Gut Instinct: Killer Commute

It’s my habitat. It’s the place where things happen at.

Lately, dear readers, I’ve suffered in unthinkable fashion: I’ve worn pants and T-shirts and worked in a Midtown office. To blame? The monetary demands of a holiday I don’t celebrate.

“What are you getting me for Christmas?” my girlfriend asked, sending me an Amazon wish list as long as the Dead Sea scrolls.

“Christ-what?” “I’ve already bought you you’re gifts.” “I don’t exchange gifts.” It’s true.

Around age 15 my family stopped pretending that Hanukkah is the Jewish Christmas.

Instead, we gorged on crisp, fluffy latkes and brisket cooked in French-onion soup.

“We’re exchanging gifts this year,” she said, with the finality of a mom ordering her son to eat his peas—or else.

In order to ably demonstrate my love via commercial goods, I rented my editing acumen to area publishing houses.This necessitates a necessary evil: commuting.

Though the recession is a royal bummer, I hoped fewer employed New Yorkers would equal an uncrowded subway. Not so. Cutbacks have made service as unpredictable as Mike Tyson, with every car crammed like a cattle train.

To soothe my commute- and work-jangled nerves, I’ve taken to treating myself with liquid luxuries. After, say, a grueling day of sorting out their versus there, I’ll head to Astor Wine & Spirits (399 Lafayette St., at E. 4th St., 212-674- 7500) and buy a bottle of bourbon. Work has allowed me to discover the pleasures of cherries-and-molasses Buffalo Trace and smoky, spicy Elmer T. Lee. Nothing flips a frown upside down quite like a double bourbon on the rocks.

Come a.m., though, I indulge in my other addiction: coffee. I’ve been a java junkie since 16. During high school, I’d spend my eves sequestered in booths at Midwestern greasy spoons such as Perkins and Waffle House. There I’d nurse my bottomless Joe till my nerves were live wires and I jabbered as speedily as a cokehead— as a drug, caffeine remains my first and undying love.

Most mornings, I’ll make do with a French press full of dark-roasted Gorilla coffee. But when commuting, I pop into Crown Heights’ bright Glass Shop (766 Classon Ave., betw. St. Johns & Sterling Pls., no phone). This is my Brooklyn hood’s first

fancy-pants caffeine depot, where bewhiskered baristas pull mean espressos made with Philadelphia’s rich La Colombe Torrefaction beans. Yuppie? You bet. My neighborhood friend Moses decried the gentrifying java, proclaiming, “Move to East New York while rent’s still cheap.” I disagree. I like actual, you know, amenities. After seven years of my best coffee option being watery bodega swill, I crave an espresso crowned with nice crema.

This brings me to last Tuesday: Americano in hand, humming, I boarded a Manhattan-bound 2 train at Eastern Parkway.

The car was a ghost town. Perhaps there were fresh Wall Street layoffs? I rested my hindquarters and read my guilty pleasure: vintage detective novels—in this case, a murderous Mickey Spillane whodunnit. It was an idyllic commute. But reader, you know my calm will quickly shatter.

At Atlantic Avenue, commuters streamed aboard. For passengers planted beside empty seats, this is a moment of terror. Will it be the corpulent lady with an iPod cranked louder than a 747 takeoff, or the stick-thin student reading his textbook? It’s a crapshoot. I rolled snake eyes. A graybeard in his mid-fifties, ambling with a cane, took the empty spot beside me. Then he spread his trunk-like legs wide—as if he were giving birth—and burped. It smelled like a fast-food menu.

I wiggled to the right, freeing my arms so I could sip coffee. My movements jostled my neighbor, who grunted like a warthog and squirmed like an earthworm. Neither baseball nor football is New Yorkers’ favorite pastime: It’s passive-aggression, the one sport where everyone’s on an equally annoying playing field. As the train shuddered beneath the East River and aimed north in Manhattan, we rubbed and we elbowed, carving out space quickly reclaimed by the other. It was a wordless battle with no winners, only two sore losers.

The train screeched into Times Square.

My stop. Passengers spewed forth. I swigged more wake-up juice, perhaps a hair too heartily. My neighbor turned to me, eyes tight with fury, and snarled, “I hope you’re enjoying your fucking coffee.”

“I was until you opened your mouth” would’ve been the correct New Yorker response. But the recent underground stabbing served as a sobering reminder of the city’s unpredictability. Life or death can boil down to something as simple as a seat. I gathered my belongings and smiled, my shit-eating grin, appropriately, stained coffee-brown.

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