There's a special place in Hell that's the spitting image of New York City subway platforms on hot and humid summer nights. After hours, when MTA's capital construction efforts translate into fewer trains, the wet air, acrid stench are relieved only by napkins or towels, used to wipe sweat. In New York City, anything can happen and the misery of heat has been known to contribute to all manner of misbehavior-or not.
Complete strangers on a wooden bench waiting for uptown trains. One, a graying thin gentleman with porcelain skin, beige khakis, a blue button down, a reusable shopping bag filled with books in his lap. His right hand holds a cane; The other, a lady with short salt & pepper hair, solid black pants, V-neck T shirt, a firm and full body, she's wearing black modern glasses and sensible flats.
"I just missed it," she said her Russian accent, unmistakable.
The gentleman, smiling, his teeth as white as snow, his voice baritone, accent wasp-like, pitch wavy from years of use, said with pride-filled certitude I've been on this bench before.
"It was winter mind you, but I had these gloves. They were so warm, they were lined with this wonderful material, but, oh my goodness, I was fidgeting so I took one off, I probably just wasn't paying attention and then of course the train came," he said, smiling as another bench mate began to eavesdrop.
"I got on the train, we made it to 14th street and low and behold I realized I'd left my glove on that bench," he said, adding, he knew exactly where it was, which bench, what seat.
Many of New York City's subway platforms have wooden benches that sit smack dab in the middle of the platform. Nothing fancy, just masculine and solid, utilitarian, designed for efficiency, built for multiple sized derrieres. How old they are? Who knows, and really, who cares since each day thousands, and each week millions of individuals either stand look down the tunnel for a light, check their watch, read their texts or rest for just a moment on one of the wooden benches.
Stored in some dark basement IT server some place in this city, there just might be official numbers that detail how many millions have sat on wooden benches on the subway platforms over the years. As ludicrous as that sounds, it's even more doubtful that anyone knows how many souls have waited for a ride on this very bench where the gentleman with the cane shared his story with the lady in black pants. Lovers, siblings, roommates, old friends, new friends, friends long since forgotten- and on this night- a fare more common site-two complete strangers who chill the platform's hellish heat and share a moment.
"I got out of the train at 14th Street, crossed over to the downtown side. I waited a while, but eventually, I got the train back downtown. And I went back to this same bench, but my glove was gone," he said.
At that point, the woman's eyebrow raised up and passed the straight line border provided by her black glasses.
"But, I decided I'd ask the fellow at the token booth, "said the gentleman.
He said he'd accepted the fact that he'd probably have to pay his fare once again, since he'd crossed the turn style, but you see, those gloves were really special.
"The fellow in the booth ask me if the glove was brown, which it was mind you, I said yes, and well, he showed it to me and there was my glove," he said.
Looking into the air, laughing as he continued the story, he said the token booth clerk told him that another passenger brought the glove up to the clerk and said, that he'd found it on the platform.
"I told him that I knew exactly where I'd left it, on the wooden bench, the one that is in the direct center of the platform, " said the gentleman.
He said the man in the booth, just shrugged.
After all, people probably lose things on the subway every day, most never see their items again, or do they?
The woman told the story of how, one night, she'd left her purse on a platform. After a stressful and hysterical moment of realization that happened -- many station stops beyond where she'd left her purse, she first called her bank, cancelled credit cards and then, holding onto hope, made her way back to the station where she was sure she'd her purse on the platform.
When she approached the station attendant booth, the clerk, also a woman, held up the purse, and told her that another lady had found it.
"Everything was still in my purse, I didn't even need to call the bank," she laughed.
The rumble of an approaching F train, headed uptown shook the humid platform slightly and a breeze from the acrid tunnel caressed the waiting passengers. In subway stations yet unequipped with the computerized, ladies and gentlemen electronic announcements -- a rumble and breeze are the unofficial signals that a train is coming.
So before the listener could share the story of a wallet, left in Washington Square Park that had been returned by mail, the train had pulled in, its cold conditioned air beckoning.
Goodnights were said, the three made their way to the cars of their choice, none the same, they were on their way home.