Hi everybody! How are we doing this week?

Last week I got thrown my first-ever surprise party, which was triple-effective as I wasn't expecting a thing three weeks before my actual birthday.

Kudos to my lovely L. for wrangling all the details, cooking up such a delicious spread for us to enjoy together. Also, much love to all of you sneaky shits who sent in videos without knowledge. I was on my couch with tears of gratitude rolling down my cheeks.

But today? I've a zinger of a NYC-days yarn for you, so let's gooooo:

Ka-chunk, ka-chunk, ka-chunk, that train sound is in our bones here. It clicks our teeth together, rattles our vertebrae.

The sound of a morning commute: steel grinding on steel plus the silence of thousands of humans avoiding any conscious contact, except for the blown ceiling speaker directly above my head mumbling at an ear-shattering volume:

CONDUCTOR: This a Manhattan-bound Q train. Next stop: Canal Street. Stand clear of the closin' doors.

I'm watching my own reflection swaying in the dirty Q train window. I pop the collar of my blazer against the cold air leaking in from a cracked window. My reflection is still solid as the train exits the tunnel, firing through a canyon of buildings and across the Manhattan Bridge.

My eyes wander the train, a forest of people at different heights. My nose hovers over a woman's wiry hair, I can't help but inhale some of her dandruff. To my left, a construction worker in a muscle tee flexes his bicep as he holds the support bar, his armpit upwind of me. I can taste his Old Spice on my tongue.

Two stops back at Atlantic Avenue, I'd given up my seat for a six-two pregnant woman in a long pink coat and black thigh-high boots. She looked like a flamingo that ate a whole wedding cake. From her (my) seat, she eye-smiles thanks at me as the train bangs off its rack, throwing us all up in the air together in a jolt that no one reacts to in the slightest.

I'm standing by the doors, riding the train with my feet planted in a wide stance so I don't fall, squinting against the sun as we cross the bridge and descend back into the bowels of the city:

CONDUCTOR: This a Manhattan-bound Q train. Next stop: Fourteenth Street Union Square.

The doors chime and open and suddenly there are loads of seats, even after everyone's pushed their way in. I take one opposite Flamingo Lady. More bodies come into the train, arranging themselves as the conductor mumbles:

CONDUCTOR: Stand clear of the closin' doors.

As those doors shut, a hand slides between them, pushing them back open. An older Caribbean (I'm guessing) woman enters, pushing her overflowing shopping cart like the prow of a boat into the center of the train aisle. She's bundled up in a puffy coat over a church dress – shiny and floral patterned – with a matching hat ringed with lace. Her eyes scan the car, met by no one else's but mine. She glares back at me, flaring her nostrils. I look away. Her free hand holds the pole casually, chipped metallic-green nail polish showing through half-finger gloves. I watch as she centers herself: clearing her throat, exhaling deeply as the Q pulls us all back into darkness.

She waits to speak until the MTA's underground worklights flash past the window, lending a steady rhythm, almost a bass line. The strobing lights flash across the leather of her face, the whites of her eyes and teeth. She opens her mouth wide, and I'm waiting for her to sing beautifully. Then I see the ratty pleather Bible in her hand, a guilty red ribbon dangling from its spine.

When her voice does issue forth, it's raspy and pained, her breath hot with anger.

LADY PREACHER: Lord Jesus! I call on you, Lord and Savior! Help me save these white deviants in this Devil city!

So it was gonna be that kind of train ride.

My fellow commuters, jaded and unfazed, eye-check each other: another one, another day. We'll all get through this like we get through every other "Showtime!" dance performance and mariachi band and sniffling junkie who needs antibiotics for a rancid weeping infection more than their next fix.

The train shudders and slows down, deep inside the the tunnel. The MTA worklights stop strobing and just crawl past the windows, like time-lapse moons in an old film reel.

LADY PREACHER: You see! I told you! We are here together in Hell, children– be thankful and gracious you got the word of God here [raises Bible] to protect us!

