Hassidic Elder: In the street! Even in the street.
Middle-aged Non-Hassidic: It will pass.
Hassidic Elder: Next they’ll be strip searching us.
Middle-aged Non-Hassidic: All things will pass.
Hassidic Elder: I hate it.
Middle-aged Non-Hassidic returns to reading his paper.
It’s a half-crowded train on the AM rush hour. Everyone wears a mask. The train pulls into Fulton Station where more people get on, masked except for a slight black woman. A policeman comes to door of train. She looks up, ready to argue. The policeman offers her a mask. “Would you like this?” She smiles sheepishly, takes it and puts it on.
Rosie Perez comes on the intercom as the train pulls out. Wearing a mask shows respect to others. And it’s the law. Come on, New York, we can do this.
Where am I? Do I just stay here and wait? Where are the signs? Am I supposed to follow everyone else? Or is the next train coming here? Do I go into the terminal? Are the stairs the only way? Where are the bloody signs? Do I go into the terminal? How can I do that if my ticket won’t scan? It can’t be there. Am I really supposed to go all the way back down the stairs? Where are the fucking– On a pillar? The back of a pillar where nobody can see it? Are you serious? It’s impossible to see when the next train– Oh, 7:45. 7:45? And it’s…7:46? Are these trains on time? Is this the stairway? Is that the…? Yes, they run on time. Wonderful. Fucking amazing. Another hour to wait for the next one. Should I even bother? Shouldn’t I just go home? I’ll write it down. That will make it better, get rid of my frustration. Fine, I’ll do that. Where is it? Where’s my fucking pen?!?
“What you lookin’ at? Who said you could look at me like that, sir?” He was young, maybe 25, with a stylish felt hat and two bright gold studs. “Who do you think you are? You know what would happen if you did that in the hood? I’ll tell you what would happen. First I’d get up in your face…”
Like everyone on the subway, Micaela and I hoped the stylish young man would stop yelling at the 60-year-old on the bench opposite.
“And then I’d fuck your daughter, man–”
That was too much. “Okay, that’s enough.”
He flashed his eyes at me, trying to mock. “Let me make my point, man! I’m making my point!”
“You’re yelling profanities on the subway.”
He smirked, pulling one of his earplugs half out. “If we was in the hood, me and my goons would fuck you up.”
“Just listen to your music and leave everyone alone.”
“In the fuckin’ hood–”
“Enough of that.” Another man stepped in, and the stylish young man quieted down, only chuckling to himself.
An uneasy silence fell over the car. I told Micaela about being spied on at the conference and tried to make it funny.
“I’m trying to make a point, man!” The stylish young man suddenly stood and glared at me with crazy eyes. “Let me tell you about the fucking hood, man.”
“People just want to go home after working.” It seemed I was stuck with him now. “They don’t want to be yelled at.”
“I don’t want to be paid by you, man! I don’t want your money.”
“You’re yelling profanities on the subway.”
“You don’t pay me, man! I don’t want your money!”
First one voice and then another spoke out. “Stop it! Nobody wants to hear you!”
“In the hood, I’d get my goons–”
“Nobody cares!” A distant voice snapped.
“I’m trying to make a point. I don’t need you people ganging up on me. I don’t need that. In the hood–”
The subway doors open behind me, and the stylish young man came past. He didn’t even look at me, at anybody, and instead to yelling on the platform. “I’m trying to make a point, man. You can’t fuckin’ look at me like that, man!”
I feel very differently about taking pictures of people in the New York subway. It is a document of where I live. And as distant and aloof as many are, the intimacy can be titillating. It is like standing in the stranger’s house, massive and on wheels, and no one even notices if you’re there. Unless of course they have a problem with an app.
They beat it out of you, and by they I mean we. It’s us, just us, with our wisdom and cruelty, our dreams of being whole and true, yeah, lying about that. We’re good at that, pretending to be on the subway, losing the call, sitting on our friend’s lap and saying we are laughing when that isn’t inside at all.It’s our demise, our degrading bodies, our trip into the nothing, not loving, not dreaming, not slimming down our skirts as we sit, but just standing there, thinking we might be something and then remembering we’re not.
Lots of people busk in the New York subway, but there is no show like this. Love Portal is comprised of three guys who dance crazily, bouncing off each other and the walls, in this instance to Steppenwolf’s Born to Be Wild. I have no idea what any of it meant, and I don’t think they were too clear about that either.Said the guy with pantyhose over his face to the guy in the body-stocking after it was over, “What’s your name again?”
I’ll be standing there thinking I’m faking it, just staring ahead, and I’ll feel like I’m just pretending, waiting for someone to rush to me, the poor lonely kid with no one to love.I feel like that when I’m doing anything, eating, walking, crying, anything, and I’ll think that when I’m dying too.That’s how I am.*