The Ballad of Crazy Torch McGee


“¡Si ves algo, di algo!” they tell us on the subway system: if you see something, say something. Recorded messages tell us to “report suspicious activity” to the police or an MTA employee.

But what if that suspicious activity is by an MTA employee, and not so much “threatening, terrorist” suspicious as it is “weird-ass, loony” suspicious?

If you catch the L train to Lorimer St in Brooklyn you might know what I am talking about. I like to call him “Crazy Torch McGee”.

Each afternoon, as the peak hour L-trains empty out and people head up stairs or transfer to the G train, there he stands. Cutting a resplendently rotund figure in standard-issue MTA blue, accesorized with a “fashion forward” fluorescent orange vest, he performs the weirdest activity, with laser-focused precision.

Without so much as a passing glance at the throng of oncoming Brooklynites surging toward the exit, he perches on the end of the platform and, with a well-practiced rapid wrist action, flicks a flashlight back and forth in a tiny, tiny arc, directed at the back end of the train waiting to depart.

I have never heard Crazy Torch utter a word, or even interact with another member of the MTA payroll. He just stands, steely eyed, performing his ritual over and over. It’s always the same, like clockwork, and never seems to lead to any change in the train, it’s progress, or anything at all for that matter.

If you could take away the subway sounds, cranky commuters and electronic announcements, and replace them with an orchestral score, it might even have a certain beauty, like a peacock displaying his tail and dancing for a mate.

Come to think of it, I could imagine it being commentated by David Attenborough in his distinctive BBC whisper: “And now we see the majestic McGee, wooing the train during its short visit with his beautiful ‘light dance’. But alas, she is not interested and slinks off with her belly full of passengers.” Poor McGee – ignored once again.

But I hope he never gives up. One day your ritual will lead to something Crazy Torch!! If we can’t have faith in that, then what can we believe in at all?

— Irish

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