The first weekend after Brooke and I moved into the new apartment, I walked out our front door to smell the crisp suburban air and there on the doorstep in front of me was a blue bag. Inside the blue bag was a copy of the Saturday New York Times (cover price like $50). At first I thought that a subscription to the Times came with all apartments in Park Slope. You know, as an incentive. Like when you order one Power Juicer you get a handy vegetable slicer absolutely free.
When I took it out of the bag though I realized that it actually belonged to the women who lived in the apartment before us. She must have forgotten to transfer her subscription when she moved. For a second I thought perhaps I should notify her. But then I started flipping through the paper and, holy shit, have you ever gotten one of these? There’s like 15 different sections! It’s a veritable cumshot of information. I sat down on the edge of the couch and made a decision right then and there: I would read the entire thing, and I would be smart.
Flash forward to this morning. I am on the subway reading the Arts & Leisure section from October 14th. It’s like trying to read a novel every week, except the novel is full of boring characters and all sorts of things you know nothing about. (What’s all this about Iran? I thought it was spelled “
The other problem is the size of the newspaper. It is huge. Like the size of a movie poster. Back before I it turned up on my doorstep like an unloved baby, I used to watch people try to read The Times on the subway. I hated them, what with their flailing arms and impossible creases. So when I became one of those assholes, I vowed to do it differently. I remembered from high school how a teacher once taught us the proper way to read The Times. (This was after he taught us how to drink tea but before he taught us how to cope with a life of bitter loneliness.) He showed us how to fold the paper so that you were always reading a small rectangle of information. He said it was made to work this way. (FACT: It’s not.) But it worked well enough where I wasn’t constantly hitting people in the face just trying to turn the page.
I keep the paper neatly folded in my bag so it is already inconspicuous and undouchbaggy as soon as I take it out. This morning was no different than the others. I get on the train, move in towards the middle and stand holding a bar above my head with a woman sitting down directly in front of me. Like always, I reach into my messenger bag and pull out the paper. As I unfurl it, though, I notice something out of the corner of my eye. It appears to be a feather gently floating down from the paper’s crease. Only it isn’t a feather. It is a large piece of lint. And it lands squarely on the shoulder of the woman sitting in front of me.
I immediately panic. The woman, who is nondescript in every way except that she is not white, not skinny, terrifying and she likely sings in a soul choir though her songs aren’t for me, doesn’t notice. It sits there, perched like a cotton parrot staring back at me, this gross piece of lint – gross on the one hand because what was it doing in there in the first place? It’s a messenger bag, not a dryer. Gross on the other hand because it is like a gross lint hand now gripping this stranger’s shoulder.
This was, in every way, exactly what I was afraid of when I started reading the Times. I am now, with the expelling of one small piece of tufted cotton, THAT guy. The guy that says, "I'LL PUT MY LINT WHEREVER I WANT TO PUT MY LINT. I READ THE NEW YORK TIMES."
I look at the woman sitting next to her. She stares back at me, eyes wide. We both look at the lint, then back at one another. She motions with her face as if to say, “You have to pick it off.”
“No, you,” I shoot back.
“Why would I? You put it there.”
“But I can’t touch her out of nowhere. I’m a guy. She might think I’m trying to rape her.”
“On a crowded subway train? Really? That’s what she’ll think?”
“I heard a story once about a woman who was stabbed in broad daylight on the 6 train.”
“Was she white?”
“What was a white girl doing on
“Whoa, that’s a little racist, don’t you think?”
“I’m not the one throwing lint on black people.”
She has me there. But I cannot bring myself to do it. It’s like going up to a girl in a bar – the longer I wait, the more awkward it gets to pick lint off her shoulder. Running through the scenario in my head, there is not one way this plays out that doesn’t end with me dying. (In one scenario, just as I pick off the lint, the whole world blows up.)
Finally, after two long minutes of sweaty tension, wondering if the lint would hold, if the woman would notice, if the other woman would rat me out, we arrive at the