The A-C-E subway platform at Times Square can be a lively place at 1:15 a.m. after a Friday night. The trains just don’t come so frequently, so there is a lot of time to kill and watch the goings-on. This weekend, there was a guy with a guitar accompanied by another man with a flute playing a lot of oldies and Motown, whom I sometimes see at the same spot, perched on the same bench and standing by the same stairway, during the daylight hours.
Along comes another man – very tall and wearing what looks like a velvet track suit. He shakes the hand of the guitarist and rests for a moment on the bench next to me, before rising up and starting to dance. Well, sort of dance. It looks more like a crazy acrobatics routine, a lot of twice-to-the-left and twice-to-the-right and up and back and this way and that. And it’s not like it really fits with the music, but in this atmosphere of drowsiness and drunkenness and maybe a healthy dose of craziness too, it’s cool.
People who are listening to the music with one ear also keep one eye on the tall man in the track suit, who looks like a massive marionette being jerked around on strings. Whereas at a normal hour of the day we might play the game of avoiding eye contact and pretending not to notice the funny New-York-City-underground things that are happening, in the early morning, when everyone wants to just get home or otherwise have resigned themselves to being here on this platform for however long necessary, they betray their interest and their curiosity a little more than usual.
My bench fills up and eventually a young guy comes over and asks me whether he can have my seat to sit next to his girl. He asks it with the intention of offering me the next seat over, but I get up and choose to stand up near the pillar, instead, not minding much, I say, because I wouldn’t want to take Mr. Marionette’s seat in case he needed a breather. Of course that doesn’t stop someone else from sitting down in my place.
I stand around and listen to the guitarist playing a drawn-out, jazzy version of “Stand by Me” – one of his favorites, because I remember it from a previous daytime set – and reach into my bag for some change. I grip it inside my fist for a while, and then hear the A train barreling up the track. It arrives, I toss my coins into the guitar case on the floor, a few mothers push their strollers with closed-eye babies onto the train, and I hop on as well, and we’re off, headed uptown to pause for something like seven seconds at every station up the island.