Trying To Get To You

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Unwanted Soul

See the look on that guy's face? Well, I'm better looking, but I had a similar look of discomfort on my face a few minutes ago...

I'm on the subway and it's crowded. It's hot as hell on the train; the heat on the train is on, even though it's 55 degrees and humid outside. Everyone looks miserable. I've left my iPod headphones at home, so there's no respite from the general unpleasantness.

And then...

The train doors open and in walks a woman, obviously homeless. I'm expecting her to begin to ask for money, but instead, she begins to sing Diana Ross's "Theme From Mahogany," right next to my ear. Real loud. And while some homeless subway singers are occasionally great, this woman is not. Now usually, the subway singer starts at one end of the train and makes her way down. But for whatever reason, she stays right next to me, belting it out. Passengers are looking at one another; some angrily, some with a bemused "what are you gonna do" expression on their faces. I start thinking of the movie Mahogany. I barely remember it. Billy Dee Williams was in it. I start having weird thoughts: "What's Billy Dee Williams doing these days? Was Billy Dee Williams the Denzel Washington of his time? I wonder if Billy Dee and Diana did it?" Stuff like that. After three and a half excruciating minutes, we begin to pull into the station. She asks for money. None is forthcoming. The train doors open. She leaves. Relief at last.

As my body begins to relax in walks another man, a rasta. He's holding a paper bag filled with coins. You know how sometimes you just know everything that's going to happen about two seconds before it actually goes down? Well, I know what's going to happen.

He begins to sing, "A Change Is Gonna Come." He's better than the Diana Ross tribute woman, but he's not great. I have a charge of anger pulse through me, and then, I can't help it, I start to smile broadly, stifling the laughter that comes when you're feeling that life is but a joke. Rastaman sees me smile and takes it as a sign to sing to me. I get the second verse about a foot away from my face. Somewhere, someone is having a laugh at my expense. I can take it.

Finally, he finishes, looks at me, and as the train is about to make the next stop, exclaims, "That was Sam Cooke everyone, and no one sings Sam better than me, except for Sam! I am the son of Sam!" And he looks at me. The encyclopedia in my brain begins to give me the artists who've all done Sam Cooke better. I almost consider blurting a couple of them out. But I smile and nod instead. Smart move.

I'm double checking on the iPod headphones tomorrow morning.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

At last count Sam's only living biological son isn't homeless and singing in subways. Perhaps this guy thought he was David Berkowitz; he's no relative of mine.

Erik Greene
Author, "Our Uncle Sam: The Sam Cooke Story From His Family's Perspective"