Saturday, April 4, 2015

Lessons from the Underground

For years while riding on New York City transit, the only counsel vis-à-vis manners and civility the MTA (Metropolitan Transportation Authority) gave its subway and bus riders was to give up one’s seat to an elderly or disabled person. Recently, pregnant women were added to the roster. Now all that was sound advice, which—really—most people didn’t need. They had enough common courtesy and decency to do the right thing without a bureaucratic behemoth's beseeching.

Well, today, while riding on the Number 1 subway line from the Bronx to Manhattan, I encountered an interesting promotional campaign for the first time. It wasn’t one for a slip-and-fall lawyer firm, a hip whiskey brand, or a zit-curing dermatologist. No, the MTA itself was behind it, imploring its riders to behave more thoughtfully, more kindly toward their fellow New Yorkers. In other words, don’t be “primping”—at first I thought the sign read “pimping”—or clipping your fingernails in a subway car, which, after all, is “not a restroom.” Amen to that. Another admonition: “It’s A Subway Car, Not A Dining Car.” While truer words have never been spoken, the person next to me eating the bacon, egg, and cheese croissant—with a large cup of flavored coffee to wash it down—apparently was unmoved by this aggressive courtesy campaign.

I also sat across from a guy taking up more than one seat. Granted, the subway seats are pretty small and I don’t like be scrunched up alongside fellow straphangers, who may be eating bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiches, and often a whole lot worse fare, particularly in the olfactory arena. But I make it a point to sit in one seat and one seat only, even if I'm not especially comfortable. Obviously, some people don’t think as I do. In fact, more than I’d care to admit. We are a self-absorbed lot, it seems, which I suppose is the wind beneath the wings of the MTA’s latest crusade.

The courtesy movement’s inspiration is an offshoot, I'd guess, from this past colder than cold winter. The MTA was deeply concerned about the flu and plastered subway cars and buses with signs that read: “Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.” The MTA is nothing if not thorough. It was the ad's addendum that really won me over: “Cough or sneeze into the bend of your arm if you don’t have a tissue.”

As a footnote to my day, I must report that a young woman with purple streaked hair and a nose stud—if that’s what it’s called—offered her seat to a mother with a baby in a stroller. The latter declined, but very courteously. Perhaps it had something to do with the courtesy advertisements throughout the subway car. Or perhaps some people, purple hair and all, just have manners. I don't know.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

A Facebook Fool and His Money...

I had intended on writing this piece yesterday—April Fools’ Day—but today will have to suffice. Several days ago, I received an e-mail that miraculously circumvented my spam filter:

From The Desk of the Information Officer
Compensation Payment Department
United Nations Headquarters
New York, USA

Dear Beneficiary:


I write to notify you of the payment of your compensation fund to this office as one of those that has been scammed through African countries, mainly from Nigeria. You only have to re-verify your data such as your full name, your address, your phone number, and your occupation so it can be used to authenticate you as the legal owner of this fund. Immediately, when this is done successfully, you will be given every detail of your compensation fund and the amount accrued to you. However, you are to contact the Supervising Agent in charge of this payment; his name is Mr. Smith Brad. He has been given the full mandate to get your fund paid to you, so kindly send the required information through his email address at for immediate processing of your compensation sum.

Your immediate response to this e-mail will be fully appreciated.

Yours Faithfully,
Mrs. Joyce Savage

While I could certainly use an infusion of largess from the Compensation Payment Department at the United Nations, I neglected to supply this noble institution of world peace and understanding any information, and won’t be furnishing them with my Social Security number anytime soon.

Whenever these spam/scam e-mails infest my mailbox, I am reminded of a certain Facebook persona—a fellow whom I never met, but who was a friend of a friend. It was my friend, actually, who made me privy to this individual, because he sincerely believed that he was a make-believe guy—the handiwork of some clever sort. And when Stephen—that was this possible person's name—announced with palpable relief and genuine happiness that his financial woes were a thing of the past—having won second prize in a Publishers Clearing House drawing to the tune of close to $40,000—the non-real aspect of this caricature of a man exponentially jumped. Stephen proudly reported on his Facebook page that he was heading to the bank with a considerable check that had just arrived in the mail—the first installment of his prize. He even sent a lady friend of his a box of chocolates in celebration of his good fortune. Alas—only a day later—Stephen recounted with great sadness that his bank had informed him that the check he had just deposited wasn't worth the paper it was printed on. He told us, too, that the supposed folks from PCH had asked him for $3,000 before they could release the full amount of his winnings. Stephen had been had, he admitted, and was visibly wounded that scam artists existed who preyed on innocent people like him.

Turns out this Facebook guy—whose profile picture looked almost too bizarre to be believed—was a living and breathing human being. Stephen had not only fallen for an obvious scam but also gushed about how his sudden windfall had saved his business—he was a financial planner. The truth really is stranger than fiction. In this age of available and accessible information—way, way too much as a matter of fact—this man was the ultimate truth teller. Almost childlike in his innocence as he approached his fiftieth birthday, Stephen existed in the bright light of day. He had family and he had friends. He was an adult who took adult positions on all things, and even was chairman for a spell of a mainstream but meaningless third political party in a nearby state.

In the times that we live in—with Facebook and company—life has a way of unfurling before our eyes and death does, too. This man-child, who really and truly seemed to be the work of somebody’s vivid imagination, continued to unintentionally embarrass himself with his candor. But then suddenly and without fair warning, Stephen dropped dead of a stroke and was taken off life support as per his wishes in a living will. And yes, he was real as real can be. Stephen’s obituary told us that and then some.  Strange indeed. RIP, Stephen.