It was my last night in New York City. I had spent the whole summer going to stand up comedy open mics. I was leaving the next day for my hometown in the Chicago suburbs before heading all the way back for my last year of school in California just a few days after that. It was late at night, probably 1:00 in the morning and no one was out. I had just finished my final mic which started at 10:00 PM Saturday night at the Irish American Bar & Pub. My set was okay: I had a couple good jokes, but I went up late and everyone was tired. Typical. I always went up in the last group at that bar. At least, that’s the way it seemed. My friends and I had been sitting around the bar for three hours until all the comics had gone up and performed their sets. And we had gone to two other mics earlier that evening. As it turns out, that mic ended up leaving the Irish American to be hosted at another bar. And so it was not only my last mic in New York for the summer, but the last mic at the Irish American for anyone.
A couple comic friends and I, with whom I had grown quite close, decided to go to Burger King to get some burgers. The Burger King was practically abandoned. Only a few workers who lounged around behind the counter. But, we climbed up to the second level and filled the space with our obnoxiousness. One of the workers who came upstairs to mop the floor gave us a dirty look. Maybe if we weren’t there, they would have closed early. An old friend who happened to be transferring to school in New York was in town early, and he decided to meet with us to say hello before I left town. He joined us in Burger King for only a few minutes before we were kicked out onto a concrete square, somewhere downtown, lit from underneath by hundreds of slits of two-by-four-sized lights in the ground. I had never been there before. It seemed like outer space.
We sat and finished our burgers while we comics tried to explain comedy to my old friend, and my old friend tried to explain mathematics to us. It was fun to see an old friend and very new friends exchange stories about me, asking questions about the way that I had been when I was young and the way that I was then. I was a weird kid, but not that funny. Most of the memories were about doing silly things at Science Olympiad competitions or math fairs. And now I was serious about comedy. I had become serious about something silly. I would miss New York a lot.
Eventually, it became the consensus that it was indeed late and we all got onto different trains to head back to our boroughs. I was exhausted and I still had to pack everything for my flight the next day. And to find a way to disassemble my bed somehow, without any tools. I got on the 6 Train and headed uptown. There were far more people on the train then there should have been past 2:00AM in the morning. There was just enough room for everyone to sit comfortably and a train car performer to pull out an old guitar and start strumming. He plucked at the strings with his bare, dirty fingers. He was tall and wore tattered clothes. He was tired, btu needed the money. The strap of the guitar looked chewed-through and the strings did not look right.
“I’ll give you a dollar if you PLAY that guitar,” a woman with a purse across from me challenged the musician. “Pardon me,” said the musician as he stopped strumming. “I said I’ll pay you a dollar if you really PLAY that guitar. You really play it.” He gave her a determined look: he wanted that dollar. He was serious. There was a silence in the car. People watched. I wanted to know how he would convince her that he was playing that guitar and not just using it to make music. He answered my question by pulling out a guitar pick and starting to strum some simple chords. Then, he began to sing. Something about world peace and everyone being happy. People from here, people from there, people from everywhere getting along. It was the sort of song that I’d normally find corny, but he really sang and it sounded like something he’d come up with himself. At the very least, it came from the heart. I looked quickly at the faces of the people around me. They felt it too. It wasn’t the prettiest sound or the clearest singing or the best song, but he was PLAYING that guitar.
The musician played and played. He closed his eyes and played until he reached the top of a vocal crescendo. He crooned with yearning, his voice taking over the car. Excitedly, the woman with the purse yelled, “See I told you I’d give you a dollar if you PLAYED that guitar so here I’ll give you a dollar! I told you I’d give you a dollar.” He kept playing and singing, eyes closed, smiling. She pulled out a few dollars from her purse and put them in the musician’s pocket. People from around the car began to do the same. He kept playing.
Again, I thought to myself, “I’m going to miss New York. What a beautiful, magical place.” Only in New York could total strangers on a train car feel the same emotion from a simple interaction involving a woman, a man, and his guitar. The musician drew his singing down to a whisper and slowed his playing down to some simple, beautiful chords that echoed through the car. Everyone was watching the musician. They were happy, too.
Just as the musician reached the final chord, I saw something happen. In the middle of the car, a large young woman contorted, bending horizontally from her seat with a sudden force, spewing a food-speckled slime onto the floor of the car and harmonizing quite perfectly with a hideously repulsive gargle. Groans of repugnance from around the car, along with a “What the…!” accompanied the gargle. The train slowed rapidly to a stop, sending the more liquidy components of the discharge down the length of the car towards my feet. The doors opened. It was my stop.
I was out from the subway and onto the street in a heartbeat. I was shocked. But, I couldn’t help but skip, smile, and laugh to myself on the two-block stroll to my apartment, thinking, “an appropriate last night in New York: magical beauty and utter disgust.”
I made it into my building, jogged up the stairs, and opened my door slowly. I turned around and shut the door behind me, locked it. I turned to see my roommate. Crouched down. On the floor. Ass naked. Hunched over. In front of the floor-length mirror. Bush. Scrawny. A n aked, hunched over creature. In our tiny kitchen.
“I didn’t know that you would be coming home,” he said.
What?! Why…? In the kitchen? What are you doing? It’s 3:00 AM and you KNOW that I’m leaving tomorrow! I come home this time every night!
“Um, okay.” I said.
I walked into my room and shut the door. I just started to plan how I would take apart the bed.