things here in Bloomberg’s only-for-rich New York has now become commonplace.

I was tired and trying hard not to doze off on the train, and contemplating on the mundane-ness of a commuter’s life…or something philosophical like it. Or, maybe, I was just thinking nothing. Something like it. Then, this guy got on the train and things changed in a few seconds…like magic!

He was a tallish, whitish, middle-age’ish guy who showed visible signs of lifelong strife and struggle. Maybe, he is a loner. Maybe, his wife and children left him and his inability to make a decent living. Seeing his manners and magic, I remembered Satyajit Ray’s short story on the little Bengali magician Mr. Tripura Mullick who said to his one-and-only student: “Look, I know all these tricks, but the only trick I don’t know is how to make money.” And that little magician in Ray’s magical story was also a loner, with nowhere to go and no place to live.

Satyajit Ray’s Magical Stories

This little magician’s tricks — unthinkable and quite unbelievable — also reminded me of Ray’s little magician: they were all done without any use of pomp, grandeur or big stage or footlights, or without the help of any glittery woman assistant — or for that matter, without the typical, non-stop patters magicians often use to distract the viewers. He didn’t do any of the above. In fact, all the tricks this guy did were so right front of my eyes that unless I knew he was pulling tricks, I wouldn’t believe he was pulling tricks. That’s how magical they were!

His games were also not something I’ve never seen; in fact, I’ve seen them many times. I’ve seen the cut rope trick where the magician pulls out a piece of white rope, asks someone in the audience to hold the two ends tight spreading it apart, and cuts it in the middle. He then measures the two halves and shows that they are indeed much shorter than the original length. He then gives one half to a member of the audience and keeps the other half. He does an abracadabra on the half he has, rubs his fingers a little magically, and snaps it! Walla, suddenly the half length of the rope becomes a full length again!

(At this point, YOU — some of my longtime readers, now familiar with my way of pulling my own writing tricks, would say: “Okay, wait a minute, we know what you’re up to. You’re trying to say that these little, no-name people are the ones who are constantly pulling the broken pieces of the economy back together with their unsung heroism — acts like magic that nobody knows and nobody cares about: magical acts that behind the scene put the world back together especially in times of serious crisis — like the crisis the American society is now going through, or especially at this difficult time after Hurricane Sandy. You’re telling us to compare the incredible, magic-like work of these small, low-wage workers — electrical workers, plumbers, construction workers, subway workers and so many more — that New York Times or CNN would not talk about. Right?” — Well, I could easily have said that and used this whole article as a metaphor; but really, I’m not doing it because repeating something over and over again is the last thing an intelligent author would do because it drives even his ardent, admiring readers crazy and totally disinterested. You are welcome to judge using your own judgement. I leave that up to you.)

So, on with the story (I hope not to be interrupted again…please).

The little magician went on to show a few little tricks — the usual stuff we see on TV or in a theater — like changing the color of handkerchiefs and all. Remember, all of it is happening just over six or so minutes on an express stop between Forest Hills and Jackson Heights; he would hop on to the next car as soon as the train stops. Now, the final game — with some small amount of cheerful talk from a not-so-cheerful-looking magician: the card trick.

He pulls out a pack of cards and juggles with all fifty two of them in a way that I could only imagine in my dream! Up and down, side to side, inside out, and outside in. He takes the pack in his lifted right palm and throws them down on his left — in a never-ending chain with no cards misbehaving. He then obviously asks one of the subway commuters to pull a card of her choice — and the poor magician had a hard time finding a volunteer because everybody was so reluctant to do it for the fear that they’d probably have to show some gesture of charity which they would not want to do. He then turns his eye away from the woman who volunteered; she now put the card back in the pack the magician was holding out. The rest of the game we all know: he does some more abracadabra, walks his long, uncanny fingers on the pack of cards, and wallah, he pulls out the right card the woman chose!

Finally, in the last thirty seconds or so, the magician shows us something I’ve never seen before in my life. He pulls out a number of cards from the pack and starts spinning them horizontally in the air — halfway between the train floor and ceiling, and the cards floated and danced and circled around in an incredibly synchronous movement, and it appeared they would never stop, as if they were all held together by an invisible string.

It was even better, much better, than this!

Again, it reminded me of Satyajit Ray’s little magician Mullick who trained a coin to come out of his wallet, walk to another coin on the floor, and walk it back together into the wallet. Our little, no-name magician on the E-train also instructed his cards to stop their wild dance and come together quietly into the pack. It was time for him to pack up and hop on to the next car on the E-train. Jackson Heights had arrived and the train had stopped. He collected a few dollar bills — one from a totally inspired and woke-up me, without saying even a word of thanks.

He was not one of the talkative, patterful magicians. He was not David Copperfield of America or P. C. Sircar of Calcutta. He didn’t know the tricks to make a decent living. He never learned that magic.

I hope to see him again some day — on my way back from work on the E Train. He certainly deserves an extra dollar from me…or two.

Sincerely Writing,

Partha

Brooklyn, New York

###

Sex and the Shitty — New Sequels

Oooh...sexxxaayh!

