I do not remember the name of the play, the theatre in which it was performed, the identity of the actors nor what the play was about. I do recall it was a Saturday night performance and the theater was somewhere on 47th Street near 8th Avenue. It may well be the events that followed having left the theatre were more dramatic that it overshadowed the memory of the play itself. My wife and I walked to the 50th Street IND subway station and boarded the E train to Queens. The train was crowded and more so after having made stops at the 7th and 5th Avenue stations so that when it reached the next stop at Lexington Avenue, it was standing room only. At Lexington Avenue two young women, White, attractive, dressed nicely, pushed their way into the car and positioned themselves in front of a seated middle-aged couple who appeared to be of Filipino origin. To the left of the seated woman was a space of about six inches not enough room for another person. The doors closed as a P.A. voice announced the next stop as 23rd St-Ely Avenue. As the train hurtled through the tunnel to Queens one of the young women loudly said to the other:
“You see, this is what I have been saying.” Then looking at the seated couple continued, “They come into this country illegally. They have jobs but pretend not to and collect welfare. We pay our taxes, and they pay nothing. We pay for their children in school, give them medical care and get nothing in return except crime. That’s right lady –” staring at the seated woman, “I am talking about you. You are spread out when it is I who should be sitting and you standing. I bet you are here illegally. Show me your green card.”
A woman seated near the couple shouted at the young woman, “Who do you think you are? Shut up and leave these people alone.” A young man hearing this outburst and thinking the young woman was being harassed came over to ask if she needed help. The woman who had spoken up said, “The only help that jackass needs is a bar of soap in her ugly mouth.” A man seated on the other side of the train shouted, “She is right. In America everybody is an immigrant including my great grandfather who helped build this subway.” An African American woman yelled, “My ancestors came here on a slave ship without any papers. I guess that made them illegal. Shall I give you my seat?”
The macho man realizing he was backing the wrong horse quickly retreated. A voice on the P.A. system announced the train was approaching 23rd Street-Ely Avenue. The seated couple quickly got up, tears streaming down the woman’s face and headed towards the door. A man jumped up and said:
“Please don’t go. If you do, that fool will think she was right. It is those fools who should go. They don’t belong with decent people.” Other people shouted at the young women to get off the train and it became a chorus. The train stopped at 23rd Street-Ely Avenue and by that time everybody was shouting at the young women to leave. The doors opened and the young women ran from the train. There was a thunderous applause as the couple quietly sat down on their seats. The doors closed and the train moved forward. Not a word was said. You could hear a pin drop. People did not speak to each other, and some resumed reading their newspapers. It was as though a tornado ripped through the train, dislodging all that was ugly and filthy, but leaving fully intact all that was good and decent. Everybody in the car knew it and words were not necessary.
An E train left the Jamaica Center station heading to Manhattan. Waiting for the train at the Union Turnpike Station were a young White couple, an elderly White woman, my wife, and me. The train stopped, the doors opened, and we all stepped in. My wife and I sat down on the small two seat bench in the forward section of the car, the elderly woman on the opposite bench and the young couple on one of the long benches next to an African American man already seated there. He appeared to be in fifties, small and thin, with a thin mustache and with a Rastafarian hair comb, many curls dangling around his shoulders. The doors closed and he began a lighthearted but animated conversation with the young White couple. The train proceeded towards Manhattan and since it was an express, it made few stops until it reached Roosevelt Avenue, by which time all seats were taken and there was only standing room. The train came to a stop, the doors opened, and four young men entered. They were about 17 or 18 years old, and each carried a skateboard, so it appeared they were together and going to some sort of a skateboard activity in Manhattan. One young man was White, one Asian, and the other two African American. They were all dressed decently and since there were no seats, they congregated in the forward section of the car where the White people described above were seated. As the train sped on its way to Manhattan, one of the African American youths looking at a text message on his cell phone, turned to his friends and in a loud voice uttered a litany of sexual profanity. This continued for several minutes, with the White people close by remaining silent but with a glance suggesting someone should say something. It turned out to be unnecessary because the African American man with the Rastafarian hair comb suddenly got up, walked a few steps over to young man, positioned his face a few inches away and in a loud voice shouted:
“You motherf’ing n*gger. You n*gger bastard. You jackass. If you were a toothpick, I would not put your filth in my mouth. You see these White folks sitting here having to listen to your filth? You give Black people a bad name!” His haranguing continued unabated for several minutes with the young man appearing to be in a state of shock. His friends said nothing and stood still; eyes affixed as were those of the White people at what was unfolding. It was theatre, good theatre so well scripted and acted, I looked around to make sure it was not being filmed. No, it was real. While shouting at the youth, the man kept moving back and forth and around towards the young man. He was lithe like a ballet dancer. No, more like a welterweight boxer bobbing his head up and down, moving his body side to side, crouching, and straightening up, constantly moving his hands like a fighter stalking his opponent and looking for an opening to strike a knockout blow. I am sure everyone witnessing what was occurring, including the young man, expected at any moment the man would strike.
And then it happened. A fierce left-hand blow to the youth’s stomach causing him to double up, followed by a right-hand smash to his face. His head snapped back, his jaw slackened, his eyes glazed, and blood poured out of his nose and mouth. Down he went. Down for the full count and it was over.
All this occurred without the older man laying a finger on the youth. Not a single touch, no bodily contact at all. It was accomplished by the man’s verbal pummeling, his facial expressions, his bodily movements, and his passion. Defeat, not blood, was smeared all over the young man’s face. The man flicked his head in the direction of the White folks and the young man knew it meant he was to walk over to where they were sitting.
“You have something to say to these folks?” the man barked. “Yes,” he said. “I am sorry.” “Sorry for what?” yelled the man. “Sorry for my language.” was the reply. “And what about it?” said the man. “I won’t do it again.” was his answer. He was ushered back to the seat the man had occupied, slumped into it tears welling up in his eyes.
The train pulled into the Queens Plaza station, the doors opened, and the man quickly ran out, only to come running back through the center doors, shouting at the young man, “Take a good look at me and if you ever see me again make sure you keep your filthy mouth shut!!” He slipped through the closing doors, and he was gone. Who was he? I don’t know. What was his name? I don’t know. Was he crazy? I don’t think so. Was he unusual? Yes, but it was a man with a message not to be taken lightly.
The doors closed and the train pulled out of the station. One of the White women walked over to the young man and said: “That man may have been a bit extreme, but you had no right to use that language. He did you a favor and taught you a lesson you should not forget. Remember him with respect.” She returned to her seat and the train pulled into the 23rd Street-Ely Avenue station. An elderly White woman entered. There were no empty seats and she stepped in front of the young man who had been berated and reached for the overhead bar to steady herself. The young man looked up, rose to his feet and said, “Ma’am, please take my seat.”
Allowing for literary license, the events described above actually occurred, but on two separate occasions, in fact years apart. The woman in the first part that took the young woman to task was my wife, Ethyl, and it was also she who spoke to the young man in the second part. Taking the E train to or from Manhattan to see or after seeing a play is not only more environmentally sound than driving in, but it may also be more interesting. Beware, however, depending on what you observe on the E train, the play you saw may become forgettable.