I’m not sure if you are supposed to let your baby hold a stranger’s finger on the New York subway, but I did – twice. It seemed like the thing to do at the moment, and without proper knowledge of unspoken subway protocol (I’m new to New York City), I went with the humanity of the moment. Once was a soft wrinkly abuela who had been smiling and cooing to my step-daughter, whom I affectionately call Cub. Cub didn’t seem to really notice the smiles and soft clucking sounds until we entered a tunnel and the train darkened. She reached up and gently grasped the abuela’s finger, and held it contently for the next 40 blocks.
The second time was a disheveled old man, the type that may be homeless, but more likely is a rumpled academic – a retired professor who lives more in the pages of yellowing books than in the world. Cub likes to stare sometimes (such a privilege of the young, to stare opening at anyone for as long as you would like), and under her gaze he began smiling and waving, vying for a return smile, lift of her soft little hand. At some point, he bent forward and reached his shaky hand out towards her. He had some scabs that looked like the kind older folks get that don’t heal quickly, his fingers bumped and knarled by time. To be honest it wasn’t a hand you really wanted to touch, but as Cub reached out for it I wonder when the last time this old man had been touched? I let her reach out and slowly touch his outstretched finger – like some strange subway mashup of ET and Michaelagelo’s Creation of Adam. Maybe it wasn’t good parenting to let her touch that hand, but it felt like being a good person to let him have that moment of small affection.
Everyday I ride the New York subway, and everyday something interesting happens. This is all new to me – the city, the people, having a child, and maybe that’s why I feel so acutely present on the subway. There is something that happens when complete strangers share a space in silence, their bodies close, lysting and leaning in unison in the dark. It kind of reminds me of meditation, or yoga, or a packed night club where the same deep thump thump thump is beating in each person’s chest. One of our most vulnerable states is to be asleep, and yet people do it on the subway, in front of strangers, all the time. It’s so intimate to sleep in public and I love that this is obviously perfectly fine in the unspoken rules of subway protocol. Then I can stare openly at someone, as long as I like, baby Cub style.
Helped carry stroller on stairs downtown: tall man in black suit, bald with eastern block accent. looked a little like a hit man and told me he has a baby the same age as Cub.
Helped carry stroller on stairs uptown: 30-something professional guy with black briefcase and Jos. A. Banks suit bag. Navy blue pin-striped pants, blue and white striped shirt, brown suede loafers, pretty blue eyes with long eye lashes. I walked behind him for a block or two until he stopped, turned as if he had just remembered something, and ducked into a NY State lottery store.
Tip of the Day: If you are riding the subway with a baby stroller, watch as the train pulls up and try to go in the car with the most old people in it. They really like babies, and are much more understanding when you run over their toes with the stroller or your baby kicks their leg the entire ride.