When we moved to New York we moved quickly, one after another, in what felt like years apart but was really week to week, our arrivals stacked together like holes in a belt. I don’t know where we came from. We were temp-to-perm assistants. We were broke. We were free — subsisting off of open bars and leftover lunches, crashing on one another’s couches, sleeping on mattresses hoisted above suitcases stuffed with clothes. We didn’t know much, but we knew our next apartment wouldn’t have mice. And we knew how to go and go and go, working and drinking and sleeping around through hangovers, through head colds, through deaths in the family, through all the strangers underground. We spent the beginnings of our paychecks on vodka and the last of it on a therapist, who gathered that we drank more than we would ever say, because she knew how to read our early on-set wrinkles and our breath, and she knew that everything we said was either too true or not really true at all.
The subway had its own rules of conduct, an entirely different underground law that paid no respect to natural light. Inches of space were respected more than kind words. Beauty was magnified in the florescent glow of the quick-pulling cars. Eye contact, if made, was subtle with heavy implications of sex and wanting. Unless you were with someone, everyone was single on the subway, everyone was alone, ring or no ring on their third- finger of their left hand. Couples took up their own space like twins in the womb. Books and newspapers were angled down so all faces were equal and unobscured by words. There should be no words on the subway, the equalizer, the underground level of all playing fields. Little white ribbons roped around pockets and tucked neatly in the ears, little shoelaces of lonely music dribbling down collars. Every holding on. Everyone going forward.
When I go to Brooklyn I arrive with an earache. The train dips under the East River and no matter how hard I swallow my ears refuse to pop. Ah, the L train, land of the sweet baby doll dresses paired with heavy workboots boots, nipples, faux-fur vests, exposed bras, indecent smells, blocks of tattoos color coding the children of white class, blue blood, high strung thrift store victims awash in this morning’s hangover. The girls on the L train look like they sleep in kohl-rimmed eyes, naturally made up and everywhere to go. I am the type of person that looks around any train I’m in on the off chance I recognize someone from a past life. I don’t see anyone. Just strangers. I wonder if the train stops and we’re all trapped forever under the skin of New York City who would fall in love? Who would choose to stay underground if we were freed, gently pawing each other, making little subway babies?
“My contacts fell out on the train ride home. I had to put them in my mouth.” –Peter C.
The C train has come to a stop at Washington Ave and a smattering of people get on. It’s late so the car isn’t too crowded. Four white women in their late twenties sit beside me, sweeping away spilled oatmeal with the soles of their boots. They talk about how expensive they are. They talk about their classes in NYU, how many clients they’ve been given, and what assignments they skip. Tuition is expensive, but the boots are a priority. They are psych grad students, I decide. I clamp my hand against my ear to try to block out their loud, nasal-pitched voices. I can’t focus on the article I’m reading. I can’t focus on anything but how much I hate these women. I shift uncomfortably in my seat. The faces in the train are darker and weary. Those who are awake look passively annoyed. Or maybe I am projecting. I try to edge away; I try to disassociate myself with the group. They are dark-haired females rooted in complaints and books and a souless discussion of wealthy social structure. I get off at 14th Street. I decide sit down on the bench before catching the L train. Somewhere, that C train is on the tracks, pushing up through Manhattan. I wonder which is more oblivious: the city, the women, or the subway. Somewhere, someone spills more oatmeal on the floor.
It’s been bitter cold for weeks. I say bitter because I am. I’m cold and I’m bitter and I’m repeating myself over and over again.
It’s not even February.
And I’m exhausted from it. I don’t know if I have mono or the winter blues. Is there a difference? These days, it takes wild amounts of coffee to get me going. I come home, get back under the covers, and doze off reading the Times online. I complain too much. I’m not as adventurous. I’m not as happy.
My feet are cold.
The city is no good to my shoes, and my boots are all taking a beating. The ten minute walk from the A/C/E has ruined my favorite brown ones. I’m down to my crappy three-year old faux leather pair from Payless.
I can’t wait for sunburn. I can’t wait for heatrash. I can’t wait for sweaty subway rides.
I will never not love McSweeney’s. Here’s another excerpt why:
INDEX CARDS THAT
GET ME THROUGH
A NORMAL DAY.
So, you didn’t get a seat on the subway. There’s no reason to cry, little dude! Look around! You see all those beautiful people standing? You’re one of them! Look how tall you seem next to those seated around you! Why don’t you tuck your blanket into your bag now, OK? It’s OK to have a security blanket, but let’s pull it out only when we really need it, all right? There you go, bud! Just think, the next time you get a seat on the subway, it’s gonna be awesome!
(read this short in is entirety at McSweeney’s Internet Tendency)