for Ponytail Joe, MTA Rescue Worker
My eyeglasses are a historic landmark for me. I got them on the day that I
was reborn, that is, when my paramour in a fit of public jealousy and manliness
decided to grab them off my nose and squash their delicate frame, popping out
the lenses. That, and other similar tokens of passion, got him in jail for one
day and in anger management for six months, and a stay-away-from-her order of
protection at least until fall 2008. He deserved much more than that, the
detective said, at least five years for attempted murder, since he forgot to
tell me he was HIV positive and twice the condom broke, but the DA’s office
said they wouldn’t go for it, since I didn’t get infected, thank God.
This was on March 11, 2006. A week later I got new eyeglasses, the same brand
frames back on my nose, compliments of the Crime Victims’ Bureau.
Now, summer 2007, they are still a pleasure to wear. Light, hip, they got a bit
loose, though. Each time I am at the teacher’s desk looking down in the
textbook they fall on the table, causing merriment in the back of the class
where the slackers congregate.
Tuesday night I hurried to a rehearsal in Chinatown.
5:30-ish I am about to get out of the train, head down, stepping cautiously
over the gap that so many people fell thru, but it’s a small crack, not even a
palm wide and I see my eyeglasses falling down! My God, one handle was still on
the train floor, I lean down to grab them, pick them up, but they continue the
fall. Train leaves. I’m there on the platform, looking into the dark track bed,
filthy with garbage and murky pools of rain. I can’t see a thing.
If they fell by the tracks, they’ll still be there when I get back from the rehearsal.
If they fell on the tracks, good-bye, Columbus! They are squashed again, this
time for good. Why is no one here? Where is the damn info booth? No info booth.
Maybe it’s on the uptown platform. Go there. I can’t. I have to rush to the
All thru the rehearsal, I couldn’t think about anything else but the
eyeglasses. Perhaps it is a good thing they had an accident. It’s time to move
on. No more memories. Move on. New eyeglasses. What are you talking about? It
will be at least $500! You promised yourself a new life on your birthday, a new
digital camera! You donated your film camera to the nonprofit American Opera
team! These are your eyeglasses. You should have gone to the optician’s and
tightened them up. You should have worn a string to hold them on your neck.
Yeah, like old country accountants! I’m hip! Way hip. You can barely see! Buy a
flashlight from the street vendors. It’s Chinatown, how much can that cost? You
go back there and ask the MTA guys to get them for you! Remember that guy once
on the blue line in Penn Station? He realized his golden diamond stud earring
just fell off his ear on the tracks and he raised hell and they called the guys
and they jumped in the pit and got him his earring! But who are these guys? I
looked around for a policeman, but there wasn't any, neither in the station nor
on the street. Too hot. No matter what, go get your eyeglasses back, or at
least make sure they are dead. They are your eyeglasses.
So at nine I went to the booth, approached a policeman who was guarding a
worker taking the money out of the ticket machine. He didn’t want to talk to
me, had his bulletproof vest on, directed me majestically to the information
booth guy, though he saw too well that no one was there. A good five minutes
later he shows up. Grumpy. It’s Chinatown. It’s a Chinese man. I fear he
doesn’t understand me at all.
He does, but how should I know? Most people can’t speak English in this part of
town. He is frowning. He had enough of this noise and heat. But I’m there and I
won’t go away. Give me my eyeglasses! He calls, the trains go by, metal noise
screeching, people coming and going. I’m still here, give me my eyeglasses! He
talks on his antiquated phone. “Where was this?” “On the downtown 6 line platform,
by the street elevator.” “They’ll come in half an hour or an hour. You either
go there, wait for them on the bench, or come back later and pick them up from
here.” “No, sir. I’ll go there and stay until they come.” I’m prepared to wait
for hours. Three ladies on the bench discuss a girlfriend, a jealous woman, who
threw a fit and of course, the guy left her, she is like that. Train comes,
they go. I peer into the gutter again. I can’t see a thing. The janitor sweeps
the platform. “I lost my eyeglasses.” “Did you call them?” “Yes.” “Don’t go
down there. The train won’t stop. Don’t go down there.” “I won’t.” I’m not an
Not even 15 minutes passed, two stocky guys with orange mat vests show up with
mega huge flashlights.
