On the subway, in a blue dress shirt and black cotton slacks, a youngish man sits up straight, gathering himself together. It is a little after 5pm, so I guess he’s leaving work. He sits up straight with his eyes shut and his hands on his thighs, composing himself. The train is not crowded; it heads from downtown Brooklyn to Manhattan. Directly across from this short-haired, square-jawed, square-glasses white man (with a dab of peachy tan in his complexion), a Hispanic tween sleeps against her mother, both in dark coats and slacks, with black hair, cream-tan, flat heart-shaped faces, small noses–reminding the white guy of native South Americans. Next to the mother sits a white man with short hair bleached in the front, dark in the back, and combed forward fitting close to his skull like painted lines. He wears tight-fitting black jeans and a dark gray (faded black?) leather jacket opened, revealing a shirt forgotten by your narrator. His complexion is pretty pale with a touch of ruddy and looks a little dry and weathered; his head–though of an average size and thus no “helmet head” is shaped a little like a helmet; his nose rounds around like a falcon’s beak; eyes set in hollows. 40ish? A black bookbag between his legs. Black leather high top Doc Martins laced only at the bottom (not the uppers, which flap open jocularly). Dark red-painted fingernails; an earring that is a short, thin silver chain from which a few smaller, short silver chains dangle–so something like a silver elephant tail, but smaller and without the magic powers inherent in such fantastical charms. Next to him, clamoring on the steel tubing handrail/guard that separates the end of the plastic subway bench from the doorway, is a small girl. She’s maybe four years old. Thin, wiry, with reddish hair braided in two pinktails and garnished with blue fabric flowers; sporting thick-framed clear plastic reddish framed glasses; in green sweats with long pockets and a light red coat made of a series of plush burial-mounds wrapped in tent-material (a common enough coat nowadays, reminds me a bit of a Samurai’s wood-plate armor). The man who now sits straight and meditates to himself had looked with arched eye and pursed lip at the dangerous fun of the four year old, but then decided to ignore matters that don’t involve him and that are probably not really super dangerous. But the man speaks and the blue-shirted observer listens:
“Der rote Mann da–siehst du? Er tut genau wie du, und daneben sagt es, dass es verboten ist.” [“The red man there–see it? He’s doing what you’re doing, and next to it it says that it’s not allowed.”]
“Was? Welcher Mann?” Twisting her torso and head around while still woven through the tubular guardrail. “Der rote Mann–gerade da (pointing, leaning into his shoulder like it is a rifle that he’s siting). Er macht genau wie du, und daneben steht, dass es verboten ist.” [“The red man–right there. He’s doing just what you’re doing, and next to it it says it’s not allowed.”]
After a few more twists and questions, the child climbs down and sits next to her father, saying “Und was sagt jener, Papi, was sagt jener?” [“and what says that one, daddy, what says that one?”] while leaning like a vine on a trellis against the guardrail/seat-end. The man explains the posters that line the top of the subway car across from him and his young daughter. One says (and he demonstrates by opening his legs wide and then bringing them together, and concludes by acquiescing to the law and taking his bookbag–which he had strung between his open legs in this uncrowded subway car–up onto his lap, which he makes small) “du sollst nicht so sitzen–da nimmst du zu viel Platz; du sollst lieber wieso sitzen.” [“You shouldn’t sit like this–when you do you take up too much space; you should sit like this instead.”] “Zu viel Platz nehmen? Platz nehmen?” [“Taking up too much space? Taking up space?”] echoes the urchin. And so on, with several other signs–these signs you see where the people are outlined blockish figures behaving a little impolitely in the subway and that all come with gentle reminders and calls-to-action for subway decorum, for common human decency, for give and take, compromise, and the communal spirit. At some point the kid climbs back up and kicks her leg back like a dancer so that her small pink leather hightop sneak bumps into her dad’s arms: “So macht der rote Mann”. [“That’s what the red man is doing.”] This red man, for those who have not spent much time studying the subway etiquette cartoons, is spinning around the center pole with his leg out, and beneath it the MTA admonishes: “Poles are for safety, not your latest routine. Hold the pole, not our attention. A subway is no place for showtime.” The sign addresses this safety issue: kids and young teens sometimes do dance routines to hip hop music in the subway cars, spinning around the center poles, hanging from the ceiling poles like bats, and otherwise putting the public at risk; before they make the young man in the blue dress shirt shudder with unease, these young hustler-performers gamely proclaim: “Showtime! Showtime! Put your hands together people, it’s showtime!”
The man in blue, who speaks German but only for fun, exits at 2nd Avenue. He’s meeting his girlfriend to see “Anomalisa” at the Landmark Cinema. She’s told him that this is its last night, and so they have to go. So here he is, on Houston, near Forsyth, drinking a happy hour malbec and jotting down what he recently observed.
AMW / BW