Three in the afternoon is an unpredictable time in the New York City subway. Your train may come quickly, and it may be empty. Or you might wait forever and get caught in a maelstrom of high-spirited high-energy newly liberated school kids. (Subway crime spikes in the later afternoon, by the way.)
Or you may ride with a clown.
He got on the southbound N train at Union Square. Middle height, well-worn black leather clown shoes, big red nose, heavyset (though it was hard to tell from his loose purple pink and green suit), carrying a black nylon gym bag and slightly shabby miniature violin case, patched with bright blue duct tape. His bald cap had a fringe of orange hair a couple of shades dingier than Lucille Ball’s, and contrasted with the two teenaged girls seated nearby — one with vibrant blue hair, the other with green.
A bunch of kids on the platform at Union Square tapped on the train’s window before it pulled out, hoping to get a reaction. The clown turned briefly toward them, then faced forward, his face blank, like any other subway rider. Just another guy in worn makeup coming home from a gig. He didn’t look at his watch, if he wore one. He didn’t nap or close his eyes. He didn’t read a newspaper. He didn’t panhandle. He didn’t clown, and no one (except for the kids on that one platform) tried to engage him. He just … rode.
I got off four stops later at City Hall, regretting that I didn’t have time to track him any further. Just another mystery of New York.