I have to confess that I am not a native New Yorker and that I actually grew up in one of those far-away Red States that still had values resembling those of our forebears in a time when the importance of keeping your word was the sure sign of a real man.
I had been forced by the necessity of paying the rent on time to accept a ludicrous job at the further borders of Brooklyn that meant I would be punching out on the ancient time clock at the ridiculous hour of two AM in the wee hours of the morning. My only mode of transportation like most residents of the city was the mass transit system and the subway from point A to point B was the most preferred solution at that time of the night. The bus service was sporadic at best and somewhat unreliable from that part of the city proper.
At least I didn't have any classes until the following afternoon so I would have plenty of time to catch up on my sleep just as soon as my two noisy room-mates slammed the front door behind them on the way to their destinations.
At that time of the morning, the subway train was fairly empty and the rush hour would not begin for at least another three to four hours. There was a pair of uniformed transit police on the car that I entered and I was happy to see their presence even though I felt I could pretty much take care of myself in most situations. Probably there were only about dozen riders on the entire train but that was normal considering the time and the day.
It was about a forty minute ride into the center of town to where my shared apartment was located. Tom, Dick and I shared all the expenses and that made a lot of sense in this economic roller coaster that made your income shrink and your expenses rise without any chance for promotion or pay raise. I would be graduating from the business school downtown in a few months and I already had my eye on a slot in an upstate Law School that allowed me to use my GI Bill for the tuition.
The subway train was rocking and swaying with a sort of gentle motion that caused my eyelids to droop dangerously down almost totally shut. I fought the need to sleep because I had been treated by my troublemaking room-mates to tales of dire happenings to people unwise enough to fall asleep in the subway. I think it was the fact that there was a pair of transit cops in my car that relaxed me enough to slide off to la-la land with the motion of the train.
This train was one of the older models that still had the straight bench design and had little closets at each end for passengers to stand in the darkness. I avoided them because I didn't want to be accused of being a pervert feeling up the girl's pretty backsides in the unlighted spaces out of sight from the less amorous passengers. The girls that went into those unlighted areas were hard core naughty not nice and they usually pretended to be totally unaware of what the nasty men were doing in those regions below their waistline. I was surprised to be riding home one day from school and seeing my science teacher Mrs. Hopscotch standing in one of those disreputable corners surrounded by a ring of busily working hands from every angle around her defenseless body. I had always considered her to be a solid conservative woman with little regard for the nonsense of hedonistic pursuits. Watching her standing there being fondled by a half-dozen pairs of hands wearing an innocent smile on her pretty face was a real eye-opener to reality and the hard cold fact that women are hard to figure out.
Anyway when I opened my eyes, I was shocked to see daylight and I knew for a fact that this line was entirely underground right up to the last stop.
A look out the dirty window confirmed that we were indeed on an elevated portion of the track and I was well aware that there were several lines with combination subway and elevated portions of route but this particular line was one that had been completely underground for decades after a large part of the elevated tracks were torn down to aid with surface transportation.
The street sign on the lamp-post less than twenty feet from my eyes told me that I was in a section of the city that had seen the elevated track demolished prior to World War II and shipped off to Japan for them to send it all back to us in artillery rounds and bombs starting with the attack on Pearl Harbor. The irony of that fact never failed to elude me as I was an avid reader of history.
I noted that the car that I was sitting in was completely empty except for me and I wondered if the other passengers and the pair of transit cops had exited before we made the astonishing transition to above ground transport.
Knowing where I was made me feel a little bit better but I knew something was definitely out of whack. I knew for a certainty, there was no way I could be standing where I was because it didn't exist. I noticed the smell of coal burning that was never present in present day New York City unless you were next to some building that was so old that they had not made the conversion to oil or electricity.
I saw a cop out on the platform and I went out to ask him what was going on.
"Excuse me officer, what part of the subway line are we at here?"
The tall man in the strange police uniform looked at me like I was some sort of crazy person and just shook his head muttering,
"Foreigners, all we got are foreigners these days."
