“All in the Family”
by Jack Bristow
“Oh my God. Oh my sweet merciful Christ, what have you
done,” Don Plato had thought as he lay on the queen-sized
bed. To his right was a woman, an older woman, of about
forty-five with golden brown hair and a satisfied smirk on
“I know you’re ashamed of what we just did,” the woman said,
taking a draw off the Virginia Slim cigarette. “But don’t be.
Don’t be. The man is not a saint, I knew that before he pro-
posed to me. You don’t think I don’t know what it is he does
when he goes away on this business trips of his? Whoring.
He goes to those goddamn strip clubs in Tampa and runs
amok humping anything that accepts the minimal pay-rate
of fifty-dollars a screw.”
“Please. Don’t mention him. I mean,” Don said. “Just use the
pronoun. Don’t use his name. Never use it, oh, Christ, I feel
The woman stubbed the cigarette out on the ashtray on the
nightstand, and then she took her time, saying, “What’s
the matter. I was that bad? You don’t want to talk about it?
Think about it?”
Not at all, Don had thought. Danielle was the oldest woman
Don had ever been with, the only woman, if you hadn’t
counted Darlene, Darlene the former fiancee. Darlene, the
one who broke it off with Don the night before and sent
him here seeking refuge from the old man, those tough,
terse words of wisdom Don had heard all his life, “Suck
it up. Be a man. Things will get better. Eventually.” For
a second he smiled, but then had remembered how he
had betrayed him. With Danielle. With those legs. Fab-
ulous, but not completely shaven.
Don’s shoulders still itched on account of those wonderful legs, “no, stop thinking of that.…”
“What the hell am I supposed to do?” He said, more to him-
self than to Danielle. “I’m the best man. I hand him the fucking
ring, that big expensive thing. How do I do it? Huh? How
do I pass it off to him, inside the fucking church, with a straight face?”
Then he thought of his mother, Christ rest her pretty soul.
What would she say, if she had known? ‘Good,’ probably.
“Oh, hell, stop thinking about mom. She’s not going to
make this better. Nothing will, time maybe.” Don Plato
was not so sure of even that.
Danielle reached for the man’s equipment under the covers.
“Danielle.” He was indignant, but not indignant enough to
Woof woof woof, the chow outside, Chelsea, was barking.
That could only mean one thing, the old man was back
from the business trip early. Chelsea only responded to
the engine of the old man’s ’04 Dodge Pickup. Don Plato
hobbled out of the bed and into the chino slacks he had
worn the night before. “Shit, shit. There’s no getting out
of this, no getting out of it.” The woman just lay there,
smiling. The devil, the damn devil! Don Plato had
thought. This was quite possibly the worst day of his
adult life: You don’t sink lower than this, you just don’t,
he thought as he reached for the red polo shirt strewn
on the floor.
The door had jingle-jangled briefly, awkwardly and then
the door was open, Don Plato junior’s head creeping out
of the shirt hole like a turtle coming out of its shell; he
had wanted to hide back inside the shirt again, like when
he was a little kid, when he saw the old man, Don Plato
Senior’s, red-flushed face.
“Dad,” he said, stuttering. “I can explain everything.”
“Touched by a Stranger”
by Tim Chorney
The Number 6 train jerks to a halt at the 59th Street station. The inertia bends the passengers over like corn stalks yielding to a stiff breeze. Remarkably, nobody falls. Accustomed to the violent deceleration of the train, the native New Yorkers sway nonchalantly, the less acclimatized tourists hold on tight.
The doors open, breaking the air-conditioned bubble that protects riders from the paralyzing summer heat that always permeates the subway tunnels. A wave of humid, foul-smelling air sweeps through the cars, replacing the cool, foul-smelling air the passengers had been enjoying prior to the stop.
During the spastic emptying of car 3, an older, short man with thinning dark hair, makes his way off the crowded train. He moves quickly, angling his wiry body smoothly past an intimidating-looking woman with “Sweet Cheeks” tattooed sloppily on her muscular upper arm. Decades of subway experience have given him the agility of a ballet star and he reaches the platform with an ease that would be impressive for a man 30 years his junior.
He only takes a few steps before he is politely accosted by a slightly frazzled-looking woman with two kids in tow. All three are dutifully wearing “I Love NY” t-shirts.
“Excuse me,” she drawls. “Will this train take me to the Empire State Building?”
