Faecal Subway

It was a Saturday night, I think, some years ago, on one of those hated expeditions to the Upper East Side (my wife says it actually happened on the Upper West), where women carry lapdogs and wear high heels with their work out gear, and fashion still lives in an eternal Prep-land that brings back flashbacks of 1980s Connecticut. Anyway, there we were, long after midnight, making our way home to Brooklyn from a friend’s party, the soles of our shoes sticky from spilt Red Bull, hoping against hope to make the connection at Broadway Lafayette without too much trauma, when we witnessed one of New York’s prouder moments. Going down the stairs from soupy September air into a denser olfactory fug, I heard a voice say, “I’m taking a shit!” We turned the corner, and there she was: a woman in a skirt – probably under 30 – her face blurred with drunkenness and mirth, crouching on the stairs. The moment we saw her, a voice off-stage shouted:”where the hell are you?” And she replied, shouting louder, with gusto, as she stretched out the syllables: “I’m – TAKE-ing a SHITTTT!!!”


Rush Hour Forkover

(Thursday, 3rd April 2014)

It was the middle of the morning rush hour. My wife and I were on the F train, holding onto a steel pole, warmed and clammied by prior hands. We didn’t see her at first, sitting in her corner seat in the old-fashioned subway car, but once the voice began to spool, and would not stop: oh, we noticed her. Everyone did.

F It.

Watch out for the Sicilian connection, the pizza connection. If Hispanic, they like little blonde girls, but they like blond boys too. Watch for Sicilian forkover. This train goes to Forest Hills. Forest Hills is unbelievable. Because of them. Al Dente. That’s the name of a restaurant there too. Watch out for bits of glass in the pizza. Roach. Rat poison if they don’t like you. Watch out for Captain Luis T. Minetti. Even though they’re retired, they can still be active. They’re at the post office too. Sicilian forkover. Watch out. Supposedly, they went to Stella Maris High School. St. Joseph’s. Watch out for those innocent-sounding names. St. Joseph’s Secretarial School for Women, Brooklyn, Assumpta, automatically excommunicated Sicilian. If you see those last names, there’s the bower fret. Watch out for them on trains. They don’t have to be Sicilian. They hire. Watch out for him. He could ride this F train this very morning. He doesn’t deny it. He got on at the last stop. They like unshaven stuff. Watch out for Apple Bank. I may not work there, but I have an account there. A hood is a hood. Dark glasses. Why’s he wearing dark glasses? Have my ears cut off and real pigs’ ears put on. We’re Sicilian forkover. Don’t use Santini Moving and Storage. Supposedly the police told them, you’ve got too many get rid of them. I’ve a Jew from the Germany of identity theft. Emigrant Savings Bank. Some you may know the word Kow Tow. It’s really more than a bow. Don’t think that they’re OK because they read books. Things aren’t necessarily fresh. Some open at five. It’s tax time. My taxes are in. I’ve already complained to my congressman. I like my congressman. He has aides supposedly to help him. One of them wrote a biography of him without his birthday. My clever congressman. They use my stolen medicare card. They don’t pay attention to the announcements, “No electronic devices displayed. [She was commenting on people looking at their smart phones] Watch out for Mr. Click, there. [That was me, trying to record her.]

When I gave a sidelong glance (she was a cross-eyed old lady with white hair, in a long black dress and hooded black coat — noting that although cross-eyed, she saw the people around her with great sharpness, and inserted into her running commentary chillingly specific comments in quavering witch emphasis: “look at her. She’s reading. Look at him, looking at his electronic device.”—when I snatched a glance at her, she invariably noticed: “oh, he’s got a beard. And a plaid shirt, too, on his way to work. Obviously not making much money, is he?”), my wife would hiss, “stop looking at her!” But the sinkhole of paranoia she was generating was irresistible.

The 24 Hour Movie

After a conversation with my Russian-Jewish barber, whose son is getting married in July in a wedding palace in Queens (“how many guests are you having?” “300 hundred. Small wedding,” he quips, clipping my ear hair. “I cut beard today? Very bushy. Ah, no? I understand. Beard private.”), I walk to the F train, through rubberneckers on 8th street who are watching a movie set. There really isn’t much to see, apart from a lot of black cabling and wiring. Though, between massive trailers and tech trucks and techies with wrap around shades and beards like Hells Angels, there are some potential anonymous star glimpses: two actors wearing FBI windbreakers in 90 degree heat. (On the 31st of May!)

