Two years ago, I got food poisoning from some babaganoush and barfed inside a downtown 5 train on the New York City subway.
This morning I had the opposite experience when a total stranger barfed on me in the Q train during my Monday morning commute.
It’s the circle of life.
I sat on the train, sipping a Starbucks iced coffee and reading I Don’t Care About Your Band. My boyfriend had gotten off before me at the Queensboro Plaza stop and at some point, a young guy about my age sat down, borrowing his head into the handrail. I didn’t even notice him until he started talking to me.
“Excuse me?” he interrupted me, panting. “I promise I’m not crazy. But I feel really sick. Can I have a sip of your drink? I promise I’m not crazy.”
“Um,” I said. ‘I promise I’m not crazy’ sounds like it would make a perfect Lifetime movie story.
“I promise I’m not crazy. I just feel really sick,” he repeated.
Well, he did look like rather desperate. ”Yeah, sure,” I told him, handing him my Starbucks, which he swigged. “Are you okay?”
“I just feel like I’m going to pass out,” he panted.
Then he turned to me with my drink in his lap, burrowed his face onto my shoulder and kind of moaned. Now that is something that does not happen on the New York City subway system every day (nor should it). I tried to make eye contact with other people on the train, who were watching all this, with What do I do? in my eyes. “Umm …” I said to him, hoping he really, really, really was not as crazy as he promised not to be. “Do you wanna eat something?”
“Have some water,” said a random woman sitting next to me on the other side, pulling a Poland Spring out of her bag. I twisted the top off and handed it to him, which he chugged. A man sitting across from us produced a granola bar from his bag. “Eat this,” he said. I handed it to the guy, who was still leaning on me and moaning.
Around then was when the train stopped at 34th Street. “Look, this is my stop,” I told him. “Let’s get out and call one of your friends and they can come get you. The train is not a good place to feel sick. You should get some fresh air.”
He stood up. And that’s when he barfed all over my pants and sandals.
“Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God.” My entire body tensed. Have I mentioned that I am a germophobe? I am a germophobe of the highest order.
Thank you, Jesus, someone — I’m not sure who — had pushed the button that alerted the subway driver, who appeared at my barf-covered side.
“Does he need an ambulance?” the driver asked.
“Umm, he’s a stranger? I don’t know. I don’t think so.? I think he’s just got a stomach bug or something?”
“I need to lie down,” the guy moaned. “I feel so much better now that I did that.” That, of course, meaning the chunks of vom all over me.
“If you stay on the car, I can help you, but if you get out of the car, you’re on you’re own,” the driver said. “I’ve got a train full of people, so I can either call you an ambulance or you can go.”
“Okay, okay,” the guy stumbled out of the car and crumpled into the fetal position next to the stairwell. Not on a bench. Not on the stairs. In the one-foot area of floor between the stairwell and the train. Oh Jesus, I thought to myself. Does this kid have a death wish? I followed him, eyeing my iced coffee, the Poland Spring bottle, the granola bar and the floor covered with barf. The driver waved me off and the train left. I stood there, awkwardly. Strangers on the tracks were staring at me, asking with their eyes if they could help. I shrugged.
“Look, I’m Jessica,” I said. “What’s your name?” Adam. “Adam, can we call someone to get you?”
“I just need to rest,” he whimpered, still in the fetal position, still right next to the tracks.
“Adam,” I said, my voice getting stern. I was carrying my heavy laptop bag, I had barf all over my sandals and the only thing I wanted to do was scrub myself with Brillo pads. “You can’t rest here. If you faint or something you could fall on the tracks. I’m not leaving you here. Can we call one of your friends?”
“My phone is broken,” he moaned. “Just go on. I’ll be fine.”
“We can use my phone. But you can’t lie on the floor here, ok? I’m not leaving you here.”
He got up reluctantly, but was able to walk up the stairs. “What the fuck happened to you?” I asked. “Are you hungover? Or a stomach virus or something?”
“Both,” he said. “I thought I was just hungover but I’m more sick than I thought. I should have called out of work. I just thought I could do it. I’m so sorry. Thank you so much.”
“I’ll live,” I told him. I felt like I had to do the right thing: I once threw up inside a subway, too, and a good Samaritan helped me clean myself off and waited with me until my then-boyfriend came to pick me up. It was only right to pass it along.
When we got out at Herald Square, the crisp, autumn air a much-needed reprieve to my nostrils. He told me his office phone number and I called his boss and told her what was up. That was the weirdest phone call of my life. I put him on the phone and she told him not to come in, obviously.
“I am so sorry, Jessica. I am so, so, so sorry.” Adam said, handing my phone back. (Reminder to self: Lysol wipe the shit out of that thing.) But he looked visibly better, post-yack, in the fresh air and sunlight.
“Don’t worry about it,” I said. “These things happen. Do you want me to call a friend? You should, like, stay out of the subway.”
“No, it’s okay,” he said. “They’re all at work, I’m sure. I’m just going to go buy myself some water or something and I’ll go home when I feel better.”
I told him there were a bunch of Starbucks’ nearby. Alas, I needed to call my own boss and inform here that I would not be coming in, as I needed to go home and shower repeatedly with all the antibacterial soap in my apartment that I could find.
Adam thanked me profusely again and again and I waved him off. I called Amelia, then got back into the subway for the reverse ride home in damp pants and slimy feet, a stranger’s dried barf on my toenail polish.
Adam, whoever you are, I hope you are okay. I feel my karmic-barf debt has been paid.
But if you are reading this, you totally owe me an iced coffee.