It's not always easy to recognize life's turning points but occasionally they make themselves perfectly clear.
It's late afternoon and I'm standing on a midtown subway platform, waiting for the downtown #1 train. The platform is moderately crowded but fifty or sixty feet away, a figure catches my eye.
He's a young man, no more than thirty-two or three. Five-foot ten or so, dark hair, pasty complexion, a little pudgy. He's making his way slowly along the platform, approaching, and speaking briefly to, every person standing on the platform. He makes eye contact with each individual as he nears them, a certain demented fervor reflected in his gaze.
One might assume he's making a pitch for spare change but as he draws near enough to be audible, one learns it is not a plea he offers but an assessment, a judgement, an approval or a dismissal of each and every person he encounters.
"You - you're out...you - gone...you - you can stay...you - outta here."
And so it goes. No reason is given for these pronouncements. Whatever his guidelines are, he chooses not to share them. He doesn't strike one as threatening and he makes no attempt to act on his verdicts. The announcing of them is what he is about. One is in or one is out, that's it, case closed.
Easy, you might to think, to dismiss him as just another subway eccentric but the effect he has on those he addresses is undeniable. At first, each feigns disinterest but eventually, as the moment of truth draws nigh, as their assessor approaches, one can sense the anxiety, the panic, even, as each one, man, woman and child, awaits his or her judgement.
I, too, am but a man, only flesh and blood and, try as I might to remain disinterested in his progress, I find myself casting the occasional askance glance his way. Now, only five or six people separate me from my moment of the truth and I can feel my heart pounding within my chest, my mouth goes cotton-dry and the slightest little tick, just a little twitch, appears over my right eye.
The fiftyish women in the business suit and thick glasses is summarily dismissed.
The homie in the baggy shorts and Chicago Bulls jersey makes the cut.
The young immigrant mother, who seems not to be grasp the import of this moment, is given the okay.
The bookish man in the maroon cardigan sweater, with balding head and red face, is cut loose with particular relish.
The young woman with the tattoos and the piercings and the Astor Place haircut is looked upon favorably.
And now it is my turn. All noise ceases, I become immune to all other external stimuli. It is as if there is no one else in the world but this man, this gatekeeper, this sentry, this dean of underground admissions and me. And it is with an exalted sense of relief that I hear him pronounce, in authoritarian tones...
"You can stay."
O, sweet acceptance! To be among the selected, the honored, the chosen few.
I find myself, against my own better judgement, now looking with some disdain and perhaps a tinge of pity upon those who didn't made the cut. How terrible to be excluded, to be found unworthy! But no one has ever claimed life to be fair, have they? I choose not to dwell on why some are chosen and others cast free. I prefer to revel in my newfound status, my new life among the elite.
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