Entering the platform at West Fourth Street, the atmosphere starts telling me: something’s different up ahead. People are gawking at a particular space, while giving it space, a wide berth. An obese-y, wrinkled homeless woman, eyes 3/4 closed through scowling, and her hoarding shopping trolley essentially its own wrinkle in time on the platform – she lives down here, essentially – this woman is fronting off with a tall, slim man in a vest (wife beater) and shorts of clashing colours and stripes. He has a beard and wears a baseball cap. Possibly a tourist? In any case, he’s broken a cardinal rule: don’t engage with a New York “crazy”.

She is shouting in his face: “I don’t fucking like you, ’cause you’ve got no fucking drive!” (Is she his mother? I wonder.) “Yeah! I don’t fucking like you ’cause you got no pride, either.” She has found her rhyme, and is warming to its pivot: “you’ve got no pride, no drive,” she repeats again and again. The man is silent, stunned. The New Yorkers keep well away, wisely, while watching the latest installment in the 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year film. Better than Imax.

Bad Driving: Mobility Scooter Takes to the Streets at 3rd avenue and 105th street

Get the fuck off the street! I hear, such beautifully-modulated single syllables, coming out  the window of a black Lincoln car service (hackney cab). I look up and see an old Latin American man on a red “mobility scooter” with handle bars, kind of a 3-mile-an-hour motor bike, traveling against the flow of traffic down the side of 3rd avenue, which is one way.

Mobility Scooters (Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons)
Mobility Scooters (Courtesy of Wikipedia Commons)

The scooter-thingy reminded me of the time that a very obese man rode a similar one onto the subway, the explosive sound of him trying to, and then succeeding in ramping over the gap, drawing all our attention, and scattering a crowd of commuters who had to jump out of the way to avoid being rammed into. The stunt achieved, he sat there on his bizarre motorbike taking up the space of several people, blithely checking texts. I don’t think the MTA subway authority thought to include this kind of vehicle in their rules.

Anyway, the second that the Latino dude heard the censure, he shouted, fuck you motherfucker! His swearing then descended into enraged mumbling, until I could hear no more as he proceeded to drive illegally down the avenue with cars honking to his right, with him, like many New Yorkers, believing that he was 100% in the right, but obviously and utterly not only wrong, but illegally so. New York had served up yet again one of its more perfect moments courtesy of one of its inexhaustible stock of crazies from central casting.

Finally, here is a mobility scooter jockey “taking it to the street” in rush hour Toronto: 

Like Something out of The Warriors, Paranoid Version

Not For Tourists says: “if you’re bored in New York, you have only yourself to blame.” I’m sure that’s true. While having lunch yesterday with the poet Philip Fried in Edgar’s Café, right beside the site of Edgar Allen Poe’s farmhouse on the Upper West Side where the streetscape, elegant, sunlit, airy, reminded me with a “keen nostalgia” of autumn in Madrid eight years ago, he said: “where else in the world can you go out your door and, within half an hour, be looking at Rembrant?” I asked him how he dealt with all the possibilities, and he mentioned the flip side: getting sucked into one’s daily routine, and how you might, out of all the ways to walk to work, always take the same route. (Surely, though, that’s the antidote to possibility-madness: carving out a village in the city.) He also admitted to “New York guilt”, something most likely shared by many: that you really should be out there, attending the latest opening, restaurant, or bar, or whatever…

It’s Saturday night, and I’m not out. I’m lying on my bed, watching the quirky French documentary The Gleaners and I, while I take my time writing this. Staying in and “not giving a damn” (a phrase in quotation marks ever since Gone with the Wind), is surely assisted by having a hangover: oh… because I went out last night with the MFA kids and got rat-arsed in the East Village, after the NYU reading at KGB, and ended up somewhere in the West Village with a Southern, Floridian writer who has lived everywhere, is a perfect raconteur, who regaled us with tales of Southern literary mischief, as well as the perfect wing man, who possesses a leg as hollow as mine but is probably better able to take the morning-after consequences. By 1 a.m., we were the last ones standing, and washed up like storm debris at a bar full of stockbrokers and thin blondes in miniskirts. Before getting in, we alienated the tank-like African American bouncer by smoking in the wrong place (“I told you to smoke by the ash tray”, and then he proceeded to let other people in ahead of us for 5 minutes).

