Sick Passenger

New York Press

Once I woke up on the 2 train eye-to-eye with an erect penis. It was being rubbed back and forth on the pole in front of me. I went back to sleep, hoping it was another one of those dreams. Once, on the F, I saw a perfectly healthy-looking Chinese woman lean back and spew vomit across the car in this amazing horizontal cone. And once an addled, bearded man spent a half-hour mumbling Doors lyrics at me and handed me a crisp $20 at the end of his performance. But this one was the best.

The characters involved, at least at the start, were me, Rick and the guy with the headphones. We were riding the downtown 4 train, Rick and I talking, the guy with the headphones rocking out, when I noticed something strange. Our fellow passengers were getting up and leaving through those "emergency exit" doors. I figured they were all going to the next car so they'd have less of a walk when they got to their stops. I often do that. If you need to walk a block, it's best to do it on the train, so it doesn't factor into your total travel time.

But no, these people weren't changing cars for efficiency, because I looked at the other end and over there, they were leaving the other way. Then I glanced toward the middle of the car.

A woman was there, taking a shit. I should've turned away immediately, but you don't see this too often, so I hunkered down and noticed the details. She was an older woman, maybe 60, clearly homeless, with a laundromat cart by her side. She had pulled off her pants and was squatting over her gray bench seat, with a steaming turd slipping out of her.

I turned to Rick. "Dude! We gotta go!"

Rick--who'd probably noticed the whole thing before me; he'd been very quiet the last few seconds--wouldn't move. He just stared at the Turd Mistress.

"Rick! C'mon!" I yelled, shaking him. He snapped out of it; we grabbed out backpacks and scrambled into the adjoining car. Now, this place was a scene. The whole car was packed with people who had fled the Crap Lady, so there was a real camaraderie. Everyone was talking:

"Did you see that?"

"My God, she just pulled off her pants and did it."

"I knew when she got on. I knew something was wrong. She smelled funny."

"When did she get on? Forty-second?"

"They should arrest her. You can't do that on the subway. There are signs."

"The signs are about pissing, not that."

And so on. It takes a disaster to bring together subway passengers. The Shit Queen got so many people talking, she must have hooked up a few couples. ("Well, precious, Daddy and I met when a nasty old woman made ka-ka on the train!")

A minute after Rick and I sat down, the headphones guy walked in, a horrified look on his face. He hadn't noticed anything until the smell hit him. I wonder what he was listening to; I'd really like to hear the CD that makes you ignore a drive-by shitting. Speaking of which, I was curious as to what the woman was up to, now that she had done her deed. I got up and peered through the doors into her car, where she was just sitting, next to her product, hands crossed in her lap. Completely alone. I wish I'd had a camera.

"I've seen a lot of stuff on the subway," Rick commented. "I've seen guys pissing and smelling and whacking off, but I never saw anybody clear a train like that."

"Yeah, there's a hierarchy," I mused. "If you stink, you get maybe a five-foot radius. If you're foaming at the mouth, you get 10 feet. This woman got hundreds of feet."

We pulled into the 14th St. station; the doors opened. Dozens of well-dressed riders--oblivious to our special passenger--moseyed off the platform and into her car. Ten seconds later they ran into our car, with some of the greatest expressions I have every seen. An Indian family bounced in, gibbering, the little girl completely agape, the little boy covering his mouth. A shrimpy stoner kid sauntered in; he tried to look cool, but in his eyes you saw the terror of confronting an open turd. Three women squeezed into our car, which was now standing room only.

"Hey!" one of them bubbled, pointing through the doors. "It looks like there's some room in that car!" Smiling at their discovery, they walked through. I just sat. They came back a few moments later, eyes wide, mouths crooked with horror. I started laughing.

"You could have told us!" one of them yelled at me. I kept laughing. Now, we had been at 14th St. a while. I was beginning to wonder what was going on. The p.a. system sprang to life.

"Ladies and gentlemen, this is your conductor speaking." This was going to be good. "Ah, ladies and gentlemen, we have a sick passenger, so we won't be moving for a time. You can get on a 6 train across the platform or just wait here, but I suggest you leave, because we might be here a while."

That was too much. Rick and I stumbled off the train, unable to control our laughter. There were moments after that--the cops and transit workers debating who had clean-up duty, the woman getting off the train and dropping another turd on the platform--but the "sick passenger" line was the best. When I hear that in the subways, I know it's probably a pregnant woman or someone throwing up. But it might just be someone taking a shit at her leisure. It took at extra 40 minutes to get home, and when I told my mother the story, she said I'd need better excuses in the future.

Ned Vizzini