Some days I walk to work convinced I’ll have nothing to write about.
This morning, for instance. Could I really eke out a whole column on the rampant construction along Houston Street? All right, one hardhat on a ladder did shout down to his crew, “I wanna dip my balls in it!” Good line. But good story? No. At least not for you and me. Him, maybe.
And then, something magical happens.
On the subway, no less. (Yes, I ride the rails now and then, Straphanger Joe.) It’s lunchtime and I’m on a mostly full L train chugging over to the east side.
Seated at one end of the car, I’m reading Steve Martin’s surprisingly absorbing memoir Born Standing Up. I learn about the comedian’s humble beginnings as a clerk in the magic shop at Disneyland. It’s amazing how detailed he was not only with comedy but also with his magic tricks. The way he discovered how to shuffle a deck of cards, for instance: each card precisely following the other—without the deck ever leaving the table.
At Union Square someone boards the train. I don’t look up. I’m lost in a passage about Martin stitching a rubber ball to a realistic-looking cloth rabbit. During a performance for the Cub Scouts, he pulls the bunny out of cardboard tube, lets it drop and the prop bounces on the stage. It become his very first gag.
I hear a few hollow knocking noises like a cowbell coming from the middle of the car. Some kids are getting ready to sing or rap for spare change, no doubt. But no music comes—sung, spoken or otherwise.
The L whooshes along again, then eases into 3rd Avenue station, my stop, and finally I look up.
A squat Latino man in a collared piano shirt and a brittle-looking green fedora has everyone’s attention. Unsmiling and not saying a word, he stands over a cart that would be right at home clearing tables in a cafeteria. This cart, though, is draped in black fabric with bits of 99¢ store glitter.
The man also has a clear plastic rectangular box in his hands. He smacks it with a wand (the source of the supposed cowbell). Then he slides the box open and—presto!—he lifts a living, breathing rabbit out of the plastic box. Out of nowhere. The black-and-white bunny contracts in the man’s pinched fingers, lowers its long ears and quivers its nose, eyeing us all. At last, the magician smiles.
Amid “ahhhh’s” and applause from the passengers, the L stops. The doors open. I want to stay, but I can’t. So I exit the train, which moves on.
I just shake my head over the oddity of reading about a certain magician and then seeing one ply his trade on the L. It’s the kind of thing that, if you saw it in a movie, you’d say, “Aw, c’mon!”
But it was real. Even if it wasn’t.
—When he’s not schlepping on the L train, Tim Coleman covers the feet-on-the-street beat for Trainjotting.