-Sequel Four C-

I was stuck on the G subway for an entire hour today. That was a full sixty minutes.

I felt shitty.

Nobody on the train knew what was going on. The almost-inaudible announcements — don’t you love to hear them — said words like “signal problem,” “stalled train ahead,” and “sorry for the inconvenience.” The voice said it five or six times over the one-hour period. I don’t know about the other “customers,” but I was hoping to hear some new information about the progress, or, what was being done, or like, how long it would approximately take to fix it. It was never disclosed.

I was truly inconvenienced. I was beyond inconvenienced. It was not good. In fact, it was bad.

The only “good” that came out of the entire ordeal was that I now had a subject to write about on my blog. Heck, what else could I do? There was not even a person at the station to bitch about it. Write a letter to the subway authorities? To MTA? Like, are you kiddin’ me?

So, I decided to write a blog. And I then realized Sex and the Shitty was not even a unique title. I felt shitty again. Like, not even profanity is untouched! How uncool!

See, I could’ve named it The Sexy and the Shitty. Or, because I’m also going to talk about clubs — different types of club — I could’ve named it Sexy Clubs and Shitty Clubs. Etc. But because Sex and the Shitty is more catchy and more sexy, I thought, what the heck! Let’s replay. Like, it’s not a trademark or anything, right? Nobody is gonna sue me for it, right? So what? If some people think I’m swearing too much these days and getting more profane, and clearly losing my once-vouched modesty, and then unsubscribe from my blog out of frustration, disappointment and disgust, so be it.

Adios, Sir. Apologies, Ma’m. Sorry for the inconvenience.

See, I came to terms with the hard fact that sex and shit are two important elements of my life. They’re like gem, and how could I not talk about them? How can I hide them — no pun intended — when they are so real? Food is real, money is real, my heartburn is real, that damn G-train ride today was real, and when I was stuck on it, getting claustrophobic on one hand and pissed off by the repeat stupid announcement, that was real too. I was also getting red in my face because I desperately wanted to pee, but could not. I was, like, getting sick.

That feeling is what I call feeling shitty.

Now, what does it have to do with sex? Or, for that matter, why the hell did I mention those clubs?

Pause for a moment.

-Sequel F-

When I was waiting on the stuck G train, red-faced, clasping with my hands the invisible chair handles and with my thighs my desperate urge to pee, I looked out to see Mademoiselle Liberty standing across the Brooklyn Bay. If you know the G train, you know it goes above ground for a couple of stations before it goes back underground again. From the above-ground stations, you can see the sun or snow, the mega Manhattan skyline on one side and minnow Jersey skyline on the other. You also get to see the statue and Liberty Island on the New Jersey side. It’s a pretty picture — almost phony-perfect like a post card.

See Ya, Baby!

So, I was looking out the train window and enjoying the post card, with hope that in that ordeal that would be my last-gasp refuge. Then, I also noticed a bunch of helicopters flying over the Liberty Island — crisscrossing New York and Jersey. I suddenly remembered I saw a number of helipads right next to Wall Street, on the bank of West River. I remembered many of those helicopters were actually transit copters, carrying big Wall Street executives to their New Jersey homes — homes they built in Jersey because of close proximity to the big casino (I mean…stock exchange and Goldman Sachs and stuff), lower taxes and higher privacy than Manhattan, and cheaper real estate for their palaces.

Did I say privacy? Yeah, man, that’s kinda important…especially for them air-commuting New York and Jersey. You need a lot of privacy…especially if you got to hide a lot. America is big on privacy. New York is even bigger. It don’t matter what Supreme Court says about searching your genitalia. It’s not gonna be their genitalia. You can bet on it.

In that one-hour window, in the midst of that claustrophobia, repeated inaudible announcements and my persistent effort to resist a bad-timed nature’s call, a number of things zoomed past my mind — like a fast-forward cinema. I thought, those private helicopters and the privileged customers they carry — they don’t have to get stuck on a subway train and wait helplessly. Some of those privileged customers might be flying to their golf clubs. I could never afford to be a member of a golf club. I heard they were not cheap. I thought, those privately-flown executives might be flying over some place else — I recently saw in a new movie how some of them spent lavishly on sex clubs and drug clubs — doing cocaine and concubines. I could never afford to be a member of a sex club. I heard they were not cheap either. Even if I wanted, I simply could not buy it.

Then you have cricket clubs, croquet clubs, fine wine clubs, dance ‘n dine clubs, fashion cat clubs, Russian pony clubs, poker clubs. You got your broker clubs. You then got your like…Congress clubs. Senate clubs. Business Deans clubs. Democracy clubs. Aristocracy clubs. Fun clubs. Gun clubs. And God knows what other clubs. Elite clubs. D Litt clubs.

I kept thinking. I could never be on any of those clubs. I won’t be on any of those clubs.

I felt shitty again.

