BY LORRAINE DUFFY MERKL
“Don’t sleep in the subway, darlin’/Don’t stand in the pouring rain ...” sang Petula Clark back in 1967. Even at 9 years old, I knew that was good advice. A half century later, apparently the song remains the same.
“Subways are not for sleeping,” said Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, citing that 50 percent of reported subway crimes — like sexual assault and pickpocketing — “involve sleeping passengers.”
Does this shock anyone? We don’t live in Mayberry. You have to watch your back in NYC — always — because there are people who will take advantage of you for no other reason than that they can. Some might call this blaming the victim. Many straphangers, led by Guardian Angels founder Curtis Sliwa, are doing just that. People think the police should be out catching the criminals, not rousting hard working people who can’t keep their eyes open.
I disagree. My advice is to fight the feeling to nod off, until you get home and can fall onto your bed; pump unsoothing music from your iTunes library into your ear buds if you must, as it’ll be better to start to go deaf then risk being targeted by a criminal. Closed eyelids are like wearing a sign that says, “Slash my face; steal my cell. You’re welcome.”
When I take the subway, I hop on the 6 at 86th and Lex (until of course the Second Avenue subway is complete — ha ha.) I never get a seat. This turns out to be a good thing, as sleeping standing up is a skill I’ve never mastered.
As a young woman though, seats were aplenty when, between my junior and senior year of college, I worked for the New York Telephone Company (back when there was still only one phone provider).
I lived in the Pelham Bay section of the Bronx and got on the first stop of the 6 and got off the last, which was and still is Brooklyn Bridge. It was quite the journey. In the mornings, I rode to work with my mother, who was always yelling at me for — pick a reason — that I was less interested in dozing, than trying to figure out how to jump off the train and run away.
But coming home, I had peace. I was hardly what you’d call exhausted from my 9-to-5, which was spent filing and goofing around with the other children of company employees. This, though, was a time before iPhones, iPods, iPads and Kindles. In fact, it even pre-dated the Sony Walkman. My only distractions were fashion magazines or books, both, which to this day, serve as effective sleep aids for me. That plus the cradle-like rocking of the subway car had me out like a light by Spring Street.
Many a time I would be awakened by the not so gentle nudge of the person whose shoulder I had inadvertently been using as a pillow. May I offer a belated yet heartfelt thanks to the fellow commuters who did everything from elbow me to shout, “Girl, will you get off me,” to force me from my potentially hazardous slumber.
I wasn’t always so fortunate. There was the time I was awoken by the jolt of the train, only to realize I had been snuggling with a strange man who appeared to believe he had won the subway seat lottery. Instead of my usual feeling of embarrassment, I was terrified. Another time, I opened my eyes somewhere in the South Bronx to find that only a rather sketchy looking character and myself occupied the previously packed car. If I had been alert when the crowd had started to thin out, I would have switched to a more populated one.
When I think of my summer of subway snoozing I cringe, and shudder at the thought of what could have happened to me while I was in dreamland.
Even though I believe I’ve learned from my long ago mistake, things happen. So NYPD Transit Officers as well as fellow train takers, if you ever see me getting some shuteye, please remember the immortal lyrics of 80s duo Wham! and “Wake me up before you go-go.”
During her waking hours, Lorraine Duffy Merkl is the author of the novels FAT CHICK and BACK TO WORK SHE GOES.