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SHADOW GAMES: Dangerous Business

Gordon Whiten – a 64-year-old janitor from the Bronx – always catches the 2 train at Jackson Avenue before 6:00 a.m. There’s usually enough room on the last car for him to stretch out, drink his coffee and read the newspaper.

This morning he hoisted his cup and made a toast:

“I know this is dangerous business, but old habits are hard to break.”

Whiten took a big swig and explained:

“If the cops catch me drinking coffee on the train I’m going down for sure. I’ve seen people get tickets for just holding an empty cup. But the coppers ain’t usually out this early so I’m gonna keep going.”

Whiten is headed downtown to the same job he’s had for 45 years.

“They call me a Maintenance Engineer nowadays,” he said, “but that’s just a fancy name. Being a janitor isn’t the greatest job, but having any job is pretty good.”

There was a time when he hoped for more.

“I wanted to be a ballplayer just like every kid does,” Whiten admitted. “I still think about it sometimes when I’m at Yankee Stadium or watching on television.”

He laughed to himself and then continued:

“It’s an old man’s dream now, but any kind of dream can be dangerous business.”

Whiten took another gulp of coffee and went back to his newspaper.

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1 ms october   ~  Oct 29, 2008 12:18 pm

nice post - interesting sentiment on dreams.
dreams deferred or dreams not fulfilled can be hard to live with.

2 Todd Drew   ~  Oct 29, 2008 12:26 pm

Thanks, ms october. Sometimes it’s best not to think about dreams.

3 rbj   ~  Oct 29, 2008 3:21 pm

Didn't realize that the subway had the no drinking policy. Is there a no food policy too? Now do not try that stunt in the DC Metro. There the cops will bust your behind.

4 Cliff Corcoran   ~  Oct 29, 2008 3:39 pm

No food or drink is a common rule on metro-area public transit (MTA, PATH, NJT), but rarely enforced. I know I'd often have a bagel and iced-tea on the subway or PATH, and would lay out some pretty fine spreads if I was catching a late NJT train home from work.

I identify with Gordon in that I'm at the point in my life at which I'm now realizing a lot of my childhood dreams haven't come true (though many others have). I matured quickly as a kid (physically, but also emotionally and intellectually) and I often imagined myself garnering attention for achieving something at an abnormally young age. Now, I'm past peak age for ballpayers or rock stars and I find myself altering my dreams accordingly. Rather than becoming the hot young star, I imagine becoming a critically acclaimed character actor who came out of nowhere at age 60 or otherwise making a mark as a talent that went "undiscovered" until middle age. I'm sure when I'm Gordon's age those dreams will shift again, but at the same time, I'm realizing many other, more important dreams that don't depend on public recognition, but rather private fulfillment. In a way, that was a choice I made. I lived those other lives in fantasy, while purposefully steering a course toward my current life in reality. I'd do it the same way again if I had the chance.

5 Todd Drew   ~  Oct 29, 2008 3:51 pm

Yeah, no eating or drinking on New York City trains anymore. The MTA made the rule and put up the signs. I have seen a lot of warnings, but late one night on the A train I did actually see an NYPD officer write a ticket to a guy eating a sandwich. The difference between a warning and a ticket depends a lot on what you look like, what time of day it is and what cop you’re dealing with.

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