[Hpn] NYC, NY - A Stand-Up Routine (Emphasis on Routine) Interrupted - New York Times - August 20, 2002

H. C. Covington H. C. Covington" <hccjr@bellsouth.net
Sat, 24 Aug 2002 08:09:52 -0500

A Stand-Up Routine (Emphasis on Routine) Interrupted

Mr. Robinson explained that he came to be homeless and living in
the subway about 15 years ago. He said: "I watched a lot of
people go broke, and I thought that I would just stay broke and
bypass the process."

By RANDY KENNEDY - New York Times - August 20, 2002

It has been one of the longest-running performances in the history
of the subway.

Nearly every morning and evening for the last 12 years, from the
depths of winter to the dog days of summer, a very bitter and
funny man named Carl Robinson has taken the stage at a narrow,
overcrowded theater otherwise known as the subway station at
Fifth Avenue and 53rd Street.

The morning show begins with the rush. The evening show can last
until midnight. Sometimes there is singing, but usually there is
just the stentorian voice of Mr. Robinson, booming out a monologue
that falls somewhere between scabrous stand-up comedy
and postmodern performance art.

On good days, it is reminiscent of early George Carlin. On bad
days, especially when Mr. Robinson recalls the many women who
seem to have wronged him, the material veers toward late Lenny
Bruce and commuters tend to veer away from him.

But even those who are not fans of Mr. Robinson's routine have
come to think of him over the years as a strange, benevolent
institution at their station, just as inseparable from it as the
subterranean must or the long, steep escalators.

So last Monday, when the morning rush arrived and Mr. Robinson
was not there to greet it, people began to wonder. Tuesday passed
without him, then Wednesday, and rumors began to swirl on the
platform and in nearby offices that he had been attacked or
struck by a train.

"Everyone is thinking he is dead," said Mohemmed Khan, who
manages the station's newsstand and stood in it yesterday shaking
his head sadly. "Every day, thousand people and thousand people
more ask me, `Where is Carl? What happened to Carl?"

Sybil Ferere, an administrator at a nearby brokerage firm who has
given Mr. Robinson food and money for years (although he does not
panhandle), said that by midweek she was so worried that she
called the police, trying to find him. "I just couldn't believe
that Carl wouldn't be there to talk to us every day," she
explained. "I had to find him."

Amazingly, Ms. Ferere did, and what she found was almost as much
of a blow as it was a relief: Mr. Robinson had indeed been
attacked, in the early-morning hours last Monday as he slept on
the platform, by a man who tried to rob him and then returned to
cut his throat open with a knife.

The good news, however, is that the subway's
comedian-in-residence could not be silenced that easily. He is
very much alive and healing well and, as he demonstrated himself
last Friday, sitting up in his hospital bed, his attacker did not
manage to wound his sense of humor.

"The doctor told me that they cut off only my head," he reported,
smiling weakly, "so luckily no vital organs were touched."

Taking off his neck brace to reveal a six-inch horizontal row of
stitches across the middle of his throat, Mr. Robinson said that
he was certain that he was going to die as he stumbled bleeding
down the platform to find a pay phone. (The police are still
searching for his attacker, whose face Mr. Robinson said he did
not see clearly.)

"You know what I was thinking?" he asked. "I was thinking of this
girl I know who doesn't like me very much and how I would never
get to see her again."

Propping himself up with a pillow, Mr. Robinson explained that he
came to be homeless and living in the subway about 15 years ago,
for reasons that he did not care to discuss in detail. He said
simply that after a few years as a clerical worker, he came to a
powerful realization: "I watched a lot of people go broke, and I
thought that I would just stay broke and bypass the process."

He decided to settle permanently at the station at Fifth Avenue
and 53rd Street for purely practical reasons. "The acoustics," he
explained. "My voice carries very well there." And thus began
what Mr. Robinson calls his Fifth Avenue Show, subtitled "Free as
long as you pay the $1.50."

He sees himself not merely as a comedian, however, but as a voice
crying in the wilderness, revealing the truth behind the day's
events, trying to disabuse comfortable New Yorkers of their
comfortable illusions.

"Most of these people I see," he said, "they're living in cages.
The cages are very nice. They're made out of gold. But they're
still cages."

Mr. Robinson is not quite sure what to make of all the attention
and concern that many of those delusional and caged people have
exhibited towards him since his attack.

Ms. Ferere phoned him. A worker at the newsstand, Mohemmed
Youshuf, went to the hospital to visit him last Thursday. And Mr.
Khan, the newsstand manager, even put up a sign in the station to
let commuters know what had happened to Mr. Robinson. It said,
"Mr. Carl. He is in the hospital. He is okay."

"Carl is a good man," Mr. Khan said. "A very, very funny man."

Whether he will be funny once again on the platforms beneath
Fifth Avenue remains uncertain. But Mr. Robinson hinted that if
he returns, he will be better than ever.

"The cut on my throat has improved my voice," he said cheerfully.
"Can you believe that?"

Copyright 2002 The New York Times
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