Late night in New York City. Had taken the New Jersey Path train in earlier in the evening to get a bite to eat at the Shake Shack in Madison Square Park and get couple of table tennis matches in at SPIN, a local table tennis club.
My roommate (Jerold) and I didn't anticipate that SPIN would be closed to the public that night due to a private party. After stopping at a local bar for a couple of beers we decided to call it a night and head back to our apartment in Harrison, New Jersey.
After taking the NYC Subway to the New Jersey PATH station, we boarded a train heading to Harrison. As it was late at night, we would be waiting for about 15 minutes in the station before the train would leave for New Jersey stops.
Jerold and I were the first who boarded the car, but as we waited, the late-night crowd heading back to New Jersey started filing in. Best part of public transportation is the people, usually an eclectic crowd consisting of people going home from late shift jobs at hotels and restaurants in the city and the full-on drunk social crowd looking to let loose on a Saturday.
On this night, we were treated to some new characters on the New Jersey PATH. First to join us was a well-dressed young man with a Tumi backpack. My guess is that he had worked on this Saturday, but as he reached into his backpack, pulled out a 40 ounce bottle of Colt-45 Malt Liquor wrapped in a paper bag and started drinking, I wondered how he had actually spent his day.
Second to join us was a middle-aged man with a scraggly beard, wearing a raggedy grey Columbia University sweatshirt and bike shorts, carrying his 1970's vintage bicycle. He had saddle bags attached to his bike, so I assumed he was a bicycle messenger who worked weekends in the city.
Finally, the most unique of the characters joined us. Another middle-aged man, wearing high-top converse shoes, khaki pants that were cut at the calf, "gaucho" style and a rugby shirt. What set this guy apart from the others was an aquamarine colored parakeet sitting on his shoulder.
He sat next to "Colt-45". Colt-45 barely looked up, but the bike dude definitely noticed the bird. Interestingly, the parakeet would walk along his owner's shoulders, curious about his surroundings, but perfectly content to hang out there.
Bike dude was the first to speak. "That's quite a bird you have there..."
"Oh yeah. Had him for 3 years. Goes everywhere I go. Stays on my shoulder. He's a one-in-a-million bird."
Colt-45 perked up. He sat up quickly, startling the bird. At this point we had not left the station, so the train car doors were still open. The bird took flight, but stopped short of the open door and landed on the handlebars of the bicycle.
"Shit, that was close."Said the bike dude.
"Ahh, nothing to worry about. As I said, he's a one-in-a million bird. He's ridden the subway hundreds of times. Never had a problem."
The bird flew back and landed on it's owners shoulders.
"This bird props me up when I'm feeling down, sings when he senses I feel sad and even whistles when pretty girls walk by." said the bird's owner.
Suddenly, a ferret jumped out of Colt-45's Tumi backpack. It grabbed the parakeet and skittered under my seat. Just as suddenly, the parakeet burst into flames startling the ferret. Scared, it scampered back into the Tumi bag. Colt-45, acting quickly, doused the flames with his malt liquor.
The train had still not left the station. Bike dude, Jerold and I sat stunned. Colt-45 was beside himself. "I'm sorry! Oh, I'm so sorry!" he lamented.
Interestingly, the bird's owner remained calm. "Watch."
The wet pile of ashes began to spark. Yellow, green, blue and turquoise! Within seconds, a parakeet rose from the ashes, identical to the one that had burst into flames moments before. It stretched it's tiny wings, and took flight. After doing a circle around the train car, it landed on it's owner's shoulder.
Colt-45 sobbed quietly. Bike dude, taking a deep breath, exclaimed, "It's a Phoenix! It rose from it's ashes!"
The owner of the bird stood-up and quietly walked off the train, with the Phoenix still on it's shoulder, chirping happily. Within moments, the train doors closed and the train left the station.
The Harrison, New Jersey station was only 10 minutes away. Jerold and I got off the train and walked home silently. I was trying to figure out the meaning of what I had just witnessed...
I couldn't sleep that night. A Phoenix! Symbol of renewal! Of life! OF IMMORTALITY!
The next morning I wandered into the kitchen. Grabbing a Red Bull out of the refrigerator, I noticed Jerold sitting at the kitchen table, head in hands. He obviously had not slept either. I think he had been at the table all night.
"Jerold,"I said, "are you ok?"
"I couldn't sleep." he replied. "I just can't stop thinking about last night, what we saw on the train..."
"I know." I sighed. "I can't believe it!"
Jerold looked up. Eyes bloodshot, his face becoming red with emotion..."I can't believe that guy with the bike didn't have a helmut!"
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