Monday, April 28, 2008

Nightlife: Revelers Disturb the Peace on Weekend Trains

Incensed Commute

Frank Scalamandre removes a twenty-two ounce can of Budweiser from a brown paper bag containing two others, runs an index finger around its rim, then spits on the floor of the westbound Long Island Railroad car in which he and his three friends – Anthony Chiaramonte, Edwin Santos and James Lynch – are riding.

Mr. Scalamandre, 23, is angry, a fact that hasn’t escaped the passengers in his immediate vicinity, all of whom have been treated to a series of profanity-laced tirades ever since the four boarded the train in Massapequa. “This fucking train,” he said, “is so fucking hot I’m already sweating my fucking balls off. Don’t the fucking air conditioners work in this shit?”

Every Saturday night, scores of young men like Mr. Scalamandre and his friends make their way into New York to patronize the sprawling nightclubs of lower Manhattan’s West Chelsea and Meatpacking districts. They tend to strive for similarity in appearance, with short, heavily gelled hair, striped dress shirts and “manscaped” eyebrows seemingly the norm. What sets them apart, however, aside from their unique manner of dress and grooming, is their attitude.

“I know I’m gonna get in a fucking fight tonight,” said Mr. Chiaramonte. “I can fucking feel it in my bones. Every time I go to this fucking place, somebody fucks with me and I gotta get in a fight.”

When asked why he continues to frequent such potentially troublesome establishments, Mr. Chiaramonte responded, “I keep going back there because I know everyone and I feel comfortable there. I know all the bouncers, the bartenders hook me up, and there’s hot fucking pieces of ass all over the place.”

Added Mr. Santos, “He’s been banned everywhere else. They won’t even let him in.”

Three weeks ago, a scuffle at Long Island’s cavernous Mirage nightclub necessitated a trip to the emergency room at Nassau County Medical Center, where Mr. Chiaramonte, 23, was treated for a chipped front tooth and a bruised testicle. His willingness to return to the fray, however, was left intact. “Fuck that,” he said. “If I ever see those motherfuckers there again, I’m gonna empty a clip up in that ass. You buy a fucking bottle, and that’s how they treat you? We’re gonna stick to the city from now on. It’s safer.”

Occupational Hazard

Mr. Scalamandre is an ironworker by trade, but says he’s never actually worked a day on the job. “My uncle says he knows a guy who can get me in the union,” he said, taking a long pull on his Budweiser, “but I went to Brooklyn two years ago to talk to the guy and he hasn’t called me back. It should be any day now.” For now, he says he finances his weekend activities “with a route,” but refused to elaborate on what, exactly, this work entails.

His friends share similar stories. Mr. Lynch, 22, attended Nassau Community College for two semesters, but left in anger after one professor “was a fucking asshole to me.” He now claims to earn $200,000 per year “doing mortgages.” Mr. Santos, 24, plans to attend college as soon as he’s done paying off thousands of dollars in legal fees incurred after his second DWI conviction in as many years. “That,” he said, “is why I gotta take the fucking train.”

Mr. Chiaramonte, despite his railroad bluster, claims to have made fundamental changes in both his lifestyle and his demeanor after an eighteen-month stint in prison for “illegal activities.” He says the loss of his freedom forced him to rethink the way he went about virtually everything in his life.

“You know,” he said, “I may be young, but I know a lot of shit. I’m older, you know, in my brain, you know what I’m saying? I could really help people if I got a job, you know, like, counseling kids to stay out of fucking trouble and not make the same mistakes I made.”

Upon his release from prison, Mr. Chiaramonte secured employment framing houses with a cousin’s construction business, but a dispute over working hours forced a severing of ties. “It all good,” he said. “We’re still family. He just wanted me to show up earlier than I wanted to, you know? I mean, I know I gotta work and everything, but my friends mean everything to me and I couldn’t go out and show loyalty if I had to keep getting up at six in the fucking morning. My friends stood by me the whole time I was locked up, and they gave me a party when I got out. Where was my cousin for that? He gives me a job? So what?”

Forced Hand

Not everyone on the Long Island Railroad is a willing participant in the festivities initiated by Mr. Scalamandre and his group. Joseph D’Aquila, 44, in his seventeenth year as a LIRR conductor, says he’d rather work his customary weekend night shifts in peace. “It’s simple,” he said. “After nine o’clock on a Friday or Saturday night, everybody on the train is a fucking asshole. They’re loud, they’re drunk and they’re on God knows what else, and they bother the shit out of everyone around them, including me. I can’t wait to fucking retire.”

“I can’t believe how they dress,” said Nicole Balazs, 24, a graphic designer from Brooklyn who’d spent the day on Long Island visiting her parents. “They all look alike. It makes me nervous.”

If Mr. Chiaramonte knows how his fellow riders feel about this Saturday Night Party Parade, his outward behavior offers little in the way of acknowledgement. “Fuck these people,” he said, placing his empty can on the floor. “I’ll never see these motherfuckers again. What the fuck do I care what some fucking train conductor thinks? Can he dance?”

Arrests are common on weekend night trains, especially after midnight when revelers, often intoxicated to the point of collapse, begin the trek home to points east. “Some nights,” said Mr. D’Aquila, “I’m calling the MTA police every other stop. These animals get in fights, they vandalize the train and they do stupid shit that makes my life miserable. I feel bad for this country’s future, I’ll tell you that.”

“This is torture,” added Ms. Balazs. “Pure torture.”