August 4, 6:36 p.m.
B Train – 42nd Street to 96th Street
Few subway-related struggles seem worse than dealing with a stroller, a friend recently noted. True, I thought, except for handling a child just large enough to make a stroller unreasonable. Here we have a mother and a stroller. The stroller holds two children, but she pays them no attention, with good reason: her focus is on another child, around six, busily applying a black marker to a subway pole. Mom snatches the marker and gives a lecture in Spanish. Roughly translated:
Mom: Stop that. You need to draw on your paper.
Girl: [Throws yellow paper to the floor. One side is covered in lines and shapes, the other with an advertisement for a Chinese restaurant.] No! No! No!
Mom has had a long day: brow furrowed, eyes locked on points unknown around the car, mouth forming an unwavering horizontal line. She holds a red mesh shopping bag next to her with a baby’s bottle, roll of toilet paper and cell phone sticking out of the top. She checks the phone, quickly.
The girl leans into her mother’s arm.
“Ewwww,” she spouts.
“That’s what perfume smells like,” Mom answers, in English, without a hint of sheepishness.
There is a second stroller in the car that might alleviate some of the crying if it weren’t tucked behind the two children, out of view. A man in a black polo and jeans holds a yellow cage that looks like a see-through rolling suitcase. Inside is a Yorkshire terrier that keeps still, though its open eyes betray that it’s awake. The man folds the extended handle and picks up the cage as he exits the car, the three children never the wiser.
The girl has moved from graffiti to gymnastics. She lays on her back, her head resting awkwardly at a 45 degree angle on her mother’s lap. She sticks her legs straight up, then spreads them like a reverse jumping jack. As a final flourish, she wraps her knees around the horizontal bar and pulls her torso up into a human arch.
“Look, I spit in the train,” the girl says as she, sure enough, spits in the train.
“Don’t do that,” her mother finally snaps, giving her a mild slap on the wrist. “That’s disgusting.”
The girl turns to face an ad for Dallas BBQ. Though she does not comment on the leathery texture of it’s brisket, she does begin reciting the letters she recognizes in the poster, in no particular order.
“That’s not the right order,” Mom says, in her best teaching voice.
The girl stops and recites the alphabet from a to t, then hums an indistinguishable tune. She’s too busy for u, v, w, x, y, and z.