Sometimes The Deck Is Just Stacked Against You, And Other Gambling Metaphors [ 2006-01-24, 6:41 p.m. ]

(Oh, apparently if you post about going to Atlantic City, you are hit with on-line gambling comment spam.)

We got home from Atlantic City on Sunday afternoon, and I spent the remainder of the day lying on the couch, watching movies and trying to wash the ashtray smell out of my hair. By Monday night I was feeling guilty for not updating this site, but not so guilty that I sat down and actually wrote anything. This morning I walked to the subway trying to compose a post which would best capture the essence of our little trip. Something like, " Atlantic City is the saddest place on earth because old people are gambling with their social security money and eating potato chips out of Ziploc bags but it is always fun to see Emilie and Caroline, even when there is no good buffet and everything tastes like secondhand smoke." The essense was very, very special, and involved Chicken Fish. You get the idea.

Uninspired, I grabbed a seat on the A train and opened my book. After one stop, the man (boy. in my mind, he is a boy, even though I learned he is 33.) next to me asked, Does this train go to 42nd Street?

Yes, I told him, This is the last stop in Brooklyn and then we'll go through downtown, to West 4th Street , then 14th, then 34th Street and then 42nd Street . Oh, okay, he said. A minute later he asked me, And that's in Manhattan ?

I will always help someone out with directions, a fact that is apparently broadcast across my forehead, as people are frequently stopping me for directions. Sometime it's not so much 'stopping me for directions' as it is 'yelling their questions out the car window as if I were a drive-thru window,' but even so, I like to help people get where they need to be. My first solo journey on the subway is still fresh in my mind, during which I suddenly realized that ALL trains stop at 34th Street, and simply finding a subway station on 34th Street and getting on a downtown train did not guarantee my safe return to Brooklyn . I realized that when the 1/9 train I was on went through South Ferry station without stopping and turned to go uptown, while I kept trying to locate Carroll Street on the map. I understand the frustration, and I always try to help out someone who looks lost.

This kid looked lost.

Yep, all the stops from now on are in Manhattan , I told him. This train goes up 8th Avenue, all along Manhattan, and it will stop at 42nd Street , right near Times Square. Will I be close to Port Authority, he asked me. Yes, I told him, you'll be right at Port Authority.

I have to catch a bus to Minnesota at Port Authority, he said, and then asked me if I've always lived in New York . I told him no, that I was from California, and asked him how long the bus ride to Minnesota was.

I don't know, he said. I had some troubles and ran out of money, so my family got the ticket and I have to go find it. I've just got to get on a Greyhound and go home. I had some troubles...

At first I thought his openness was on account of being from Minnesota; he was, after all, a baby-faced kid with jeans and sneakers and a Jansport backpack and wide eyes. And he was very open. He told me he was in school to become a teacher, and that once he got back home to Winona, he needed to get things in order. Once he got things in order, he wanted to go back to college. Maybe at the technical college, or maybe at the university in LaCrosse, Wisconsin. He wanted to take some administration classes, so that he could become a principal, and then he wanted to become a college professor. He just needed to get home, because he didn't have any money and had run into some bad luck.

"Don't wander," he told me. It's bad. He had run into some bad luck and didn't have his money anymore and was in the hospital. He ended up on Ward Island , and "they injected me with something," he said. So now I got some amnesia, he explained.

[Ward Island, per Wilkpedia, is "situated in the East River in New York City. Administratively it is part of the borough of Manhattan. It is bridged by rail to the borough of Queens by the Hell Gate Bridge and it is joined to Randall's Island to the north by landfill. The viaducts leading to the Triborough and Hell Gate bridges pass overhead. Vehicular access is by road from Randall's Island, while a narrow pedestrian bridge, Ward's Island Bridge, links the island to the east side of Manhattan in Harlem. The island is home to several public facilities, including a large state mental hospital and a sewage treatment plant. It is also home to Ward's Island Park which offers stunning views, athletic fields, and picnic grounds." This is new information to me, but when he told me he was on Ward Island I was pretty sure it was not for sightseeing.]

I told him I was sorry he had such a bad trip, and asked if he was visiting friends in New York. No, I'm on my own, just doing some traveling, he told me. But it didn't turn out so good, and my money... and it was really cold, he said, eyes open wide in earnestness. In Connecticut? It was real, real cold. That's why you shouldn't wander...

Well, I told him, the best thing is to get on your bus and rest, and then spend time with your family when you get to Minnesota, when you'll have time to regroup.

He told me again that he didn't have any money. That his family was contacted by the hospital, and bought him a bus ticket. They had to pay for it, he said. It's hard, because we don't have a lot of money, and I want to go to college...

