Riding the Subway with John Turturro

After months of bike commuting, I’ve fallen off the wagon.

These things creep up on you. My bike was stolen. The tire of the replacement was slashed. I moved to Prospect Heights, which is well-named: after twelve hours at the office, the climb up Flatbush Avenue feels like a stage in the Pyrenees. Back in Carroll Gardens I could beat the chicken-bus F train to work if I pedalled hard. But up in these Heights, we have the B and the Q, sleek bullet trains that get to Manhattan in fifteen minutes. My good intentions wobble when the choice is forty minutes on the bike.

It doesn’t help that a few weeks ago my company moved to an office in glamorous NoLiTa, where the air-conditioning is as ostentatiously wasteful as a Pacific Islanders’ feast, and where you can’t bring a twenty-five dollar bike up in the elevator. You’re can’t even look like that kind of thing might occur to you. Instead we wear our winter clothes in August and zip around the loft on Razor scooters, partying like it’s 1999.

Then there was the Metrocard. I signed up to have the cost of a monthly Metrocard deducted from my paycheck, tax-free. Once that little plastic card was in my wallet, I felt as compelled to travel as the Pope. Even though I understand the economics of sunk costs, every bike ride felt like it cost me money.

So for a whole month I became a Q Train junkie, docile as every other straphanger. I liked it. I’d scribble in my notebook, or catch an extra hour a day of reading. I liked not having helmet hair and smeared mascara. I put on a few pounds as bike gristle melted back into belly fat. In the mornings, I’d listen to John Turturro.

I’ve been riding the subway with John Turturro since I moved to New York. He is my constant. When I lived in midtown he showed up twice on the E and once on the B. Once, in Carroll Gardens, I rode the F Train pressed up against his guayabera shirt. But in Prospect Heights our relationship has deepened. Every morning I get to the Seventh Avenue station at 9.27. (We are internet slackers–it’s 1999, remember?) Every morning, John Turturro is there. I live in the kind of neighborhood John Turturro would live in, and that makes me happier than a penthouse in the Dakota Building.

John Turturro commutes with a man and a woman who might be from his production company. He never sits down, even when there are seats. His companions are much shorter than he is, and they are clearly bananas number two and three. They don’t say much, but John talks plenty.

He looks good. Forty-five suits most men better than twenty-five, I think, especially the gawky ones. He’s very tall and lean, and that frizzy trapezoid of hair he used to have is now cropped and graying nicely. He still rabbits on, though, like a guy who hasn’t realized he turned out well. Or like a Brooklynite.

I look at my book and listen to him talking about some production snarl. I picture him as Barton Fink, so wrapped up in his own Talent that he does’t realize that John Goodman is more of a monster than his pompous little screenwriter could ever dream up. Same voice. I see him kneeling and begging for his life in _Miller’s Crossing_, so that you despise and pity him all at once. Same Brooklyn whine. Or as a hapless murdering fuckwit in _Fargo_. Or tossing pizza dough in a neighborhood just like Prospect Heights, as Pino in _Do The Right Thing_. Or in Redford’s _Quiz Show_, where his Queens character was so outer-boroughs that he made my fillings ache. Turturro is always memorable. It’s a surprise to see, after all that cowering onscreen, that he’s well over six feet tall and growing into his looks. How strange to become a success by playing jumpy failures.

His subway monologues are mostly about some production he’s doing. Sometimes, though, he talks about his diet and exercise regime. We all have this private fascination with our own bodies, but we don’t always get to hear the exterior monologue from a movie star–even a Brooklyn movie star. He can keep it up from Seventh Avenue to Canal Street. The kind of food he eats–not Atkins, not low cawbs, but lower cawbs. How he feels on the third set of reps, now that the trainer is making him slow it down. His cardio routine. What his nutritionist says. I love listening to this familiar voice riffing on his own little world. It’s pure Barton Fink.

But it can’t last. I can’t sit like a slug while John talks about reps, and I don’t hold with gyms. On Saturday, I took Benny’s bike down to Fifth Avenue Bikes in Park Slope, to get my slashed tire fixed and to flirt with Felix, the Puerto Rican sales guy. Back in my rich days, I’d bought three new bikes there, mostly because Felix loves his job. His guys patched up my jalopy without a murmur about the rusty wheels. My Metrocard runs out tomorrow, and I’m back in the saddle again.

11 thoughts on “Riding the Subway with John Turturro”

  1. Good grief I have to spend an hour in the hallowed halls of the Google God to get through one of your posts, but it’s fun. ๐Ÿ™‚

    (Return of the non-Native)

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  2. Oddly enough, the guy you link to used to work for my husband. Briefly. And I can’t say I recognize the star-struck Brooklynites of his post. After a full month of riding the subway with Turturro, I never once saw “excited whispers” passing up and down the car. Which is not to say they didn’t know who he was–but this is Brooklyn, and he ain’t all that. Besides, we have to get to work. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  3. Small world. ๐Ÿ™‚

    By the way, where in New York is glamorous NoLiTa? (Not that my knowledge of New York geography is terribly deep anyway. I’ve been there once, nine years ago.)

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  4. NoLiTa is real estate speak for North of Little Italy. We’re one block north of Houston Street, and below that is South of Houston, or SoHo. So we’re surrounded by downtown babes on Broadway.

    New York real estate loves these concoctions. Tribeca is Triangle Below Canal Street. The latest one I’m aware of is in my old Brooklyn neighborhood, which was once called South Brooklyn, and later gentrified into Boerum Hill, Cobble Hill, and Carroll Gardens. Now it’s transmogrifying further into BoCoCa.

    I kind of like the idea that Brooklyn natives will continue to live happily in Gowanus or Carroll Gardens, but their white yuppie tenants will live in the superimposed, parallel universe of BoCoCa. That pretty much sums up what’s going on there.

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  5. We Will Not Be BoCoCa! I refuse it.

    I must confess, however, that after a lot of initial sneering, I seem to have let “NoLiTa” into my vocabulary. I think my use of it is still slightly sarcastic, though. I hope. I only say “NoLiTa” when I mean “Where the how-do-they-pay-their-rent boutiques are.”

    IANAR (I am not a realtor), but my understanding is that above Houston, from Broadway to Bowery, is “NoHo,” hence the NoHo Star restaurant at Bleecker and Lafayette. My parents, at Lafayette and Bond, say they live in NoHo or the East Village. The region stretches up to Astor, I’d guess. NoLiTa, on the other hand, I think of as what used to just be considered eastern SoHo–from Kenmare to Houston, Lafayette to Bowery.

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  6. I, you’re right. I stand corrected. This is NoHo.

    I’m almost wilful in my ignorance of fake Manhattan neighborhoods.

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  7. So *that’s* the deal with all those BlaBlaBla concoctions! Hilarious. hmm — now that I know the details, I think I’ll deliberately misuse that in inappropriate parts of the world…

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  8. Fargo? JT wasn’t in Fargo, that was Steve Buscemi. I will focus on this, your error, in order to drive the fannish envy of you and your guayabera-pressing from my mind.

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  9. You’re right! You know, I wondered about that one. I had it in my mind that he was Steve Buscemi’s sidekick in Fargo, but now I see he’s much too tall.

    I write all my blog entries offline, with no Google oracle to jog my failing memory. It shows.

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