Sunday, May 01, 2011

The Subway

I'm not sure why the gentleman on the train taking me home from a friend's party in Brooklyn was swinging a plastic gallon container of orange liquid, or why he had to change seats to do it right across from me, but I've been riding the subway long enough to be unfazed by this sort of attention seeking -- unlike the other occupants of the car, all of whom seemed to be backing away per usual. These types strike me as being the same ones who go back to their places of origin at Christmas and brag about what tough New Yorkers they are, yet can't even stand to be near someone weird (good luck). So they do what adults do best in America: pretend what's right in front of them does not exist, a behavior I personally consider insane, not to mention counterproductive. And I think we can see how well denial has worked out for US.

The jug swinger stared me down, swirling his strange liquid, so I returned his gaze for more than a few beats, causing him to lose interest in me, right on cue. Can't say I blame him, seeing as how his goal seemed to be to freak out or frighten someone and there were other, better candidates to choose from, like the guy reading with the book so close to his face he might as well have been wearing it. Of course, there is something inherently confrontational about being confined in a moving, locked train with seats facing one another, be it above or below ground. I understand people wanting to protect their space by not engaging. But at what point does that m.o. become ludicrous? Mock the devil and he will flee from thee, after all.

On the flip side are those -- men, more often than not (and no one is sorrier that's the case than this lady) -- who enjoy the confrontation, who see the subway as their opportunity to preach, to leer, to impose, to expose, to throw a scene, to get some in the form of rubbing up on some woman who will, more often than not, pretend that's not happening. Going against the standard advice of ignoring reality, I find that if someone is feeling a bit more rowdy than orange-liquid guy and waiting them out won't work, talking back is, in reality, a successful way to discourage these behaviors. Telling someone to stop, moving away and/or pushing back is more an instinctive reaction to being imposed upon than something I have to strive for, or be congratulated for. To me, it's akin to common sense. However, sometimes I feel like the weird one on this issue, given the way people back away from you in America should you speak up for yourself -- without first considering all the reasons you shouldn't and then falling silent, bringing to mind the way the other kids would back away from me at the pool when a beetle would get stuck in my thick hair and their leper treatment would unnerve me more than the beetle.

I understand on an intellectual level that people can freeze under duress, but when I hear a woman say she sat there afraid to move while some perv masturbated in front of her on public transit, I just don't get that. Worse things can happen if you hang around there, lady. And I truly don't understand how you can have some stranger well, rub his genitals on your person apropo of nothing and not run away, scream or otherwise freak as an automatic reaction. I saw a guy masturbating under a tree once in fifth grade, while riding bikes with another friend at our elementary school. You know what we did? Pedaled faster!

I don't want to be unfair. I guess some of the reluctance some women feel -- and I tend to hang with women who are the opposite of ah, reluctant, so I can only guess -- can be attributed to the old victim-blaming saw that you better not say anything or the creep will get mad and hit you. But if someone is already touching you, that caveat sort of goes out the window, huh? What do you have to lose by, at the very least, saying something, as the post-9/11 MTA parlance goes?

The sleazoids disgust me, but I do enjoy rebutting the people who go on to their captive subway audience about how everyone but them is going to hell if they don't accept the distorted version of Christianity they're pushing, a pronouncement that's especially special, and especially prevalent, on trains bound from Flushing, Queens, where the majority of citizens are Chinese and Korean -- and therefore all misguided sinners, by that illogic. Take heart: Explaining how they're misrepresenting the Bible encourages sacrilegious preachers to exit the train, though sometimes I, too, am possessed by the spirit and can't help but cry out, "You're all going to hell except him -- he's God! He's God! Worship him -- or he'll set you on fire!"

Less enjoyable are the dudes who put their backpacks on my head; the guys who are always on hand to block the only entrances and exits to the train, refusing to move until someone either asks them to or moves them by default (hey, these exits and entrances are time sensitive, you know); the leg spreaders who take up two to three seats, must be huge; the Mariachi players, one of whom once thought it would be cute to shake his ass in my face until I made it clear that no, it was not (everyone again went blind when I said so); the nose pickers; the people who can't be bothered to cover their mouths when they cough; those American tourists 'n transplants who talk about how ________ all New Yorkers are, with the most-often-used adjective being "rude" and "New Yorkers" meaning the people from 718 to 212 to 516 who established this city they have now graced with their presence in order to plunder; and the people who glare at babies for crying when a. the babies are understandably disturbed by the latter delights and b. unlike the babies, they are grown folks who should be capable of behaving better than the infant they are stink-eyeing, yet won't.

In an emergency, I seek out someone else with a local accent, put it that way -- a good thing to do any place, I've found.

There are other subway hazards, one being the MTA itself, with its cooked books that never seem to draw any penalties. In recent years, I've seen people online, including MTA employees, claiming the "two books" scam is not in effect since there are not literally two ledgers and becoming indignant about their idiotic literalism to boot. Maybe if they included some evidence, such as a photo of the MTA accountant's desk with just one book on it, I'd be convinced?

Garbled announcements, bad information, fluorescence, conductors slamming the doors shut on people, no elevators in most stations outside Manhattan to accommodate the elderly, infirm or tired riders, "please be patient" (please be less condescending when your company's screw-up has trapped us) and that green liquid that drips from certain ceilings, such as the one cracking apart on the downtown F/M/D/B track at the Bryant Park station.

When I first came back to New York in 2007, I thought those who wore sunglasses underground were a little robo looking, a bit much, but now I've become one of them, if only to keep that green goo from dripping down into my eye socket...


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