“Well, it will get you close,” he says, mentally pegging her as hailing from Nebraska or Iowa based on her accent. Over the years, he has become proficient at matching tourists with their state of origin. He can even recognize some Canadian provincial dialects. “You’ll have to get off at the Park Avenue South stop. It’s a short walk down 33rd Street from there. Oh, I suggest you don’t get on this train after 4:30. It becomes oppressively packed.”
“Wow! I guess I asked the right guy,” says the woman. “Thank you so much.”
“No problem ma’am,” he says, now thinking that she could possibly be from Minnesota. “Have a good time in the city.”
Taking a quick glance at his watch, he turns and walks with purpose, hoping he won’t be stopped again before he reaches the street.
“Hey Abe!” he shouts as he passes a uniformed man from the New York City Transit Police.
“Slow down John!” the officer playfully responds. “You’re going to hurt somebody. Is there a gas leak I should know about?”
“Nothing that earth-shaking,” says John, failing to break stride. “I’m late for lunch.”
Upon reaching the outside world, John basks briefly in the 20 degree drop in temperature before moving on at a more leisurely pace. His favorite lunch spot is quickly in sight.
Entering the midtown diner, John scans the room and spots a group of four older men at the very back of the restaurant. He deftly maneuvers through the crowd with the same dexterity he displayed on the train, finally squeezing past the Rosenbergs from Toronto to reach his destination.
“John!” the table spontaneously erupts.
“Where in the hell were you?” whines Mike, a lanky, bald man with an out-of-date mustache. “I have to go in 10 minutes.”
“I had to buy a birthday present for my wife, if that’s okay with you.”
Mike is typical of the men at the table. All in their 60s, they look as unremarkable as a group of retired dry goods salesmen. Barney is slightly younger than the others. His thinning, sandy hair, parted on the side, is probably just a few years away from devolving into a full-fledged comb-over. Sean, never called anything but “Smurf” in recent years for his vague resemblance to the doughy cartoon characters, is the oldest of the group.
If any of the men could sneak into the realm of handsome it might be Ben. Still slim at 65, his casual jacket and open-collar shirt fit his frame to near perfection. His black hair is unblemished by even a speck of gray.
“Leave John alone,” says Ben, his formal, affected voice rising only loud enough to be audible above the restaurant din. “Mike, as someone who has never found a woman who could tolerate your presence for more than six months, you might not understand how important birthdays and anniversaries are to a marriage.”
“Bullshit! I could have been married plenty of times,” Mike fires back. “With my work and hobbies I’ve been too busy. Anyway, I’ve always put my friends before any women I’ve ever had. That even goes for dicks like you Ben.”
“I’m with Mike,” says Smurf, tugging his ill-fitting New York Port Authority sweatshirt down in a vain attempt to conceal his stomach. “Your friends should be the most important thing in your life. You know what they say, women are like subway cars, there’s always another one on the way.”
“Exactly,” says Mike. “Besides, do your friends sue you for alimony? Do they pour bleach on your clothes? Do they try to kill you with poison coffee? No!”
“I think you’ve been dating the wrong kind of women,” deadpans John. “My wife hasn’t fed me strychnine-laced coffee even once.”
“Just you wait,” warns Mike. “She’ll turn on you faster than mayo in the hot sun.”
“So, she’s been laying low for 22 years waiting for me to let my guard down?” asks John incredulously. “Sorry Mike. I don’t fear for my life at this point. I trust my wife.”
“Jesus Christ Mike. Again with the poison coffee story?” goads Smurf. “You act like you’re the only one who’s old lady ever tried to poison him. Anyway, that was never proved.”
“I have almost no vision in my left eye Smurf! That’s enough proof for me. Women are trouble.”
The bored, uncomfortable-looking faces around the table indicate that the topic of women versus friends has been thoroughly exhausted for the day.
“Hey John, how was the Lexington line?” asks Barney, his loud, gruff New York voice turning every tourist head in the restaurant. “It shoulda been gettin’ busy again so close to lunch.”
“It was getting there,” says John. “That tough-looking broad Sweet Cheeks was on the train. You know, the big one with the tattoos?”
“Yeah, she scares the shit out of me,” says Barney. “No fat on that dame. Her ass is so hard she could probably crack walnuts with it. A guy could lose his hand if he got it too close. It’s nothing like those bingo-asses that Mike likes.”
“Okay, I’ve had enough of you assholes for today,” says Mike as he abruptly rises to his feet.
“Come on,” pleads John. “Sit down. He’s just kidding. I got all of the shit last week. Remember?”
“Yeah, I know,” says Mike, tossing a twenty on the table. “But I really have to go. I’d like to be on the train before the crowds thin out too much.”
