I was taking the Long Island Railroad into NYC for some shows, chillin’ and looking over my notes. It was mid October 2008 and four teenagers in costumes stood near the doors, excitedly chatting about how they were going to get drunk and run around the Village (God bless you, young people). They weren’t too loud so I didn’t get angry like I do when I’m in public and I see people enjoying themselves.
A gorilla mask, a ballerina tutu over the girl’s jeans, a zombie… their focus was on alcohol, not winning any contests. The only one who put in effort was a makeshift Joker from The Dark Knight, which was still playing in theaters near you. His Heath Ledger makeup was sparse but he made up for it with villainous joy.
I looked up from my writing when I heard the click-click-click of the LIRR ticket collector punching her way through the car. In 2008 they still used paper in case you’ve only grown up using electronic tickets (God damn you, young people).
When she saw the teens 10 feet away, she paused and took a deep breath. “That’s odd,” I thought. “They’re a bunch of skinny little geeks, not very intimidating.” Plus she looked to be in her mid-20s, not much other than them and definitely not old enough to be a crank like moi.
She punched three tickets but when she got to Heath Ledger, she lowered her head and ignored his outstretched hand. He was handing her cash to buy his fare, but she wouldn’t look at him.
“I can’t sell you a ticket,” she muttered.
“It’s OK. I don’t mind paying the step-up charge,” he said in his best Joker voice, mugging and rolling his eyes. His friends laughed.
“You’ll have to wait for the other ticket collector,” she said, her eyes fixed on the floor.
“Oops, sorry,” he said in his regular voice. “Here, I have the money.”
A moment passed; she stood there without moving, her face looking down and to her right, his hand frozen in the air. Young Heath was confused, just like the rest of us. The Joker and his buddies were young enough to know that sometimes you get in trouble for no reason, and that that society’s rules aren’t always easy to decode.
He lowered his shoulders and softly asked, “Did I do something wrong?” Which, by the way, is not a Joker look you usually see. Not exactly Nicholson, but the kid had range.
The ticket collector swiveled her head away from him like an owl, stared at the ceiling, and let out another long sigh:
“I can’t sell you a ticket… BECAUSE I DON’T LIKE CLOWNS.”
She closed her eyes and sighed again.
There was a longer, quieter moment. One of the teens laughed nervously. I tried to casually peak over my seat to get a better view and spilled half a Red Bull on my notebook. Shit. Young Health Ledger looked at his zombie friend and his zombie friend shrugged. A dead, useless friend.
The Joker held up his hands, palms facing out, and slowly said, “It’s OK. I’m not a really a clown. I’m The Joker, the bad guy from the new —“
“YOU’LL HAVE TO WAIT FOR THE OTHER COLLECTOR.”
The other collector never came, and the five of them stood there silently for 20 minutes until our train rolled into Penn. Silent, save the occasional clicking of her ticket puncher, click-click-clicking in the air.