Tag Archives: Subway

A Confluence of Tragedies

People say that memories of tragedy and loss are usually the most vivid in one’s mind. JFK’s assassination, Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, FDR’s Declaration of War—these are memories that defined generations. But for me, the memory of watching the second plane hit the South Tower is blurry. I think Mrs. Chiselko, my old school geometry teacher, turned on the television because another teacher burst in, imploring us to watch. I think I was sitting in the back and only lifted my head when I heard the TV turn on. I think the room was silent in shock, but maybe it wasn’t—maybe it was a flurry of chatter and confusion. Maybe I was at the front.

I don’t know, really.

What I do remember clearly is the aftermath. How by lunch time, on some subliminal level I could already sense how the events of that morning were going to change the United States forever, particularly for those with similar complexions to whoever caused the planes to crash, but not knowing who the culprits were and secretly hoping they weren’t Asian, like me. I remember dealing with the tragedy with inappropriate comments, joking that the Japanese probably did it to get us back for World War II, and making the kids laugh uncomfortably at my lunch table. I remember leaving school early, coming home, my neighbor checking in on us, me telling her my theory about the Japanese kamikaze bombers, the grave look on her face, her scolding me for thinking so ignorantly. I remember feeling ashamed. I remember being confused, in shock, sitting on the floor in my kitchen with my sister. We were huddled together under a thin blanket. We watched the footage of the towers falling and dusty masses walking over the Brooklyn Bridge over and over again on CBS 2, the only New York City-based station my analog TV could pick up since it broadcasted out of Paramus, not the World Trade Center like all of the other stations. I remember talking to my mother through our land line.

I don’t remember the sound of my mother’s voice, whether she was worried or crying or stoically nonchalant like she usually is. I don’t remember who called who first. I don’t remember wondering how many of my classmates’ parents or relatives died that day, and I don’t remember thinking about the safety of my cousin, since I was not aware at the time that he worked in the World Trade Center.

Sitting on the kitchen floor, my sister and I watched, in real time, how our vernacular changed. Ground Zero. September 11th and 9/11. Nine One One for a brief period, until broadcasters realized it was too cliché. Al Quaeda. Bin Laden. Terrorism. United We Stand. In a day, these words and phrases were integrated into American culture.

Before that morning, the word “terrorist” was unfamiliar, even clumsy, on the tongue. It was a word people rarely had an occasion to use. When I thought of a terrorist, I thought of awkward-looking, crazy-eyed white guys like Timothy McVeigh and the UniBomber. Ground Zero had something to do with earthquakes. The Twin Towers were the two rather boring looking buildings I always saw when my family drove to the airport, the first beacon of familiarity I had with the approaching skyline, the definitive signal that New York was near.

9/11 Memorial, South Tower

These are the memories I relived last night as I watched the two memorial pools flow endlessly. The 9/11 memorial is beautiful in spite of the occasion that ushered in its existence. The pools are large gaping holes into the depths in which so many innocent people lost their lives, with water, a universal symbol for healing and restoration, flowing through it for as long as our society will stand. My fingers traced over the engraved names around the pools, a tactile reminder that every name once had goals and dreams and a future and still, today, has grieving family, friends, and communities.

I grew increasingly angry and frustrated– at what, I am not sure– and could not find the appropriate method to express how I felt. So, I prayed. I prayed for the first time in years to the God to whom the victims of 9/11 were supposedly sacrificed, not asking for anything in particular, but posing this question and hoping for an answer: What have we accomplished in our post-9/11 world? What have we learned?

On the Brooklyn-bound 4 train that night, the train came to a shuddering halt underneath the East River between Manhattan and Brooklyn. I don’t remember it happening, as stopping and starting is a fairly common occurrence. I also don’t remember when the smoke started. I don’t remember who noticed it first. But when passengers started to cry out and called my attention to what was happening, my first thought was crystal clear. Oh God, Sarin gas. We’re all going to die. Then, I made a mental list of the people who I would miss, the people I wished I could talk to one last time. I thought about my mother and, if I suffocated, how pissed she would be at the entire situation. I looked helplessly toward the two families with children and small babies. I held the hand of my significant other and, for a moment, silently waited to die.

Nothing happened. The smoke was just smoke. After the rest of the car came to a collective realization that it was probably going to be okay, I allowed myself to inhale, cautiously at first. We coped with it in the best way we each knew how. The woman with the boxing gloves in the shopping bag leaned her head on the metal grail and read a magazine. The assertive blonde lady asked pointed questions to every MTA official that walked through the car. The woman with the curious scar on her cheek made macabre, inappropriate comments about injuries and compensation. We put cloth up to our face to filter out smoke in the most futile way possible. We groaned and complained when the intercom failed to give us information. Not a single person said anything about terrorism, but we were all listening for it.

