2004-10-06 - 9:00 a.m.
“Fuck you, and your untouchable face. Fuck you, for existing in the first place. And who am I, that I should be vying for your touch? Said who am I? I bet you can’t even tell me that much.” – Ani Difranco
I. It is common practice these days to sell batteries on the subway. What with legions bowing to the power constraints of Discmen, a couple double A’s might look like the second coming to Aerosmith-starved eyes. Considering that so many in this city view their daily underground commute to be a prime opportunity to delve deeper into the intricacies and ironies of “Dream On,” it is no surprise that a small army has risen to match the demand of these unempowered straphangers. What remains interesting is those who deviate from the standard pitch of…
“Batteries? Batteries? Batteries. Batteries?”
Having made his rounds up and down the car, there came a gentleman dangling trapped energy trapped in plastic. No one took to his wares. Dejected he stood by the doors as the subway rumbled into twenty-third street station. Feeling the train slow, he recited the words that came as Bible to his ears.
“This is Twenty-third Street. Transfer here to the One, Nine, F, V, B, or D trains. This is Twenty-third Street. The next stop will be fourteenth.”
We’d heard the speech over the intercom enough times to recite along with him. “In the name of the father, the son…” But hearing it now, coming from a man, with hands dripping in batteries, standing face down by the doors…this was new.
As he stepped off the train, I turned my head to the two girls sitting just beside his perch. They raised their eyebrows and smiled. I smiled back.
Loose Translation: “What a wacko...”
It’s not that the rantings of a frustrated salesman are so far distant from our experiences, but still in that moment we shared an affinity, standing apart from one of New York’s ever feared “crazies.”
In a city, whose occupants view every Hello as a declaration of all out war, it still takes me a moment to process so small a moment that brings us together.
II. Having spent the last few weeks under a rock in my apartment, avoiding the demons of Jack Daniels and YingLing, I suppose it’s merely a karmic turn of the wheel that I spend this past weekend in the passenger seat of awkward introductions.
Without walking conversation pieces, I’ve foraged through the fields of others, specifically females, trying to make sense of the webbed paths they string before them. Standing just adjacent to the barreling confidence and wit of my friends, I’ve been called to action; the unworthy agent of an unworthy draft.
Some of the boys in my muted crew contain the self-effacing confidence of the charming doof, others simply the appeal of a fine goatee and a sharp sense of sarcasm that fears not the primped face.
I tend to crumble.
Looking behind me, I saw two women dressed to the nines, with processed cheeks and lips dripping from previous conquest. He saw conversation, and while I checked out the pool table, he struck. I didn’t expect much to come from the efforts of a goofy twenty-two year old, especially when the object of his desire was a single mother biding her time before the thirtieth birthday bore down like a rider of the Apocalypse, but, be still my dark heart, the man made and stayed in discourse. This left me in a position I should have printed bold in my business card: Wingman.
Not that I regret the position. With the barbs of loves lost still binding my wrists and mouth, I can’t say I run with heart open into the evening tempest. The male impulse to cheerily fuck any of those who lay with legs akimbo has buckled under the guilt of drunken forays into that land that reaps only guilt and tests for Gonorria. I stand happily ready for the banal, as the meaningful means only an evening full of either equal parts disappointment and failed expectations, or the knowledge of a wrong turn, inevitably leading to the Metaphysical equivalent of Rochester, New York. Quiet, and without a Dunkin Doughnuts.
Fearful for anticipated flubs, I turned to her, digging into my pint-sized bag of introductory chitchat. One can’t leap out into the world reciting Kafka and Kevin Smith without at least testing the waters first.
To my gleeful surprise, the lady on the other side of my lead balloons revealed a world of soulfulness. In the woman I’d envisioned spending nights sweating the pros and cons of a water bra, I found passion, grace and intelligence. Chalk another up to my idiotically held expectations.