Seconds later Mike is out of the diner and heading down Seventh Avenue.
Once on the subway platform, Mike waits patiently, leaning against the wall and eying the attractive, if slightly overweight woman standing in front of him. When the train arrives, the crowd advances toward the mostly half-full cars, but Mike remains stubbornly glued to his position against the wall. He watches calmly as the freshly loaded train pulls away from the station and disappears into the tunnel.
“Pretty empty for this time of day,” says Mike to himself. “We’ll see what the next one brings.”
It’s not a long wait. Within minutes another train is pulling up to the station. This train is jammed to near capacity. When the doors open, Mike joins the surge and climbs on board.
Back at the restaurant, the men have finished their sandwiches, but are still chewing the fat. As usual, Smurf has the floor.
“It’s getting really crazy out there with all of these young guys working the lines. The other day I’m on the A-train and I see some no-class guy reach over and slap this tall dame on the ass, right in front of everyone! The guy didn’t have a subtle bone in his body.”
“Shit!” says Barney. “Whud she do?”
“She clocked him in the face with her purse,” says Smurf. “She really got him too.”
“Good!” says John. “Amateurs like that should take their act to the bus lines. Leave the subway to the pros.”
“You know, when we was young, we started off in the minors,” laments Barney, “The young guys today wanna start off playing center field for the Yankees.”
“That’s for sure Barn,” agrees Smurf. “When I was young I cut my teeth on the Staten Island Ferry before I ever dreamed of working the subway. Christ. Back in the 60s, I even used to work the bus lines in Hell’s Kitchen.”
“We’ve all come a long way,” says John proudly.
“Times are changing guys,” says Barney. “It ain’t like the old days. You know the other day I saw some young chick working the B-line. A chick! She was good too. She was pushed up against some guy and she had her hand right on his ass for 10 minutes. He didn’t even know.”
“Ten minutes,” says an impressed Smurf. “I’ve heard about times like that in Tokyo, but not here. The lady’s got balls.”
“Women subway gropers?” says Ben shaking his head in disgust. “It’s just not right. I know I’m a little old-fashioned, but I think a woman’s place is in the home. Jesus. Everything’s going to hell. You’ve got perverts with cameras on their shoes taking pictures up women’s dresses, guys covered with tattoos grabbing at anything that moves, now women gropers working the B-line? Things are changing too fast.”
“Get with the times!” says Smurf. “You heard what Barney said. She was good. Ten friggin’ minutes! She’s a goddamned artist. I’ve got no problem if some chick wants to work the lines.”
“Me either,” agrees John. “As long as she’s a pro. It’s those damned amateurs that give us all a bad name.”
“Oh, come on John,” says Barney. “We’ve all had our amateurish moments. Do I have to remind you about the time you goosed that construction worker? I’m still not convinced it was an accident.”
“You remind me every week Barn,” says a glum-looking John, realizing that he will once again have to roll out his defense. “I’ve said it before. I’ll say it again. The guy was wearing jeans that made him look like a woman from behind. And with the long hair? You guys would have done the same.”
“Do you still have the scar where he hit you?” asks Ben.
“Yup,” says John, tipping his head down and pointing to a slight depression on his forehead just below the hairline. “I’ve been hit harder by women though.”
“That’s nothing,” says Barney rolling up his pant cuff. “Take a look at this baby,” he boasts, sounding like Quint the grizzled ship captain showing his battle scars in the movie Jaws. The discolored, jagged scar on his lower shin doesn’t fail to impress and facilitates a few gasps from the men around the table. “Never grope a woman who’s wearin’ stilettos.”
“Yikes!” says John with grudging respect. “That’s really ugly.”
“Not bad,” says Smurf. “But I think I can top that.” He pulls up the sleeve on his sweatshirt, exposing a deep crater on his forearm where a mouth-sized piece of flesh has been violently removed.
“Christ,” says Barney, “It looks like a goddamned shark gnawed on your arm.”
“Actually, a little Puerto Rican woman on the Lexington Express,” says Smurf proudly. “I’ve been wearing long sleeves ever since. Ah, it’s just the price you pay for working the lines.”
With Smurf only seconds from being declared champion of the grim competition, a late challenge emerges.
“I’ve got another scar that you guys will probably find interesting,” says John as he lifts his pant cuff. “See that mark on my calf?”
Smurf puts his glasses on and leans down.
“I don’t see anything. Wait. Are you talking about that little nick?”
“This little scar has historical significance,” says John. “Does December 22, 1984, mean anything to you guys?”
“Isn’t it the last time you picked up the check?” asks Barney.