Since I was speaking perfectly good English, I assumed he was referring to my clothes which strangely seemed a bit odd when I looked at the people walking on the sidewalk below.
I backed away not wanting to make a nuisance of myself and walked down the long staircase to the street below and I looked to me like they were making some sort of movie about life in early nineteenth century New York City with all the horses and wagons clip-clopping in different directions on the cobblestones.
It was the cobblestones that convinced me I had been "time-shifted" if I wasn't suffering from some sort of delusion.
I looked at the headlines on the newspaper displayed on the stand on the street corner not even bothering to pay for it because I instinctively knew the future dated coins would cause some degree of consternation on the newsboy's part.
The date said that it was 1 June of 1863 and I realized I had been thrown back in time over one hundred and fifty years. In fact, my grandparents hadn't even emigrated yet from the old country and were still speaking a different language back in Germany. I tried my best to think of all the little hints and tidbits of information in the films like "Back to the Future" to make certain I was not causing some sort of temporal conflict that would change the timeline.
To add to my confusion, my stomach started grumbling and I knew my hunger was prompting me to stop at the first fast-food joint and get some goodies. Unfortunately, it would be a long time before they would appear on the scene and my stomach was not in the waiting mood.
I realized that somewhere between Canarsie and Third Avenue, my life had taken a big step backward and I had no idea how to put things right. The cop that had the sour face and look of a bully was still watching me and I decided to put some distance between me and the station platform. Only a few blocks away, I came across a small park which seemed completely out of place but then I realized I was thinking in terms of the twenty-first century. There was a little band with a drummer and a couple of horn players all dressed in blue uniforms. The signs on the raised platform stated a reminder that we were at war for the sanctity and salvation of the Union and that uniformed service was for the greater good of the nation and freedom for all. It all sounded a little corny to me but I was looking at it in terms of over one hundred and fifty years of hindsight and long thought about the reasons for the Civil War and terrible cost to the nation in blood and treasure.
A pretty young girl and an older attractive mature woman were sitting at a desk that had a ledger for prospective recruits to sign up for service. A little group of well-dressed men were waiting for interested males to approach the desk and they all seemed to have an interest in having the young men to sign their papers of conscription to substitute for them on reporting for duty. It looked like they were all on the hook for transportation to the Fort at the base of Manhattan for transfer to one of the larger bases over in New Jersey to train as replacements for the front lines. From what I could remember from my history lessons, this was a particularly rough time for casualties and Gettysburg was right around the corner.
A short overweight nervous lad with a ginger moustache waved his papers at me and simply said,
"I can pay you fifty dollars in silver coin to take my place. I have it right here in this little pouch. All you have to do is turn in my conscription paper to that lady right there and she will cross off my name and substitute yours instead. I would pay more but my father is distressed over my lack of patriotism for the Union and refused to advance me additional funds."
I thought of my useless wallet and useless future money and knew I had to do something to fit into the system even if it meant going to war with an enemy with whom I had no argument. Besides, the two ladies were promising treats and punch for anyone who signed up in their ledger and I was about as hungry as a man can get.
I got the lad to throw in his hat and his jacket as well and I looked more like a normal person is expected to look in the current circumstances. Sure enough, the conscription evader's purse contained clearly marked coins that totaled fifty dollars in U.S. currency. The sandwiches looked mighty inviting and before long, I was signing on the dotted line and the young man breathed a sigh of relief that could probably be heard all the way back at his mansion on Park Avenue.
I gave my real name of Jack Kruger and signed the ledger and the young man's papers to let him off the hook.
They loaded us up on an open-sided horse powered carriage that held twelve of us without crowding. The driver was drunk in my opinion but all he did was to give the horse his head and the beast knew exactly where we were going. It must have made the trip on numerous occasions taking young men like myself to their destiny in a war that was between brother and brother and fought by mostly youngsters with no animosity or hate for the enemy. That would have to come later after a few bloody confrontations that opened their eyes to the need for vicious conduct in order to survive.
Earlier that day I was returning home from a boring job in the suburbs and now I was heading off to an almost forgotten war that I knew would be a bloodbath of unusual dimension.