by Mitch Lemus

"A ttention passengers ... This downtown number 6 train is being (unintelligible) ... track fire up ahead ... For your safety please (unintelligible), then switch for the (unintelligible) train there."

Just another morning on the IRT.

I know better than to make eye contact with potentially psychotic passengers. So while the train sits motionless, I gaze hypnotically at the ads above. Why are so many aimed at the physical anomalies of society? Does the medical community regard the strap-hanging public as a pack of humpbacked, hammer-toed, hemorrhoidal mutants?

Ads from ambulance-chasing law firms display headlines like "Dropped On Your Head As A Baby?...You May Be Entitled To A Big Cash Settlement." While another asks, "Illiterate? Addicted to Crack? Out on Parole? The Department of Motor Vehicles Is Now Hiring."

At 59th Street, the conductor kicks everyone out, announcing the train disabled. I impatiently wait in the commuter sewer for another train, wondering why I ever bothered to shower earlier. Rather than arrive at the office sweating like Patrick Ewing, I opt to catch a cab. But before I reach the street, some nudnik shoves a Jews for Jesus pamphlet at me. Yeah, right. And sign me up for Vegetarians For Meatloaf while you're at it.

Upon exiting the subway, Madam Zelda, one of those smarmy storefront fortune tellers, hands me a leaflet promising the answers to all my love, health, and financial problems. If Madam Zelda were truly psychic, wouldn't she already know not to waste her fliers on me?

Unable to find a cab, I cut in front of a couple of unsuspecting tourists and jump into the one they've hailed.

"Broadway and Astor," I tell the driver.

"Bowery and Eleventh?" mumbles Turbanhead.

"Broadway and Astor," I repeat.

"Broadway and 80th, you say?"

Should I expect anything less from a guy with 29 letters in his name, none of which are vowels?

Lawrence Taylor is on the car radio announcing the grand opening of the newest Nobody Beats the Wiz store off some exit in Jersey. If The Wiz can always refer to itself as Nobody Beats the Wiz, can I legally change my name to No Store is Cheap Enough for Mitch?

At 9:50, I finally arrive at my office, where I sneak past my boss through the back hallway.

Lunchtime. Head to a nearby ATM machine, and as usual, find myself stuck behind the woman who's applying for a mortgage.

Afterwards, I make myself a salad-to-go at an East Village Korean grocery, then pass a half dozen Korean knickknack shops on my way to the Korean-owned dry cleaners. I'm convinced these people heard a voice saying, "Open a business, and they will come."

Outside Tower Records I walk past a group of 20-somethings with logos etched into their haircuts. Wonder when the human head became the newest outdoor advertising medium. Contemplate if at 31, I'm too many letters removed from Generation X to be cool, or if I'm just turning into my father.

On my way back to the office, I pass a lineup of street peddlers displaying their wares on the sidewalk. Should I ever be in the market for a single worn sock to go with a pair of 70's platforms, a 1989 issue of People magazine, or a clock-radio from the days when they had dials, I now know where to shop.

Return to my desk where I eat lunch and make my obligatory weekly call to my mother in Florida. When she insists I call her neighbor's niece, Mindi, for a blind date, because "she also lives in Manhattan," I tell her I have another call, and abruptly hang up.

5:30 - 6:00: Look busy while I wait for my boss to leave work.

6:00: Boss leaves work.

6:01: I leave work.

Outside Astor Hairstylists, I pass a clique of hard-core punkers sporting black leather jackets, Doc Marten combat boots, and mental institution haircuts. Sweat and body odor are worn as alternative outlets of expression. When they blow their pierced noses, does it find the path of least resistance -- and squirt out the side?

Entering the subway, I steer clear of a rowdy group of inner-city teens wearing baggy pants with crotches nearly sweeping the floor. Could they be hiding something down there? Like pistols?

On the uptown 6, two schmutz-incrusted panhandlers enter the train from opposite sides and simultaneously begin their spiels. When they meet in the middle of the car, they engage in a territorial dispute.

At five to seven, I arrive at my tiny 5th floor walk-up where I sidestep two Chinese menus and a carpet cleaning flier slipped under my door. The phone's ringing as I enter. "So, Mr. Lemus, we'll have Caller I.D. hooked up for you by Monday, OK?" says the NYNEX telemarketer, as he wraps up his monotone scripted pitch. "You mean with Caller ID, I could tell if it's an annoying salesman like you even before I pick up?" Click.

I search the refigerator and find Empire Wok leftovers from the night before last. I eat it cold, straight from the box. Surf the channels but find nothing on but authoritative-looking men in suits spewing O.J. analysis.

Fall asleep on the couch, then wake up to the 11 o'clock news, where an outraged citizen proposes the Department of Social Services declare the entire city dysfunctional. It occurs to me that the only way to survive this city is to be dysfunctional. Or, at least, a little crazier than the next guy.

Portions of this story originally appeared in Manhattan File magazine.

Copyright © 1996 Mitch Lemus