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Brad BLUE Bathgate

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   Recent stories by Brad BLUE Bathgate
· Selling Books on the New York City Subway, John Kremer
· Design Your Life
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New York Transit... The Uptown A Train
By Brad BLUE Bathgate
Saturday, January 05, 2008

Rated "G" by the Author.

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So, I've seen it all. Or at least, I thought I had.
About 2 months ago, I was on an uptown rush hour A-train. Not a happy train. For a collection of sour expressions, the 5:30pm uptown A train is a safe bet.

I've had someone jump in front of me for a seat on the A-train once... and I was carrying a large amount of equipment. (In response, I slammed my camera case down on his foot. He kicked at my stuff. I just stood there, almost on top of him, breathing down on him, the whole rest of the ride, making him as uncomfortable as I possibly could without doing something illegal.) This is what happens on the A train. Pregnant women stand on the A-train. And at west 4th street, one day, about 2 months ago, a fellow with an arm load of books gets onto the train. He is an unassuming black man. Kind of short. And he addresses the crowd: Hello Ladies and Gentlemen! My name is BLUE, and I'm here to offer you your own copy of my book of poetry, which is called "Corner Stores In the Middle of the Block." And I'm thinking... oh boy. What's this? Poetry? This is either going to be religiously charged and creepy, or something. He's motioning to people to buy his book. But no one even looks at him. No one. People just look pissed off. And they are. I'm not that intrigued myself, and I've never seen this guy but he continues on: "I'm going to read my book to you all. I'm going to be on the train to 125th street [Harlem Central], so if you want me to stop, just let me know. Otherwise, I'm just going to keep reading. Oh, and if someone wants to buy one, just stop me too. And if you have any questions, or just want to talk about it, stop me. Otherwise, I'm going to read all the way to 125th street." This was like receiving a punishment. However, no one was going to speak up and say "stop, don't read it." No matter how pissed off people are on their evening commute, no one wants to be "that guy." So "BLUE" begins. He read the words from his book, as if rapping, much like at a poetry jam. He had turned this A-train into his personal poetry jam. "I didn't get here in an inner tube just to become shark bait over The Atlantic I was born here! In the core of the apple, at the pit of the borough I hung out with the rejects and the down trodden But this city was rotten before I was begotten. So I ask you, am I the eye sore Just because I saw rats bigger than cats? And a cool cat was the terminology to describe a friend, back in '76. But now he's my dog my girl is my bitch and my friends are my Niggers...” After a few paragraphs, I realize that this is not your average wacko. This is not a wacko at all. He's well spoken. The language is good. He is making sense. I am a bit more intrigued. People are still paying as little attention as they possibly can. He goes on, as the train goes uptown: "Everyone listen up... Every mind is a world and only you can make you happy Just don't bother me with it!!! That's why I stopped giving my money to bums I got tired of them throwing my pennies in the street. And then they act like they don't want to eat the food that I try to give 'em Don't you know this one bum told me he's a vegetarian!!!..” And with this, a tiny fraction of the people stuffed onto this train car begin to chuckle. His words are resonating. There is honesty here. There is truth here. Especially for his audience. He is addressing a train full of people who are going to Harlem, which is what he is commenting about. Scathingly. Liberally. And now I'm fascinated. "...this is that urban look. This is where in the summer time we attend picnics on dead blades of grass and broken glass on the playground glitters like fragments of stardust under playground nightlights, and this is what the tourists break their necks to come see. They really want to learn how we continue to exist on the inside of the sun. This is where there's an erotic section in the New York leasing laws that allows the landlord to screw the tenants anytime he wants and there's nothing you can do about it. And urban renewal wants everything out! This is where emergency rooms are ran like something from the medieval times and medical students are taught the craft of milking Medicare cards immediately This is where Mecca sits next door to the methadone clinic and a malpractice lawsuit allows a bum The Once in a Lifetime chance to dress nice if he doesn't like having the wrong finger amputated..." And people are beginning to look over. And look at each other, as they often do in these situations, to see if other people are noticing what they are noticing. And people are chuckling with a little more ease. Others are still very cranky looking, but have definitely started to listen. The truth of his words were tangibly resonating with his well chosen, audience. "But the funny thing about this is, somebody is going to see that dude with the missing finger and they'll think that it looks cool. And before you know it... that is gonna be a new style. And I can see the scenario now. Some cool dude will be hanging out on the street corner boasting to his friends about the incident and he'll say something like "Yo, check it out Son, I just got my finger cut off This shit look hot, right? And then his partner is gonna answer back and say something like, "Yeah, Yeah I'm feeling that Son... Watch tomorrow I’ma get all my fingers cut off! But first I'ma get my right thumb cut off and then I’ma get my left index finger cut off. And when the Ho’s see this, they gone be sweating me! Watch Son!" And then BLUE kind of "breaks the fourth wall," per se, while still reading his poem... his poem references itself... And you might be thinking to yourself that this poem is deep... But it's not! Deep is the way a lady will stand up to her Man... Yet she'll run from a mouse. But then again, that's not Deep. Deep is the way girls only seem to show interest in me when they see me with another girl... So I started hanging out with lesbians...And we pick up Chicks together! But then again, that's not Deep. Deep is when this young dude asked me, "What's the quickest way to get from here to Rikers Island?" [NY Jail] And I told him "You gotta take the D train to 34th street and throw a brick through Macy's window! Now that's Deep! And at this, he gets a full roar of laughter. Like as if it were a comedy club on wheels. I don't know if you've ever heard a full trainload of people laughing. It's wonderful! And after this last line about throwing a brick through the window at Macy's, everyone was in stitches. And as he continued, half-rapping, half-reciting, half-acting, there