So, there was another lunatic on the subway this evening. On the way home from work, I boarded a half-empty train and found a spot standing in the aisle facing out towards the windows. As the train flew through the dark tunnel, the reflection in the window revealed a grizzled, disheveled gentleman sprawled across the row of seats behind me, with his belongings sprawled across the row of seats ahead of him. Before the train had gotten very far, he began sputtering and grumbling. I continued watching in the reflection as a fellow commuter noticed, shifted, and moved to the other end of the car. Despite his apparent weirdness, the lunatic had the presence of mind at the next stop to gather himself and his belongings into one row of seats and offer the row he emptied to some new passengers.
As the train continued, the volume of his mutterings increased until it became clear to us all that he had a serious issue with air travel. "Don't fly the goddamned airplanes up in the sky! I don't unnerstand you people, why you wanna fly? God said keep your feet on da ground! I'm tryin' to save you, like Jesus Christ, I try to save you!" All of this tumbling out of his almost toothless mouth in the most gravelly voice I've ever heard. He'd occasionally become more excited, at one point standing and leaning over between the two people in the row in front of him. One of the two, commendably, remained calm and quietly urged the lunatic to take a break, telling him that we understood, it was ok, he should sit down. It worked. He gradually calmed a bit, telling us again in a lower voice that he loved us and just wanted to save us.
As always in these situations, my attention shifted between the lunatic and the reactions of the people around him. On a few of the faces nearby, I sensed alarm, annoyance, stifled giggles. Most, though, stoically gave no indication that they noticed anything at all out of the ordinary.
On and on the guy went, standing and waving his arms, sitting back down and grumbling, then standing again to exhort us all to stay outta the goddamned airplanes up in the sky. I wanted so badly to turn around and ask him what he thought of cars. What held me back? Sure, a part of me was apprehensive of further setting him off, uncertain of how close he might be to whatever line kept him from physically accosting any of us. But I think a bigger part of me feared something else. What if he didn't understand the question? What if he flat out ignored me? I honestly think I was afraid of being rebuffed by a lunatic.
After a while, he again quieted down and sprawled back in his seat, letting out periodic low cackles. I glanced up from scribbling at one point and happened to catch his eye. A moment later I heard him mutter "What's she writin' over there? She writin' a book?" A young couple a few rows up captured his attention then and he began babbling about how nice it is to have a girlfriend. Next minute, though, we heard over and over about how the girlfriend had been kidnapped, and that "They gonna kill da white girl on tv." But he was an equal opportunity lunatic, because very soon "They gonna kill da white man, too..."
Thirty-five minutes after I boarded, when the train reached the end of the line and we all got off, he stayed sprawled and rambling in his seat. I can picture him now, riding into the night, warning his fellow subway passengers of the dangers of "the goddamned airplanes." Hopefully, at some point, his mind will let his body rest.