The NYC subway system is a lawless land with a tacit code of ethics that I have yet to fully comprehend. What I’ve gathered so far is that it’s definitely not okay to make eye contact with people who clearly want to be noticed, like panhandlers, musicians, hot young women with old rich dudes, and ennui-ridden hipsters with pomade-fabricated hygiene problems. As for the other nondescript people who don’t really want to be looked at, it’s still not okay to look them, though they are probably too busy avoiding your gaze to notice.
This is a real problem for me. You see, I majored in Anthropology. (Yes, I will continue to wear this on my sleeve when it has little to no relevance.) Even though my studies in undergrad did not in any way condone staring at strangers and had very little to do with actual observation, I will continue to pretend that it is a legitimate excuse for my behavior. I’m definitely one of those people who views the subway bench as a visual buffet of people waiting to be judged.
Excuse me, sir playing the Djembe, you’re really talented and all, but you’re not fooling anyone. I know that it takes mad bank to buy a Djembe. Go away. I need my dollar for a shitty Au Bon Pain breakfast croissant.
Oh hello there, fat little Asian baby! Your mom is giving me the evil eye for making silly faces at you, but really I’m just imitating her own expressions. In fourteen years or so, read Joy Luck Club; trust me.
Young woman sitting across from me, I really, really like your skirt! And you’re doing the NY Times Crossword! Maybe we can be frien– oh, oh God, she saw me looking. Look down, just look down… oh hey, nice shoes!! Oh God, she saw me looking at her shoes. Oh God. My stomach hurts.
I’ve also noticed somewhat of a hierarchy of reading material on the subway. I’m not sure how the rankings fall, but I’m pretty sure the New York Times reigns supreme while Janet Evanovich, Danielle Steel, and James Patterson work the fields of its literary fiefdom. The New Yorker, thick and smart-looking books, and incoming messages on your Blackberry are up there, too. Highlights magazine and Japanese manga, not so much– I don’t care if you’re nine, you are going to read Fahrenheit 451 and you-are-going-to-like-it, mister.
Sometimes I find myself without reading material on the subway, which is unfortunate since it keeps my eyes glued to the pages instead of strangers’ phenotypic vulnerabilities. And since it’s taboo to furtively glance at everyone around me, I usually find myself reading the advertisements plastered around the subway car. Most are either pointless or in Spanish, but I did come across this gem of an ad. I don’t even know what it is selling, but whatever it is, I want to buy it. I bet Kanye doesn’t get judged for judging people on the Subway. And if they do, it’s completely within his right to blame them for Hurricane Katrina. Psh, whateva.
If you have any book recommendations to pass the time during my long commute to Morningside Heights, please do let me know. But make sure it’s something that will make me look totally cool and interesting, like Wuthering Heights or The Tempest. Except make sure that it’s not boring… like Wuthering Heights or The Tempest.