Your family wants to make sure you're okay, they just want you home. That's what family is for, I said, but in my head I was thinking, I paid $7 for lunch yesterday and I've never taken the bus farther than northern New Jersey, you poor poor baby angel, please make it home to your mother safely.

I don't think New York is for me, he said. I'm pretty anxious to get back to Minnesota . Maybe I'll move to Wisconsin. But New York isn't for me. I don't think I'd let my daughters or sons live in Brooklyn if I had daughters or sons, he said with a shudder.

I told him that it wasn't all bad, that there are some very nice, safe places. But I don't have kids, I added.

Do you think you'll move back to California , he asked me. I explained, Probably not, not for a while anyway...

He shook his head, Just don't wander. It's not safe...I got some amnesia because they injected me...but I woke up in a psych ward...and I haven't been there since 1995, because I have an affective disorder...so be careful, and don't wander.

Maternal instincts I didn't know I had were kicking in, looking at this sweet-faced guy next to me, a truly lost soul, trying to get home and get his shit together, telling all this to a stranger on the subway. I wished I had a sandwich in my purse, I thought about asking for his mother's phone number, I thought about offering him money. I wanted to give him a hug and tell him, Don't trust people you meet on the subway! I am nice but not everyone is! Just get on your bus and go home to your mother and have some hot cocoa!

I shouldn't have gone out alone, he said, Doing some traveling on my own wasn't so great. After a pause he added, I'm not married, but I'd like to be, and maybe we'll buy a house in Wisconsin. He told me he was 33, "so I gotta get on it!" He looked about 24, said he wanted to meet someone nice and get married, but that he wouldn't take his kids to New York.

The train pulled into a station and he glanced up. Fourth Street? he asked me. Is that in Manhattan? Yes, you have three more stops, I told him. When you get to 42nd Street, you'll be right at Port Authority, but it's a big building and it might take a few minutes to find your ticket counter...

How's your book, he asked, nodding his head towards the book in my hands. Oh, it's good, I told him. I just started it, but so far it's a good read...quick...[I just started The Tipping Point] It's about trends, and how they occur and are spread...

I understand, he said with a nod, then asked, Are you by any chance related to Jim Doyle?

No, I shook my head.

Hmm. You have the same features as him, is why I ask, he said. He's the governor of Wisconsin. If I move back to Wisconsin, I think I'll probably run...

I looked at him, again seeing only a damaged kid, holding a crumpled piece of binder paper with scrawled directions and cartoons and doodles all over it. I thought of my brothers, thought of my parents, thought of his parents, thought about how very, very SAD he made me feel, this poor kid with the sweet face, on his way home after finding himself homeless, broke, and in a mental health facility on someplace called Ward Island which is in the middle of the East River, truly no man's land. He looked hurt, but not entirely shocked by his predicament. This wasn't the first time he'd been in trouble.

He added, Well, once I get stuff back in order, I mean. He gestured to the black backpack on his lap.

This is all I have, this backpack. I was living in a men's home and getting checks, but my last check...then something got messed up, I guess...and then I didn't have my money anymore...

He said all of this without guile, without anger, without embarrassment. He just said it.

It will be good for you to go home, and let your parents take care of you, I told him.

He nodded, Things just got all messed up...

I know, I said, but it sounds like they're going to get better. Just try to sleep on the bus, and when you're home, you can rest…

He shook his head and said, MAN, I can't wait to be back in my bed in Minnesota. I just want to burrow into it and sleep.

The train pulled into 34 th Street , and I rose to get off. He started to stand with me, so I reminded him that he had one more stop. I told him to get off at the next stop, that Port Authority is big, and that it's confusing inside but to PLEASE ask someone for help if he had trouble finding his ticket counter. A policeman, or security officer, anyone…just FIND your ticket and your bus…just GO HOME…it's going to be loud and crowded inside the bus station, but just FIND your bus, and go home to your family. Good luck, I told him…what I really wanted to say was, YOU ARE KILLING ME WITH YOUR SWEET FACE AND YOUR TINY BLACK BACKPACK AND YOUR SAD SAD STORY. GO HOME TO YOUR MOTHER, OR BETTER YET, GO HOME TO MY MOTHER, AND HAVE A SANDWICH AND A PUDDING CUP BECAUSE A PUDDING CUP MAKES EVERYTHING BETTER. PLEASE BE OKAY, PLEASE PLEASE BE OKAY BECAUSE YOU ARE A TENDER LITTLE ANGEL EVEN THOUGH YES, I HEARD ALL YOUR REFERENCES TO INJECTIONS AND MENTAL ILLNESS. I CAN TELL YOU ARE A GOOD PERSON SO PLEASE JUST LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER. OH, AND HEY, WHAT'S YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS BECAUSE I HAVE A BLOG, YOU KNOW...

He waved and said, Good luck to you too!

I guess it's really all just a craps' shoot, isn't it?

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