I fainted on the subway again. I was standing there holding onto the pole and looking down at a mother and her son. He was staring at himself in the scratched window, trying out a bunch of smiles and frowns all the way from 96th Street to 23rd Street, while she played with his Game Boy.
The Post was lying on the seat next to him. There was a headline about how Chuck Knoblauch keeps throwing balls into the bleachers. The photo of Knoblauch's anguished face made me start worrying again about something I needed to tell Kate, something I knew she wouldn't want to hear, and then my legs went rubbery and sweat exploded from all of my pores, even my shins, and I went down.
I know it wasn't having to face up to something that made me faint (I'd played basketball and was dehydrated and hadn't really eaten all day) but it felt like that. Like maybe my mind/body wall was made by Ikea, and as soon as it had a little psychic pressure put on it it crumbled, and I swooned like a Victorian lady.
This guy with incredibly hairy wrists, like soot on his pale skin, picked me up and helped me out at Union Square, and I sat there on a bench for almost an hour. At one point I pulled out a dollar and asked a kid if he'd mind buying me a water at the newsstand at the top of the stairs. I explained to him that I'd just fainted, and that if I stood up I thought I'd faint again. He took my dollar and walked up the stairs and then bolted, and for a while after that I sunk into some real self-pity. I knew if I could just get a bottle of water or a Coke or, even better, a V-8 Splash, everything would seem okay, but instead I just sat there with my head on the wooden armrest, listening to the trains coming and going and to the announcement telling passengers to step back from the edge.
Eventually I felt well enough to stand up, and I came home. I stopped to get a Coke at the place on the corner the Carriage House Sports Lounge a bad-smelling bar, full of local drunks and home on Saturday nights to "Brooklyn's best karaoke." There are six TV sets, and for big games they pull down this huge screen behind the pool table. (I thought about you when I was there watching the Raptors/Knicks series. This one Caribbean guy kept bad-mouthing the Knicks really loudly "All-on Use-ton, you suck dick" and when they finally won the series this group of drunken Knicks fans lifted him off the ground by his belt and rushed him headfirst out the door. After about five minutes he came back in smiling and conceding that perhaps the Knicks were better this year, and then he bought the guys a round of drinks, and they all laughed their heads off while they toasted him.)
So I walked in there on the fainting night, and Jimmy, who's always there, night and day, and who looks like Captain Kangaroo on an awful bender, smiled crazily at me and lurched forward on his stool and said, "She's he-e-e-re."
A few weeks before he'd come up to me while I was watching a Knicks game and told me that he was friends with World B Free (formerly Lloyd Free, the ex-76ers guard who never saw a shot he didn't like). "And next time I see him," Jimmy said, "I'll tell him, 'Listen, you'll always be Lloyd to me. Lloyd Free, not World B.'" Then he smiled at his rhyme, put his hand on my shoulder, and said, "There's someone here you gotta meet."
He led me to this table where a very big woman in a pantsuit was sitting by herself drinking rum and Coke. Jimmy bowed with fake courtliness in front of her and said, "This...is Barbara." I shook her hand and said it was nice to meet her, and when she made it clear she didn't want to be bothered I went back to my table.
"If you're ever putting together a football team, you want her on your front line," Jimmy whispered to me. "You know what I mean?" I nodded and tried to watch the Knicks and hoped he'd go away. "I mean, seriously, you want her on your team." And then he started cackling and said, "You wouldn't even need another locker room, you know?"
"I mean, she could dress with the guys, you see?"
"You following me here? She could dress with the guys, because she is a guy." He stepped back from the table to make sure I was really taking it in. "Years she comes in here and she's Bob, and then one day she's Barbara. And that's that. Just tells us it's what she wants to do and we should understand." He held his hands unsteadily out in front of him, the way you do when you're walking in the pitch dark, then sort of framed them around my face. "And you know what we did? We understood. Right? What the hell else can you do? People gotta be happy. This makes her happy. Who knows? Someday I might just wake up and say fuck it and ask her to marry me."
So this night, the fainting night, Barbara was down the bar, drinking something clear and tonic and smoking Carltons. She was talking and laughing with a huge guy sitting next to her, and I drank my Coke and watched her for a while, because I couldn't help it. She had clogs on and tremendously thick calves, but her hair was perfect, and she'd painted on a nice, kind of pouty smile.
ESPN was on above the bar, and when they got to the Yankees coverage Chuck Knoblauch's face appeared on the screen. You couldn't hear the TV over the jukebox, but they were showing clip after clip of Knoblauch's wild throws, and of fans in Fenway Park holding up signs saying "Chuck, throw one here."
After the last clip, I put my empty glass on the bar and asked Jimmy what he thought about Knoblauch; what, in his opinion, was behind all those terrible throws. "How the hell should I know?" Jimmy said. "Do I look like a shrink? The guy's a major-league ballplayer and he's throwing like a girl." But then the guys next to him talked about how you couldn't deny that Knobby was still among the best leadoff hitters in baseball, and while it was true that Jimmy's sister would probably be more useful at second base, who can say what's going on in a guy's mind to suddenly make him so scared of something he's done his entire life, something he could do in his sleep? "Like one of us suddenly being afraid to come in here and order a drink," Jimmy said, and then he sighed. "You can't help but feel for the guy."
I left and walked down the block toward home. It was late, and Kate was probably already asleep, and I sat on the couch and debated between waking her up and talking to her tonight or waiting until morning. The first time I fainted in New York was when I'd just moved into this apartment. Kate was still in Michigan, and I was living here alone, with no furniture except the futon. She called one morning, and I jumped up and ran into the kitchen to answer the phone, and seconds later I passed out.
I remember lying on our kitchen floor, before I'd completely come to, and looking at the receiver a few feet away. I could hear Kate asking over and over what happened, but I couldn't put it together that her voice was coming from the phone. It was just nice to hear her and think that she was lying on the floor, too. Our apartment looked gigantic from down there; the floorboards were endless and gleaming. And I remember thinking, man, it sure is amazing we ended up down here at the same time. How else could we ever explain it to each other?