One, gray ponytail, the other, crew cut. “Are you here for me? For my
eyeglasses?” I asked eagerly. “Yes, Ma’am.”
“They fell down here, by this pillar.” “Are you sure?” “Yes.” “When was this?” “At
5:30.” “5:30?! They are gone by now,” says the Crew Cut. “Why should they be
gone by now?” “Some kid saw them and jumped in the pit and took them.” “What
for?” “Just for fun, saw them glittering in the mud, picked them.”
But the Ponytail, didn’t discourage me, did his job, worked his flashlight like
a movie spotlight. All we could see were plastic bottles, cans, papers, pools
of squalor. The Crew Cut went farther down the track, though I told them, “It
was near this pillar here, or at the most that one there, before the turnstile.
I remember I had to walk very little to get out of the train station.” Nothing.
“I don’t know how you will see them, because they have slim black square wire
frames. They are very delicate...”
Ponytail moves ahead one more column, then he gets his round belly on the
floor! He forays into the mud and darkness. On the bench, a young couple.
Instead of minding their romance, the young curly blond man is amused by my
adventures! We were a sight to behold, Ponytail on his belly with flashlight in
the track pit, me hopping about in my blue summer dress.
Train comes honking ablast. Stop the filming. Train leaves station. Action! Back
on the belly. “I found them!” announces Ponytail. “Where? Where?” A passenger
points excited, “Look, they are there! Look there!!!” “Please, please be very
gentle with them, they are so fragile!” Now they’ll get squashed! They are
brave, faithful eyeglasses! They survived the trains! And now they will get
Crew Cut comes with his long stick that has some gray pincers at one end. “Please,
don’t destroy them!” He lowers the stick in the pit, and lightly raises it
again. My eyeglasses! My dear, dear eyeglasses unharmed. Muddy! Crawling with
germs! Soaked in disgusting squalor, the lenses with grit splashes. But my
eyeglasses! I wrap them in a lump of napkins from the beef and mushroom on rice
for $4.50 from the frowning Nazi vendor.
“You guys, I thank you so much. I can’t take you for a beer,” I don’t know why
it seemed the right thing to say. Teachers don’t go out for beers with
students, they might get sued for sexual harassment, so why should MTA workers
have it easier? “but I will write you a poem. ‘The MTA Miracle Poem.’ What is
your name? Oh, don’t worry, it’s not that kind of poem!” Pony says he’s Joe.
Crew Cut I don’t know what he said or if he said anything. “Can I e-mail my
poem to you? Or mail it?” “It will never get to us...” “Then where is your
office?” “On Chambers.” “What is your office name? What are you exactly?” “Good
question. I guess we are the emergency intervention unit, aren’t we?” “Yeah.” “Thanks
again, and I turned around, not knowing if I should shake hands or not, might
be misinterpreted again...
Behind me, I heard Crew Cut, “I’d like new kneecaps, that’s what I would like.
Six pairs of new kneecaps.” Were it for Crew Cut I’ve never gotten back my
At home, I washed them with soap and peroxide and sprayed them with Lysol, and
washed them again. I always fold them when I get into the subway station now,
first thing. Before the train arrives, I put them in my purse. Look at the gap
in terror. Swallower of eyeglasses!
I stopped by the info booth tonight, and asked the worker, “Remember me?” I
pointed to my eyeglasses. “Thank you.” He looked morosely at me.
I’ll go take Joe out for a beer, what the heck. I need friends like him. No
bitching, get the job done, no raining on distressed people’s hopeful parades.
New York City
September 17, 2013
Well, here you have it: If you’d like to throw a bit of money my way to keep my endeavors going, and also enable me to spread the money to my various causes, witnessing democracy, freedom of speech and faith, and engineering social change thru art being some of them, I’d be grateful.