Pennsylvania Station: 1978

Written after an October visit to New York City

“Oh, yes, everyone knows that,”
my friends said,
when I told them
I’d seen so many
crazies in New York City .

Yesterday I sat in
Pennsylvania Station
Waiting for the 1:30 p.m. to Boston.
My plastic covered seat
was broken and tilted
me towards the floor.
The lady next to me
read her pamphlet on
How to be a Christian
On Sunday,
On Monday,
On Tuesday.

She wasn’t paying much
attention. She was
looking for her friend,
who found her.
They went to Nedicks
together talking continuous
I took her seat.

My book was about cancer and TB.
The two old men next to me rattled on
in Italian. I read
three sentences and looked
at the digital clock over
the continuously clicking
board of train-departures.

Three more sentences and
a skinny black man
went by shouting
obscenities at me and
the two Italians and everyone.
I didn’t stare.

Then I smelled something–
a clear unmistakable
odor of human shit.
A man passed me–
limping  painfully,
his walk slow.
He had on only
the basics–pants and shirt.
No shoes, socks, coat
His feet and pants were
covered with brown.
Through a rip in his
pants I saw bruises
on his flesh.

He entered Nedicks
and stood by himself
Away from the others.
He took his food, came out and limped to a pllar.
He leaned against
it and ever so slowly
slid his
back down the smooth cement
until he was sitting on
the floor. Once there
he didn’t move except
to eat his french fries
one by one, his sandwich
bite by bite and drink his
coffee slowly and carefully.

He spoke to no one.
He never raged at us.
He didn’t giggle at anyone
Like the old man with the
quart whiskey bottle,
nearly empty, who smiled
and joked with anyone who
caught his eye.

I watched the dirty man,
but covertly. I didn’t
want to engage him.
I watched the people rushing past-
A well-dressed couple in tweed suits
With many leather bags;
a large Puerto Rican family
moving like a small colony
of ants through the room, their
children stout and healthy;
girls in tight jeans,
high-heeled boots
and long cigarettes–no one looked at him.

Where were all those Jesus people
now that someone needed them?
Where were the smilers, who have pressed
pamphlets and flowers and
buttons on me in terminals
and streets all over North America?
Wasn’t there a single Hare,
Witness, or
Moonie here in this
crowded station?

One man stared,
another stopped, squatted
beside the dirty man to talk
and then moved on.
If Bibles could cure
people in their
madness, their
if they could keep them
from drowning in their
own shit,
I’d buy out Gideon’s stock
and pile Bibles by the
columns in Penn Station, stack them
on the information desk,
cover the departing-train
board with them.

Every glass of orange drink at
Nedicks would merit a
Bible–every Schaefer at the bar
on the other side of the waiting room
would be served with a
Bible for a coaster

They’d overflow
onto 8th Avenue
and cure the lady
who shouts curses
at the Jews. Or
for the Jews.

The book would
sooth the young
man who stood
in the traffic,
head bowed, while

trurcks shreiked and
taxis howled,
until his friend
came out to lead him
to the sidewallk.

I missed the dirty
man’s departure.
He was gone, leaving

a paper cup, dirty papers
Two cleaning men
who discussed every
greasy paper before
picking it up, came by.
I looked at my book again
to avoid a lady
in green pants–stuffed
with newspapers–and
when I looked up
even his remnants were gone.

I didn’t know where
he’d gone and glanced
uneasily around until
I could leave at 1:10
to board my train.
He wasn’t there.
I wish I’d seen him
rise and depart,
noting which
corridor he exited by.
So I could check him off.
Instead he is still
with me–the dirty man.






4 thoughts on “Pennsylvania Station: 1978

  1. I’d forgotten how good this piece was, but on the other hand, it made you not want to come back and meet us. You didn’t want to go into Penn St. for years. I saw a police man trying to get up a homeless man this trip. He wouldn’t stand up and of course no one wanted to touch him. What to do about homelessness; never gets resolved. The Chelsea Piers I was referring to is where we passed by on way to Whitney and you mentioned Sara lived there at one time: fixed up lofts, shops, Law and Order filming places, etc. Joey and Laura are having a baby in Jan. big excitement last night as we saw the sonogram. at least we are over populating the earth with good people.

    • Thanks for the vote! I found it still good after all these years. That man really did turn me off NYC for some years. Now we’re much cleaner and tidier. The man in the traffic was almost as bad as the dirty man. From: elinoratplay To: Sent: Thursday, June 4, 2015 9:28 AM Subject: [elinoratplay] Comment: “Pennsylvania Station: 1978” #yiv5298552031 a:hover {color:red;}#yiv5298552031 a {text-decoration:none;color:#0088cc;}#yiv5298552031 a.yiv5298552031primaryactionlink:link, #yiv5298552031 a.yiv5298552031primaryactionlink:visited {background-color:#2585B2;color:#fff;}#yiv5298552031 a.yiv5298552031primaryactionlink:hover, #yiv5298552031 a.yiv5298552031primaryactionlink:active {background-color:#11729E;color:#fff;}#yiv5298552031 | | |

  2. we have missed something good by not going to the China exhibit at the Met. I may have to go back when I go with Dana and the girls in July. planning on driving up, the 4 of us, two nights in the city and then out to Bridgehampton for 2 nights with Andrew and family. sounds like the current plan;. how’s everything there? j

    • No doubt you are right. there is a very good review of the Whitney in The New York Review of Books, the latest edition. I imagine you’d have to go to barnes and Noble to get a copy. the reviewer is an architect but she also does a good job on the art as well as the building. She said that The Standard, the hotel was built recently but is supposed to look older.  there’s a great picture of the Whitney, the side we went in on and a picture of the seventh floor  outisde. From: elinoratplay To: Sent: Monday, June 8, 2015 4:59 PM Subject: [elinoratplay] Comment: “Pennsylvania Station: 1978” #yiv0451710931 a:hover {color:red;}#yiv0451710931 a {text-decoration:none;color:#0088cc;}#yiv0451710931 a.yiv0451710931primaryactionlink:link, #yiv0451710931 a.yiv0451710931primaryactionlink:visited {background-color:#2585B2;color:#fff;}#yiv0451710931 a.yiv0451710931primaryactionlink:hover, #yiv0451710931 a.yiv0451710931primaryactionlink:active {background-color:#11729E;color:#fff;}#yiv0451710931 | | |

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