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The man with the red-feather in his cap 0

Dear Bradshaw,

While boarding the metro, I heard someone shouting. Glancing toward the front of the train, I saw a lady screaming at the ceiling. She had a rubbery-looking face, eyes fogged with confusion, and hair cropped like a marine’s. Her skin — wrinkled not by time but by suffering — was yellowish as if stained by cigarette smoke. She could have been thirty, forty, fifty or sixty. Most of her words were gibberish but occasionally she’d manage an intelligible sentence like, “Stop spitting on me!” or “Get that fist out of my face!”

Meanwhile, at the opposite end of the train, someone was playing the violin. He was about twenty years old and played mechanically as if his fingers were stiff or frozen. Reacting to the music, a man sitting two seats to my left ruffled his newspaper angrily and yelled, “Mamma mia! Give it rest! You’re killing me with that noise!” He had a bushy moustache that covered both his lips, long, stringy eyebrows, and was wearing an old baseball cap with a red feather tucked into the back. He had his newspaper open to the weather forecast and was jotting notes in the margins as if investigating an issue of utmost importance.

With eyes closed and lips clamped, the violinist continued to play robotically, oblivious to the insult while concentrating on each note individually. Upon finishing, he made his way through the train holding a plastic cup out to each passenger as he went by. Arriving at the man with the red feather in his cap, he stood there hoping for a tip. The man dropped the newspaper into his lap, and looked up. “You suck! Get out of my face!”

The violinist blinked twice, frowned, and then walked away, clanking the change in his cup to encourage charity from the other passengers. In the meantime, the lady continued mumbling to herself and shouting at the ceiling. “What’s the matter with you? Get out of there! GET OUT OF THERE!”

The red-feather-capped man chucked his paper on the floor, stood up and screamed across the train, “Would you shut up? I can’t concentrate on what I’m doing here! You belong in a nuthouse! Next time stay at home, lock yourself inside, and throw away the key!”

The lady looked our way and squinted at the air in front of her face as we arrived at my stop. While exiting the train and then climbing the stairs, I wondered if the violinist had been bothered by the man’s insults. The way I figured it, he shouldn’t have been. Why take to heart the opinion of a man who would wear a red feather in his cap and not think to trim his moustache above his lower lip? Instead, he should regard the offense as inspiration to keep practicing, day after day, year after year, until people stand to applaud, ask for autographs, and his cup overflows with tips.

In any case, I doubt the man’s foul words had any effect on the crazy lady. She’s probably immune to such verbal abuse. Either that or she’s nobody’s fool. In any case, it was a wild ride home.

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