Having gone outside with a cute black girl, she and I were immediately surrounded by smooth-talking, cock-blocking Swiss and Brit Euro trash. We made up, however, by smoking a communal roll-your-own “cigarette” that induced what the posse calls a “whitener”, which apart from pale nausea and head-spins, created the urgent need to sit on an adjacent stoop for half an hour, and whispered the fear that I would never find my way home – “ah, Existential Angst, my old friend! Sshho, you’re still working for Largo” (forgive the Sean Connery-esque, James Bond interjection). I was also afraid that if I stood up, I’d immediately fall down, and that if I stopped a taxi, I wouldn’t be able to make myself understood.

Luckily, I finally left the stoop, stopped hypnotically watching high heels and leather loafers pass by (so this is what it feels like to be homeless: invisible), made for the nearest “boulevard”, and realised (a) that I could walk and (b) that West 4th Street station was only 10 minutes walk away. What bliss! The city was finally comprehensible. After buying a 1$ bottle of water from a tender, white-haired Indian man, and being buttonholed by a hustler to whom I paid 5$ for the privilege of listening to a series of racist and homophobic jokes, and after being accosted by a lunatic woman in the subway, who turned aggressive when I foolishly answered one of her rants (she was booted out by 5 of NYPD’s subway division who appeared out of nowhere – “GO! I’m tellin’ you! Get outta here!”) – after it all, I found my platform, feeling like something out of The Warriors, paranoid version.

Twenty minutes later, the F came slowly round the corner of the tunnel – oh, sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home! – and me and the Seven Sleepers were on the train to Stillwell Avenue and Coney, nodding in our respective corners. Coming down the old wooden steps of the elevated station, I stopped off at the local all-night bodega (corner-shop) to buy crusty bread, humus and milk, which I proceeded to eat in bed while watching a cheesy rom-com on Netflix. And then, at 5 a.m.: sleep. So, no: tonight I’m not tempted. And, I’m not guilty.

Cyborg Subway

1st Sept 2010

There’s a sense of psychic armouring on the subway. Some people wear big, reflecting, non-introspective mirror shades from CHiPS underground: the touch of mercury in the glasses emphasises their cheekbones, and turns them into beautiful, cruel cyborgs. Certainly, they’re over-equipped with technology: always ear phones, sometimes huge stereophonic devices that would be better suited to Navajo code breakers in WWII than civilian life. They cast their eyes down to check their smart phones and, often, it’s the all-in combo. Totally integrated technology. Full. Metal. Jacket. Locked and loaded. All that is lacking is a jack to mainline into the arm (which tangentially reminds me of the snowboarding coat my friend John Loco wore during a San Anton Austrian ski / party season which had Ipod plug in, and a control panel on the arm: perfect for when the posse went off piste en masse, weaving through the fir trees on full moon nights after a party at the summit).

People have their books, of course; but to the non-cyborg eye, the armour a book provides, its distraction from others’ eyes seems valid, edifying, educational; so, as a non NYC veteran, I almost do not notice how many people are reading. I might well notice, for example, that the Asian woman near me – Japanese-Chinese: a beguiling blend – is reading, but that’s only because she’s doing it while standing up, rag-dolling in perfect sync to the carriage’s lurches. Otherwise, the readers’ armouring is, in Dungeons and Dragons parlance, more leather armour, to the titanium plate mail that morphs around the people with white earphones, some of whom are singing along to their music.

Which brings us to the confluence of two streams: the first is the aggressive, “don’t look at me (invade my bubble)”; the other, just as active, is “do look at me as I sing along to my multi-media device, I need you to witness me, provide me with psychic energy, to help me to surf to the crest of this moment’s sea of other people rather than drown in it.” If not mad, they seem clinically neurotic: a sane reaction to an insane environment. It’s a war for recognition, and a sinking into anonymity; hour by hour, minute by minute, the city is a stressor, a relief. Whatever it is, the city will amplify it, every element, every viral strain of personality, like a stack of speakers pimped and tweaked to an excessive output. It batters you until you realise you’re being digested. I’ve been here a week. I think I need to be sedated.