Forty five minutes later, the MTA sent an empty train that positioned itself behind ours. People rushed to be the first to evacuate, but many of us waited, letting the elderly and those with small children go ahead, working as a team to hold open the sliding doors, push strollers, hold canes, carry kids. We nodded at the FDNY and MTA officials lining the first cars on the new train, and they nodded back. We tried to ignore the men with the gas masks and the axes and frantic radio calls. And then it was business as usual. I made awkward jokes about human centipede type evacuation protocols.  A man repeatedly asked for change as people walked by and filtered into the cars ahead. People read their kindles. And then we waited, and waited, and waited, and finally the train lurched backward on its way to Manhattan.

On the circuitous cab ride home, it occurred to me that perhaps my obsession with understanding what it means to “be a New Yorker,” my exercise in humor writing that is a thinly veiled disguise for the disconnect I sometimes feel in relation to my surroundings– all this may be due in part to the fact that I have avoided truly thinking about tragedy, particularly the one that irrevocably shaped the mentality and character of New York City since 2001.  Last night was a confluence of memories and hypotheticals that forced me to reflect on how I have lived my life for the past ten years, think about questions  to which I still no answers, and wonder about how I might fit into those answers one day. What have we accomplished in our post-9/11 world? What have we learned?

What have I learned?

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Step 3: Be a Creeper

It’s been awhile since I last posted instructions on how to make yourself an authentic New Yorker. To those of you who have been waiting for months with bated breath in anticipation of my ill-informed guidance… I am amazed at your patience, but more so, your breath capacity. That has to be some kind of David Blaine-esque record. You should get examined by a medical professional. You might be an X-Men. And I’m sorry for the delay.creeper

So, Step 3: Be a Creeper. For me personally, creeping is a craft I’ve cultivated in the bottom barrel of suburbia because there was really nothing else to do. Since I’ve been in New York, I’ve been extra, extra sensitive to creeping. I’ve observed/experienced/partaken in a variety of effective creeping methods that are employed in order to meet the man or woman of one’s dreams– just long enough to establish a superficial connection that justifies wildly elaborate fantasies of marriage, worldwide travel, and progeny without the dangers of confrontation or a restraining order. The vibrant culture of New York City allows for many distinct forms of creeping to thrive, like a petri dish of insecurity. Here are a few of the most popular methods:

  • The Subway Creeper – You know this person. Heck, it might even be you. This creeper is the one whose stare burns into the cover of your book, the back of your head, or even more awkwardly, your chest, willing you to make eye contact. This is one of the most effective creeping methods if you are the creeper. Alternatively, should you be the unfortunate crepee, you are trapped under three or more stories of bedrock and asphalt in a steel Twinkie with creeper filling  for at least six blocks. The express trains are the most effective subway lines for this method because, at optimal creeping, you could hypnotize individuals with your soul-seeking gaze for up to seventy uninterrupted blocks!! There is no escape. Rarely does this ever result in anything more than psychological discomfort for all involved parties, but this style of creeping works especially well in tandem with…
  • Craigslist Missed Connections – For those of you who have never experienced this bite of creeper decadence, Craigslist Missed Connections is an online bulletin service that allows you to post anonymous personal ads for a specific person… except you have no idea who the person is beyond a fleeting, profound meeting you had with him or her, typically on the subway, in Trader Joe’s, at Barnes and Noble, or wherever else desperate people hang out. Sounds silly, right? WRONG. DEAD WRONG. This is a sacred institution of creeping. The brilliance of this creep cesspool is the variety of ways one can go about the creeping. The obvious creepers are, of course, the sorry individuals who post their sad and silent siren calls, beckoning the “sexy papi on da 2 train” or the “cute Asian girl with the sketchbook” to “hit me back” or “be with me forever.” But an extra, secret layer of creepdomi is comprised of the people who, on a lonely Saturday night, or perhaps every night before bed in her adult sized footy pajamas with a trap door bottom, browse the missed connections in the hope of finding herself mentioned. Perhaps this person never posts on Missed Connections, but by being on the site, she too has become a creeper of the passive kind. In this way, Craigslist has revolutionized the world of creeping. The creepee has become the creeper. The student has become the master. The world has become just a little bit more uncomfortable for everybody.
  • Horn-honking Creepers – It’s expensive to keep a car in the city, and I’m pretty sure it’s because those who do must pay some sort of excise tax for the luxury of vehicular creeping. This is a very cowardly form of creepdom considering there is at least a mobile casing of steel and glass protecting you from the glare and projectiles of your creepee. I look down on this kind of creeping, especially in high volume traffic areas like Times Square. It seems as if I hear someone being a creeper every ten seconds whenever I’m there! I secretly flattered to be so popular, but this kind of creeping is really dangerous, especially in trafficky areas– if they are too busy honking trying to get my attention, how can they inform other cars to stay out of their way? Jeepers.
  • Street Creepers – This is the form of creeping I approve of least, dislike the most, and rarely never do. From what I’ve seen, street creepers are typically men, and they assume that walking by a stranger on the street is an appropriate justification for brief face to face creepdom. The two second love songs of these creepers usually come in the form of rhetorical questions that will never be answered, like “Hey baby, where you goin’?” Sometimes, they try to woo you with comments that struggle to be clever. For instance, if a female were to walk by eating a sandwich, a street creeper might say something like, “Damn girl, I want some of that!” followed by a lip-licking motion. Also annoying are the random love songs that make no sense, like “Miss, you dropped your Metrocard” or “Can you please spare some change?” or “Ma’am, you’re not allowed to loiter here.” Silly men, I do not like your comments! While annoying, this kind of creeping is acceptable to me considering I am painfully unaware as to how well-groomed I am on a daily basis. When I used to have to catch the D train every day at 125th and St. Nicholas, I’d know it was a good hair day when I got at least two “Hay baby, hay”s. And when I got none… I was secretly devastated. And probably extremely hideous.
Perhaps... the ultimate creeper?