This is not to say I held my own. As words were shared on education and politics, I felt the ground beneath my convictions tremble slightly under the pressure to impress, something I failed to do, apparently, as any and all attempts to share contact information were met with the kind of facial expression one usually reserves for those with low income still supporting Bush.
We said our goodnights as my compatriot took down numbers into his cell phone.
Smash cut to forty-eight hours later, trying to play wing to a friend having overly cute discourse with a fedora’ed cutie. (Say what you will, his move to link fingers within eight hours of first meeting will always remain bold and Aww-inspiring in my book.) I tried to leave my friend some room to enjoy an increasingly giggly conference, but with little for her friend to run on, and my self-consciousness running like a V8 in a Jaguar, she took to the phones, calling in a friend with whom she shared at least a simple sexual vibe.
Once he arrive, I was releaved of my duties playing wingman, and knowing the bent of blondie’s affections, I was free. I rambled to the consorosium, happily compared musical notes and anecdotes without the slightest twinge of quelch that had defined the hour previous.
Said simply: My boy had pissed around her feet, and without any need to impress, or lay groundwork for mutually satisfying regalia, I could play.
Said Simpler: The dork not need not fear the ground he has already lost.
Said Simplest: I didn’t have to care any more, and it felt good.
Seeing the effects of fluttering eyelashes, swaying hips and curled legs - i.e. a mental fetal position - I have been forced to seek some form of succor to ease the churnings that keep me from naming certain particular Blink 182 songs I enjoy, in the name of seeming cool.
The common salve for self-consciousness, at least in the realm of public speaking, is to picture one’s audience in their underwear. In this situation though, that'd probably just makes thing worse.
Instead, to stem the tide of insecurity in the face of such adorableness, I had devised the following strategy: Think of their facial expression while they’re taking a massive shit.
There is no one, whether wandering the streets, or standing as a finalist on “The Next Supermodel,” that can appear sexy and powerful while reacting to their own stench as it drifts skyward from the bowl.
Think about the strain as it first escapes, or the curling nostrils as the smell wafts throughout the room. These pictorials can only humanize the subject, or at least bring them to a level that can be related to, without stone pedestal to bear them up.
The fact remains that the dork within is probably sexier than my put-upon cool-guy veneer. Whatever attempts I make to seem witty and intellegent, make me look asinine and desperate. The dork is what he is; a man accepting of his fate, and proud to, as the Rock would say, know his role.
I don't mean that I should lie in a stewing pile of my own self-pity and loneliness, but rather to accept that those unable to catch a reference to 'Ferris Bueler’s Day Off' might not be the best match for me. Nothing against them, but, let’s be honest, if someone stares blankly at you whilst you belt, “When Cameron was in Egypt’s land…” You may not have found soul mate, no matter what amount of cleavage they’ve dealt.
Even that…who knows the real stress test? When can you say, “Yes, this is it. This is where I belong.” Where is empathy an exercise, and where is it an instinct?
III. Rolling up into the city the next day, dreaming of Italian treats on Mulberry, and discounted bits of illegality on Canal, I stood witness to a man, barely in the dregs of mid-afternoon, with a gait that most resembled that of the midnight ejection from a Midtown Budweiser pit.
“You all probably know me by now. I’m the annoying guy on the subway.”
In Met’s blazer he settled into the center of the car, surfing the turns of the train, barely holding onto the bars above him.
“I’ve been homeless for three years, but I’ve been working my way out of it. I start a new Job on Monday, but I need a Metro card to get me up and back, until I get my first paycheck. If you have any change…”
He spun and searched for any pair of eyes that would meet his. Not a single pair did.
“Just a fucking dime, guys…”
The car remained silent as we pulled into station.
“A fucking dime. Like you don’t have any change.”
Suddenly everyone checked to see if their shoes were tied properly.
“I’ll fucking take the shit next time. You’re all fucking cocks. It’s a fucking dime.”
As he left the car, bumbling down the platform, I looked up to two girls sitting just beside the door. They raised their eyebrows and smiled.
I smiled back.
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