A man seated across from me on a Brooklyn-bound D train was looking at me. I felt his stare and returned his gaze. This was when his blank expression changed to a warm and slightly sloppy grin. His face was a little crooked, like mine. He was missing teeth, top and bottom, and his nose looked swollen and pulpy, like a boxer’s. He looked as if he had just chased a parked truck. His smile unnerved me, and I returned to reading the latest issue of New York magazine. A story about bed bug infestations in the Upper East Side had my interest.
I looked up and he was still looking at me. Annoyed, I asked him directly, “Can I help you?” I have a bad habit of talking to crazy people, and this guy gave off a crazy vibe. I normally don’t confront people who stare, but I was lonesome for a friend who had just left the country so I might have been a little crabby, and I didn’t want this guy watching me.
“You look like Sam Shepard.” This wasn’t the first time I had heard this from someone in the subway. It must be the dim and ugly green of the fluorescent lighting that brings out the Shepard in me.
“Yeah, I get that a lot.” True. But I would like to state for the record that I resemble a young Sam Shepard.
The fellow started to seem a little less annoying and more clear-headed once he started speaking, and so I asked him the first thing that came to mind. “Do you like his plays?”
“True West and a couple others.” He looked down then up again, and he blushed a little. “I write, too.”
“You write plays?”
“Yeah. Two-handers mostly.” Well, this guy was clearly an aficionado, because I had never heard that phrase used by anyone who didn’t love theater.
“That’s interesting.” Sometimes, I say boring things.
“Yeah, I like turning two souls lose, letting them mix it up, and seeing what sort of salad they become.”
I laughed abruptly in a concussive burst. “That’s awesome,” I told him.
“Yeah.” He opened the soiled baby-blue backpack at his feet and pulled out a school composition book. He turned his head down to the rumpled pages and took a pen from his back pocket and started writing. This ended our chat.
I should have introduced myself, asked his name at least. I have a feeling he was disappointed I wasn’t Sam Shepard. They would have had something to talk about.