In that one frozen hour, a realization newly developed in my mind. I said to myself, New York has so much to offer…literally…in the same city…I mean, just look out the other side of the G train…here’s the dilapidated, forlorn Third Avenue and Smith Street and 9th Street…that desolate corner is a bunch of shuttered-down shops and failed restaurants…in the wee hours, who knows, you might even find a few men and women standing in the corner buying and selling sex…but by no means you can call these New Yorkers privileged members of those uppity sex clubs. Some of them do drugs too, but their habits are not nearly as savvy as those Wall Street executives the new movie showed so vividly.

They do clubs. They fly on their choppers. They are blessed. They’re highly connected too. They never get busted by cops. In fact, they have their own cops.

They are like, sexy.

I felt shitty again. (I know. I’ve repeated my stupid announcements.)

Post Script. — The G train finally walked again. After I walked off and out of it, the first thing that came to my mind was to look for a rest room where I could release my bladder. Then it was time to release a little bit of steam.


Sincerely Writing,

Partha

Brooklyn, New York

This is Laughing Matter 2. Or is it?

-Laugh 2-

Or, you don’t. It’s your choice.

My Insignificant Personal Stories

I’m going to tell you three of my own, honest-to-God, real-life, personal, New York City stories of live-together with racism and stereotype. Or, you can call it something else. It’s your choice.

I simply titled it Laugh 2 because I called the most recent story I told you Laugh 1. These three stories are so dry, down ‘n dirty, straightforward and unfunny that you might start suspecting my basic literary prowess. Heck, I seriously doubted it myself when I went through those little experiences; in fact, when they happened — one event at a time with a gap of a couple of years in between — the only thought that came to my mind was how to save my little brown Indian butt, and go home with a non-disfigured face (or in one instance, go home at all).

And I didn’t laugh.

I just thank God I did not become a post-9/11 FBI or NYPD statistic of hate-crime victims (or in one instance, a permanently disappeared U.S. citizen). I just hope and pray to God that, however insignificant my scare was compared to the grotesque, horrific, nightmarish and bone-chilling experiences so many people I know have gone through, none encounter experiences even as small as mine. I don’t know about you the rough, tough and diehard, man, I nearly peed in my pants. And a grassroots, 9/11 community organizer turned immigrant and labor advocate, I am not particularly known as a wimp.

How do I rank these stories? There is no way I could do that. So, like they write experiences on the resumé with the most recent cited first, I’m going to tell you my stories with the most recent one first. Is it the most stand-out one? Not sure. I leave it up to you to decide on the poignancy indicator of it.

Let’s just cut to the chase. I’ll be brief.

Scare 1

NYC subway on police watch

So, about this time last year, on one late morning on a slow, sunny, early fall day, I was waiting on a downtown NYC subway platform for the E train. I was going to college to teach an afternoon class. I had my trademark brown backpack on my brown back, I had a light jacket on, and I also had my hands in my coat pockets.

A woman — she was likely watching over me for some time — walked up to me, just before the train arrived. She smiled strangely at me, and said, “You’re not carrying a gun on you, are you?” Then she gestured at my hands in my pockets, and smiled again, as if she actually had doubts if I was carrying a hidden gun.

I was so surprised by the suddenness of it that I didn’t know what to say. First I thought she was just joking, however bad and stupid the joke was. But then I realized she was serious. The train came and she and I boarded the train; I now felt quite annoyed that she kept looking at me and my brown skin and my “Islamic-terrorist-looking” face and beard (she didn’t know I was an American Hindu, involved with the American peace movement, and preached global non-violence all my life). I realized she was quite nervous by the possibility that either my backpack or my jacket could indeed carry a gun. And then she walked up to me and repeated her question: “You don’t have a gun on you, do you?”

I had a little interaction with her after that — a non-violent one — and it was lucky I only had one station to ride on the E train. But that one-station, three-minute ride was more than enough. It was pretty long.

I am not CNN or Fox or some tabloid paper, and I don’t mean to make too much of a big deal out of it. But I’ve actually thought about the incident quite a bit afterwards, and in hindsight, I believe it could’ve been much worse under a slightly different set of circumstances.

Think about the incident happening on a Greyhound bus or maybe, a commuter train (I’m excluding airplanes because they’d have body scans and all). I very likely “look like an Islamic terrorist” with my brown skin and pronounced beard based on the profiling and flagging they’d had on countless innocent Muslims, South Asians and Arabs since 9/11. What if this crazy woman walked up to me there, challenged me if I had a gun in my backpack (remember my NYPD-NYCLU bag search lawsuit story?), and then perhaps called the “see-something-say-something” police? I know people who were picked up by the police and FBI and other law enforcement on such charges by “responsible American citizens.” I also know of at least one real-life story a young Sikh friend from New Jersey told me where a busload of Americans started heckling him on his way back home from Philadelphia, called him Osama, and followed him off the bus to the public bathroom, and threatened to beat him up black and blue.

Any of the above could’ve happened to me. That was really the scary part.

Glad in this case, it was “small and significant.” And I came back home in one piece to report it on Facebook the same night.

Funny? Not funny?

___

Scare 2

(to be continued)