So I get on the #1 train at 86th Street, plop myself down on a seat in a half-filled car. I immediately notice a nice-looking, well-dressed young man -- black overcoat, black slacks, black dress shoes. And then I notice him surreptitiously eyeing the nice-looking Puerto Rican fellow a few feet away from him on the same bench-seat. The young man in black glances around the car, never really focussing on anyone or anything, then his gaze is drawn back to the Puerto Rican fellow. The Puerto Rican fellow seems vaguely nervous, perhaps a little vigilant, I can't quite tell. The young man in black runs his eyes up and down the athletic form of the Puerto Rican. He seems on the verge of saying something. I await the drama.
Then I notice the black plastic name tag pinned to the overcoat of the nice-looking young man in black: "Elder ______ ______, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints".
So the plot in my head changes course. The dramatist in me recognizes this as "perception shift". Is this adolescent elder going to find a way to sell his wares to the nice looking Puerto Rican fellow? This could be interesting: Salt Lake City meets the Big Apple.
Sadly, the young Puerto Rican fellow hops off the train at 59th Street. Another mishandled scene. But wait! A big-boned Caribbean woman gets on and takes the place of the Puerto Rican fellow. A change in cast. The young man in black sits up a bit straighter, hesitates briefly, then takes a running leap of faith.
"Hello," he says to the big-boned woman, "how are you this evening?"
She smiles, nods, and with every fiber of her being lets the young man know he should mind his own beeswax. The young man in black relaxes a bit, sits back, checks his watch.
Okay, nothing going on here. I let my gaze wander down the car, changing channels, looking for the next entertainment. I notice another young man dressed in black, and I also note the black plastic name tag pinned to his overcoat. Ah. A missionary team working the same car. I watch Elder #2 surreptitiously eyeing three young people across the aisle from him. The youngsters are talking animatedly, laughing. This second baby-faced elder studies them, first one, then another, then the third. He's looking for his opening, but even I can see he will never find it here. It's hopeless. He seems a bit undertrained for this job. Or maybe it's just that it's their first night out, working the trains as a team.
Now... I've been riding the subways of New York City for nigh onto twenty years and I've seen a lot of weird stuff going down, but I don't think I've ever seen a Mormon missionary team working a subway car before. Still, among the catalog of things I've seen on the subway over the years, this is pretty low on my Scale of the Remarkable. It barely registers, in fact, and I probably wouldn't have given it a second thought but for this...
Earlier in the evening, as I was beginning my journey at Union Square, I passed a group of people who had set up a number tables with some strange looking contraptions on them -- electronic-thingies with large calibrated dials and two metallic tubes attached to each by wires. There was a sign: "Free Stress Test". Several copies of Dianetics were on offer. As I passed by, a woman urged me to take ten minutes and discover how stressed I really was. I noticed a fairly unstressed-looking fellow sitting before one of the electronic devices, gripping a metallic tube in each hand, closely watching the needle on the calibrated dial. A young woman was sitting next to him explaining the results of his test, giving him The Bad News, I suppose.
A bit further on, I noticed a man and a woman huddled together and holding up a sign: "Free Kabbalah Classes".
Okay, look... there have always been fervently religious people flogging their beliefs on the streets and subways of New York, but I mean, come on. This is different. This is organized. This is looking like a series of spiritual campaigns. If this keeps up, my Metrocard will become the functional equivalent of a doctoral degree in Comparative Religions. What's next? The conductor on the #6 parading a sign up and down the aisle as we approach City Hall: "The End of the Line Is Near!"
I prefer your secular subway lunatics. They generally keep their urgent truths to themselves -- behavior deeply symptomatic of their tragic afflictions, of course, and I wish we had better ways to help them, but still. At least they have the grace to leave me to my own delusions as I ride.
Guys... listen... thanks for the offer of help with my spiritual life and everything, but the thing is the subway only seems like a placeholder for my seedy interior life. In fact, it's just an ordinary railroad. With notably crappy scenery.