Midnight on the subway, after a very late night at work. In my part of the car: far right, taking up two seats with assorted newspapers, a homeless white man; center banquette, a South Asian man in a suit, an empty seat, then me, an empty seat, then a homeless black man lying across several seats and using a large black garbage bag as a pillow; facing banquette: another homeless black man, also lying across several seats. The cluster of people on the opposite end of the car is distinctly non-homeless in that way cars tend to be when something unsavory is going on on the other side.
Along comes a white troubadour, guitar case on her back, singing “House of the Rising Sun,” the best version of which is by Sinéad O’Connor. White troubadour girl is no Sinéad, but she isn’t bad and when she finishes, she goes around to the non-homeless side of the car to collect money. Good, because I only give money to break-dancers.
Out of the corner of my eye, I see the homeless black man on my left shuffling around and appearing to look for something in his pocket. Oh no. Homeless black man calls out to white troubadour, holding out a dollar. Three subway stations’ worth of arguing and awkwardness ensue. “I can’t take your money,” she says. “Why not?” he says. Yeah, why not? On it goes. She thanks him, tells him it means a lot that he’s offering. He seems to relent—but no, he’s back with the outstretched dollar, insisting that she take it, that he enjoyed her singing, she should take the dollar. She won’t take the dollar. Take the dollar. She won’t take the dollar. She can’t take the dollar. Here, take the dollar. She can’t take the dollar. I contemplate offering each of them a dollar, but neither of them look like they can break-dance. Meanwhile, as we approach my stop, I’m dimly aware of spitting noises and something that sounds like water being poured on the floor coming from my right. I look over, past the South Asian man in the suit, to the homeless white man. He is still sitting there with his newspapers. Then I see the South Asian man in the suit spit on the floor. And then I see him lean over and vomit onto the subway floor.
“That’s disgusting,” says the homeless white man.