was laughter at the end of almost every paragraph. And it was amazing. Here's a little bit more: “...But someone must have been hoping that I would be that cute little baby boy with the good folks hair and the good folks eyes. And I was supposed to be that glue that seals my parents bond and keep this love thing together for at least 18 years. but once reality sets in and I'm another mouth to feed and I'm also going to need new shoes New t-shirt, and a new toothbrush, that’s when this loving relationship suddenly turns to hate and it can’t make it pass the first year. And before you know it, here comes another baby and another baby and another baby. And now we are like the ghetto version of the Brady Bunch with a bunch of babies and baby daddy's. And we all have different grains of hair, different shades of skin, and our complexion is perfect for a system that uses us for target practice and labels us as the under class, The over weight, The obese, The big boned. They call me that light brown African offspring and some seem to that all we like to eat is cheap Chinese food, which is nothing but chicken wings and fried rice with salt and pepper, extra ketchup, Fish on Fridays, Government cheese, Peanut butter, Powdered milk, Churches fried chicken, Kansas fried chicken, Kentucky fried chicken, Kennedy fried chicken, Mama and Papa's friend chicken, His and Hers friend chicken. King, Queen Crown friend chicken. Royal fried chicken. Crispy friend chicken. Extra crispy fried chicken. And Sister Shirley's from the fifth floor fried chicken And expired boxes of some sweet ass cereal with no nutritional value that you can buy in the slums at the 99 cent store which comes out to a $1.07 after taxes And the test is to see how I'm going to react when a customer goes in to the corner store and tells Muhammad "Salaam Alikum. Make me a ham and cheese sandwich with oil and vinegar, salt and pepper Lettuce, hold the tomatoes, mayo on both sides of the bread AND YO! GIVE ME MY FREE SODA!!!" And I was sad to have to get off the train at 59th street, knowing that he was going to keep reading until someone stopped him or when they hit 125th street. And I knew that no one was going to stop him, because people were loving it. They were nodding, laughing, even saying "yes" out loud like they were in church. And it could have been a sermon. And although he wasn't addressing culture and life that I come from... a lot of it resonated with me as well. I knew that all of those fried chicken places he listed were real, as I've seen most of them during my trips to various uptown (Harlem-area) locations. I've even said on occasion "you know its a black neighborhood when there are a million fried chicken places." And this I say because this is what I have observed. And he was making similar observations, but, obviously, with a hell of a lot more knowledge and experience. I'm a tourist up there. Right before I had to get off, he stopped for a moment and re-stated that he was selling his book. And, still, though the entire car had been participating with him in their laughter... no one had spoken to him yet. And a little, frail-ish, old black woman tapped him on the shoulder to get his attention, as she couldn't yell too loudly over the sound of the moving express train. And she said, "well, you've been telling us all about your book, but you haven't yet said how much it costs!" And he apologized and said "10 dollars." And she exclaimed "Ohhh! 10 dollars, son? That's more than I've got for you right now, but best of luck to you." And he handed her a card that had his contact information on it, in case she changed her mind, and she took it quite willingly. This is where the train pulled into 59th street. Where almost all of the white people get off, as the train heads for Harlem, Washington Heights, and Inwood. The Upper Upper Upper West Side. And it looked as if he was about to make at least a sale or two before they reached the next stop, 125th street. It's at least a 6 minute express ride. Plenty of time. And I smiled, and left. And I thought I would forget about it. But it stayed with me. The whole experience. To the point that I told a bunch of my friends at the time about his "D train to 34th street to throw a brick in the window at Macy's" remark. That's all I could remember. And realizing how much that whole experience stuck with me -what he said, and how he had the will and ability to turn an angry, cranky A train car into a comedy club between 4th and 59th streets on an express train. I decided that should I ever see him again, I would have to buy his book, so I could truly tell the story of what happened that day by quoting directly from it. And, to read it myself. It was quite good, I thought. 2 months passed. And then, today was that day. I was on an uptown 4 express train this time. I was going to videotape a play at Convent of the Sacred Heart School on the Upper East Side, which I will get to in a moment. I had all my equipment with me, and I was to meet Louie at the school, as he lives on the upper West side, and was taking the cross-town bus across central park. And at 59th street, one stop away from mine (86th), that guy got on the train and began his little presentation! And I started to sweat. I could not believe it. And as he came by me, I stopped him. "Excuse me," I said, "I have to get off at the next stop, and I have all this junk with me. But I'd like to buy a copy of your book, so if you'd be willing to get off the train with me, I'd be happy to get one." He said "Sure! No problem." And the train as just then pulling into 86th Street. I hoisted all my stuff over "the gap" and plunked it down on the platform. I thanked him for getting off the train for me, and told him the story of seeing him 2 months ago on an "A" train. He liked my story, and offered to sign my copy of the book. I was like "sure!" And he took out a pen and began writing on the inside cover. Of course, I whipped out my camera, and without him noticing, snapped this picture: And I put my camera away before he noticed. He was engrossed in his autograph. I thanked him again. He began to tell me that it's real tough sometimes because people don't want to listen, but that this is his chosen thing to do in life, so you take the bad with the good. I pointed to my 60+ lbs. of stuff that I had to carry, myself, up 4 or 5 flights of stairs to reach street level, and said "And I've chosen this." I told him I had to get going, thanked him again, wished him good luck, as he did me, and I got on my way. Up a flight to the local tracks. Up a flight to an exit hallway. And up another to the street.   




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Reviewed by Karen Lynn Vidra, The Texas Tornado 1/6/2008

You take us on your journey; it's as though we are right there, experiencing what you went through! Excellent writing, my friend; bravo!

Love, your friend in Tx., Karen Lynn. :D

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