THE FAT GUY WHO SELLS TOKENS AT THE NOSTRAND AVENUE STATION
Well, he doesn’t actually sell tokens. New York City did away with tokens years ago. The fat guy sells Metrocards, those flimsy taxicab-yellow cards that you swipe to go through the subway turnstiles. He sells new cards. He refills your old cards. He takes cash and credit cards and he gives directions to lost and confused commuters.
The token booth is small and narrow, like most in Brooklyn. The guy who sells tokens is a big guy, fat. Portly, I think they call it. He has a blotchy red face and two roles of fat around his neck. He has been wedging himself into this tubelike structure for as long as I have lived in Bed-Stuy – twenty something plus years, long enough for tokens to become MetroCards and the Hasidics replaced by Rastas. You can still get a knish at the food kiosk at the subway entrance, but you can score a pretty fierce Jamaican meat patty there, too, if that’s your deal. The fat guy always has a stack of knishes tucked on the counter inside of his booth. You can see his stash through the bulletproof glass where he sits, perched on a tall revolving stool that allows him to see the mirrors reflecting down the subway’s platform.
They call the fat guy who sells tokens at the Nostrand Avenue Station Baba. Or maybe it’s Baa Baa.
“Hey, BaBa!” The Rastas rush past his booth and hop the turnstile. “Hey, Baba! How’s it shakin’ Mon?” The fat guy just stares, like he’s confronting an errant herd of gazelles, and continues rearranging the piles of quarters and dimes in front of him. Sometimes the Hasidics stop and push a snack wrapped in wax paper through the coin and card slot in the window, and then they open the metal gate onto the platform and skip the fare entirely.
The Nostrand Avenue Station is dank and damp and smells like urine. The concrete floors have oily puddles of rainwater even on dry days. I come and go from Nostrand Avenue because I must, and every day the fat guy who sells tokens is here when I come down these stairs at 7 a.m., and he is still here when I get off the subway at 6 pm, the rosacea of his pudgy cheeks shining like a beacon in a dismal harbor. And then one day, he isn’t.
Sitting in the booth is a young kid in a Lacoste polo, pink. His hair stands at attention in manicured peaks and he is sporting a pair of hipster eyeglasses. “Hey,” I say to him, rapping on the glass. “Where’s the fat guy who’s here every day?”
“Who?” He says, looking up from his New York Times.
“The fat guy. The fat guy who sells tokens…”
“Metrocards.” The hipster corrects me as he turns the page of his newspaper. “I think he turned in his paperwork and headed down to Florida. At least, that’s what I heard.”
I pull out my Metrocard and prepare to enter the subway platform. “Say, what was his name, anyway…I never knew his name.”
The hipster’s face doesn’t reappear from behind his newspaper. “The fat guy? Don’t know, don’t care. Damn, I wish my tablet would get a signal down here.”
I slip my Metrocard into my bag and stand by the gate. When the A train screeches to a stop, I open the gate and walk through, onto the subway.
I hope BaBa, the fat guy who used to sell tokens at the Nostrand Avenue Station, enjoys Florida if that’s his name and that’s where he went.
©Sarah Ito all rights reserved
Sarah Ito is a published novelist, essayist, poet, and actor. Her work has been published in PennReview, Scarlet Leaf Review, Piker Press, Tuck Magazine, and more. She is also an Army veteran.