She turns around, facing the front of the subway car, then spins on a Payless heel to address the rear:

LADY PREACHER: You people stay asleep, blinded by sin... while the Devil circles his arms around you, penetrating you... deviants! You--

She takes in a breath here and the train's brakes hiss and squeal. We groan to a final stop together as she turns to face me – very clearly me – hissing through bared teeth:


Now, I know I looked cute that morning, because I remember making the effort: I had on my olive blazer, black dress shirt, shiny red skinny tie. There was a woman I worked near at the bank. She was older and taller than me but kooky, and she had a girl-ish smile that lit up the room. Once she turned it on me, I was cooked.

The previous Thursday, we'd taken the elevator down together and spoke for the first time. We wound up going out for a quick drink after work that ended with a stolen kiss (her move!) by the stairs of the NYPL Main Library with an implied "to be continued." Don't roll your eyes at me about "inter-office relationships": we were both temps and nobody gave a shit.

Also, I wasn't the least bit hung up about proving to the rest of the car/city/world that I wasn't queer. I was a raver in the nineties and we all kiss nice in the dark. What I didn't like was the Christian-doom-evil-sin energy pointed at me. And neither did the rest of my fellow straphangers:

FLAMINGO LADY: For fuck's sake, it's 9am... give it a rest!

LADY PREACHER [turning to the whole car]: In league with the Devil, all of you!

The train car moaned back to life, and moved forward about 500 feet into the light. The doors opened at Union Square. A third of the car got out, and were quickly replaced by twice as many new riders.

CONDUCTOR [distorted]: This a Manhattan-bound Q train. Next stop: Thirty-Fourth Street-Herald Square. Stand clear of the closin' doors.

Quickly, Lady Preacher was crushed in by all the new bodies. She pulled her cart tight against her breast, panting. But her eyes were flashing as they found mine. She stomped her feet at me, rattling her shopping cart with Maximum Crazy Energy so the other folks gave her more space:

LADY PREACHER: Hell waits for all of you... [at me] ... but especially for YOU.

Everyone who was watching her was now watching me.

LADY PREACHER [louder now]: Hell waits the homosexual sinners and--

Something itchy is happening in my skull, under my hair. My neck involuntarily twitches. I look down at the brown bag from the bodega I'm holding, spots of wet brown paper from its leaky lid. Usually I finish my coffee on the train before I get to work, but this morning... I mean, come on.

My wrist involuntarily shakes the bag. I hear the slosh of liquid inside the paper cup, and the shake of sugar packets. They always give you too many sugar packets and zero napkins.

LADY PREACHER [louder now]: Jesus God! We burning up down here in the belly of the Beast from all this filthy sin!

OLDER MAN: Lady, Jesus does not want this.

Locking eyes with the Lady Preacher, I reach into my wet bodega bag and come out with the sugar packets. Holding them by the edge, I shake them together so all the sugar collects at the bottoms and then tear them open.

She's watching me do this and I smile at her, wicked.

I shake out the sugar on the train car floor, forming a circle around my own feet. I take a deep breath in, not breaking eye contact with her, and exhale as I let my tongue improvise syllables of glossolalia:

ME: Mor-to kelalalbabelak thrikazzz melekeleshtalik torashhh ti-kazzzzzz--

Her skin pales. Her mouth hangs open. The whole car is holding their breath.

LADY PREACHER [louder now]: No– oh Lord no no! A demon has risen--

I raise both hands above my head, fingers hooked into claws. I don't step outside my sugar circle:

ME [loudly]: Klesh fallak-po-to-mezenkilltagash-tek! Qwebbo-zeleg-tash jikangitak!

Preacher Lady takes a step back, afraid. Her cart bangs into the shin of her neighbor, who shoves her away. The car slows as we slide into the next station. The door chimes and opens:

CONDUCTOR [distorted]: Manhattan-bound Q train. Next stop: Times-Square-Forty-Second Street. Stand clear of the closin' doors.

The Preacher Lady pushes her way out of the car, stepping onto the safety of the platform quick as she can. From there, she stares back at me through the window, burning more with fear than anger. The Devil has won today and she must pray, or whatever.

From across the aisle, the pregnant Flamingo Lady leans in and high-fives me, our palms slapping together like a drum hit:

FLAMINGO LADY: Crazy beats crazy! I love this town!


Thanks for reading, y'all! As always, I'd love to hear from you. Like, what's going on in your lives?

Até próxima,

Can I just say how good it feels to be doing this again?