Perhaps... the ultimate creeper? On looks alone, yes.

So what does it all mean? I could go all philosophical on you and write about the human need for companionship and the level at which our impersonal, technology driven world has reduced the art of courting to an instant, twitter-like exchange. But I won’t, mostly because I don’t know what any of the words mean in that last sentence. What does the prevalence of creeping mean about the unique nature of New Yorkers? Well… nothing. No matter where you go, there you are with a creeper close behind you, I believe the old adage goes. Next time you’re at your job, in your dining hall, on the train, getting your haircut, in the bathroom, at the mall, on a date, I’ll– I mean, a creeper will be there waiting, It’s just that, like most things, New Yorkers do it better. And creepier.

As always, thanks for reading. See you later. Literally. I know where you live.

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The City That Never Sleeps (with me)

If I weren’t creepy enough with my subway-staring ways, I would have taken a picture of the Bronx-bound 1 train I was on tonight for the sole purpose of proving to you that I was THE ONLY single person in the entire car. Yes, the entire car. Across from me, an adorable lesbian couple flipped through the Village Voice together while holding hands. Next to them, an extremely myopic couple squinted curiously at me– not myopic in the closed-minded sense, but in that both of them had the thickest glasses lenses that I have ever seen in my life. Sliding suggestively down a subway pole on the far side of the car was an attention-seeking teenage girl trying to subliminally seduce the fidgety, barely pubescent boyfriend who sat in front of her. To my right, a scenester couple with matching asymmetrical haircuts, flannel, and skinny jeans scenely snuggled while they listened to totally scene music from a shared set of ear buds, which were also quite scene. (I’d list more, but I’m running out of categories in which to pigeonhole all the couples I saw.)

One is the lonliest number that you'll ever doooo...

One is the loneliest number that you'll ever dooooo...

I’m not intimidated by being single, but it was definitely one of those uncomfortable instances where I couldn’t help but hum “One of These Things Is Not Like the Other” to myself. The plight of the single woman is especially hilarious in the context of my graduate school. Of the incoming class, eighty-seven per cent is female and thirteen per cent is male. And of that thirteen per cent, I’ve estimated about eleven per cent to be completely faaaabulous. It’s not important for me to be romantically involved right now– since I’m transitioning to the city life, I know that I need to establish myself as an individual rather than in relation to another individual. But for about forty blocks, the subway car was a surreal and disturbing wakeup call from hell, if hell were my biological clock. Also, honestly, I just really love spooning. It’s like crack, but it’s not the kind of crack that you can do by yourself. Okay, there really are no similarities between spooning and crack aside from how terrifyingly addictive both are and how both make you get kind of sleepy. Or so I’m told.

But nothing, NOTHING will ever be disturbing enough to cause me to turn to good ol’ Craigslist and its personals section. Today’s winner is from the “platonic section”:

can you tie me up in a fully clothed/platonic way? – m4w – 29 (Greenwich Village)

Date: 2008-09-09, 9:02PM EDT

I believe so! I want to be tied up and gagged . You can just watch TV or surf the net, whatever works, sure it can be fun for both of us I will be helpless, and you can do whatever you want to another human being, oh this of the possibilities!!! 🙂

Other then that, I have a corporate job and have normal interests such as roving around Central Park and Broadway!

Phew, I’m so glad that he has normal interests!! I LOVE roving!!! Good to know, because for a second there I thought he might be a weirdo, or worse, totally not platonic.

On second thought, being single works just fine, thanks.

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Rule Number One: NEVER Talk about Fight Clu– Making Eye Contact on The Subway

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.

This would be the best rewrite to Kafkas Metamorphosis EVER!!

This would be the best rewrite to Kafka's Metamorphosis EVER!!

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.

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