A high school friend from California came to visit me the summer I graduated from college, back in 1986. We had been close out West, but suddenly it seemed my young friend was undirected in life, lost. I realized I didn't know what to do with her.
She had put on some weight since I'd last seen her, and now she looked Hawaiian with her tanned skin and her flowered shirts. Shacked up in my six-floor walkup on Houston Street, she would lie in bed all day when I was at work, resting up for our nights out on the town, answering the telephone and taking incomplete messages. She had mentioned that it would be great if I could get her a job.
Trying to show her the ropes, but none too thrilled at the prospect of being saddled with her indefinitely, one day we headed uptown to a party. I didn't know how I would dissuade her from moving to New York on a depressed whim. Then the city provided the impetus.
It was hot on the train, one of those older red ones with the patchy linoleum flooring that slightly caved in when you stepped on a worn area. The car was half full, people sitting in their bubbled spaces, not looking at each other. But it was hard not to look at the one person standing by the middle door, holding onto the pole with one hand, and an egg salad sandwich with the other. He must have been 400 pounds. Shaped like Humpty Dumpty, his bulk was topped with a blue baseball cap, his pale face darkened with new beard growth. His brown eyes rolled upward as he took a bite.
Then without warning, he vomited. An arc of egg salad projected from him at least three feet into the center of the car. The amount he vomited must have totaled ten egg salad sandwiches, slop spreading in a diameter of three feet. It was a once in a lifetime event. My California friend blinked at him, her mouth opening in shock. The hardened New Yorkers on the train silently and swiftly got up from their seats and exited at the ends of the cars. No one looked back.
Then the man then took another bite of his sandwich and a gurgling noise escaped from my friend. I grabbed her arm and pulled her into another car.
The next day she apparently made arrangements to fly home, while I was at work, and when she left she didn't look back.
Anastasia Ashman has written about arts, society, culture and technology for publications ranging from The Asian Wall Street Journal to the Village Voice. A New York-based Californian, she's loyal to the N and the R.