“On that day I’m riding the Seventh Avenue Express, checking out this red-head and I hear: Pop! Pop! I look up and see this skinny blond guy with glasses blasting away with a 38. Everybody’s diving every which way. I end up under the seats just trying to get out of the line of fire.”
“Holy shit!” says Smurf. “Subway vigilante Bernhard Goetz? You were on the car?”
“Not only that, I got grazed by the mysterious stray bullet,” boasts John. “I didn’t even notice I’d been hit until later. I didn’t say anything to the cops.”
The stunned countenances around the table indicate that John’s little nick had put Smurf’s gnarled arm to shame.
“Hey Ben, you’re pretty quiet,” says Barney. “Don’t you got any good subway scars?”
“Not really. I’ve never been shot by a vigilante or mauled by a woman. As far as women go, I happen to be a little pickier than you gentlemen. The women I go for tend not to be the biting types even if I do get caught, and that doesn’t happen very often.”
“Oh la la,” says Barney. “Ben must be the classiest subway groper in whole damned city. Maybe you should be working the lines in Paris or London.”
Ben simply smiles and expertly readjusts his jacket with a quick tug on the lapels.
“Yeah, I have to admit Ben might be the classiest guy working the lines today,” says Smurf. “But that don’t mean he’s the best.”
“Who’s the best you’ve ever seen Smurf?” asks John.
Smurf scratches his chin and takes a protracted gulp from his coffee cup.
“Well, that’s hard to say. There’s a difference between the best and the most innovative. And that’s not to mention the guys who were the real characters of the game. They’re actually the most interesting to me.”
“Remember Shorty Moskowitz?” interrupts Barney. “He was one of my favorites. I met him for the first time at Union Square Station in 68 or 69. He was already pretty old by that time.”
“Shorty was great!” says Smurf. “You shoulda seen him John. He was this little guy, couldn’t have been even five feet tall. So Shorty’s thing was to stand in front of some really tall, buxom chick, get as close as he could and wait for the train to start braking. When the driver hit the brakes, the chick couldn’t help but lean forward a bit and boom! Shorty would get a face full without even doing anything. He was brilliant.”
“I heard he knew what train drivers were the heaviest on the brake and only worked those lines,” says Barney.
“Absolutely. He had it down to a science,” says Smurf, his eyes moistening. “He died of cancer in 78. I went to his funeral. There had to be 300 people there. Everybody loved Shorty.”
Smurf clears his throat and quickly regains his composure.
“Then there was Floppy Domato. He was a tall, skinny bag of bones with gigantic ears. Always wore a suit. Floppy would wait until the train braked hard and then tumble ass over teakettle into the lap of the fattest woman on the car. He liked the big gals. He was like Mike that way.”
“I don’t remember Floppy,” says Barney. “He must have been a bit before my time.”
“Ah, no matter. All of these guys are dead and gone now,” laments Smurf. “I can’t imagine we’ll ever see their likes again. The guys working the lines today don’t even compare.”
Smurf’s yarn elicits a sudden wave of melancholy from the men. For a time, nobody speaks. All eyes stare blankly ahead as they ponder their own mortality and wonder how, or even if, they’ll be remembered. Ben finally breaks the silence.
“Well, it’s been fun, but I have to go. I’m taking my grandson to the Mets game tonight and there are a number of things I have to do first.”
“Yeah, I have to go too,” says John. “My wife is . . . Christ. Did you see that?” he says pointing to the table formerly occupied by the Rosenbergs from Toronto. “That young guy just lifted the money they left on table.”
“Shit. We should grab the little bastard,” says Barney as he watches the fit, twenty-something exit the restaurant.
“Yeah!” says John without moving from his chair. “Don’t you know judo Barn?”
“Son-of-a-bitch probably wants it for drugs,” says Smurf.
“I can’t believe he swiped the money,” says John. “It’s like we were saying before. What’s the matter with these young people?”
With the assailant a good block away, the men exchange glances of resignation and begin to stand.
“Ah, what can you do?” asks Smurf philosophically. “It’s probably his parent’s fault, if he even has parents. All of these new age fathers today are afraid to touch their kids and give em any discipline. And you see what you get?”
“Disgusting,” grunts a still angry Ben as he pulls his wallet from his pocket. “The whole damned city is going to hell.” He slams his money on the table to accentuate his outrage.
The clear winner of the indignation contest, Ben pauses for a moment before carefully donning his hat. “Maybe I’ll live a little dangerously. John, what line does Sweet Cheeks usually take home?”