One week ago today was the first time in its history that the New York City subway system was shut down. We were waiting for a hurricane to come bearing down on us, but it hadn’t hit yet.
The city was eerily quiet. There were no buses screeching to a stop, or cars starting and stopping down the street, or neighbors blasting reggae music on my block. If I didn’t have to stay indoors, I would have gone and spied on the city. I would have found what the 7 million people who ride the subway were doing.
It was so desolate; that I felt the world was right again only after the subways starting running again, fueled by the unique brand of madness of NYC commuters that is part monologue, performance art, street violence, and just being bat shit crazy. One friend calls it dinner theater; I would suggest it’s more like a Grand Performance series from this past week:
Grand Performance #1
Featured a woman dressed in traditional Muslim attire that was a bit frayed at the edges. It took place after midnight on the suburban Brooklyn bus that she, along with a handful of people were taking into Crown Heights.
Woman: (pointing to a young Arab man sitting across from her holding a bag of takeout Halal Food) That’s spilling! There’s a hole! Look!
(Alarmed, the Halal guy looks at his bag of takeout, only to find that there is no hole and no spillage).
Undeterred, the woman continues: It’s going to spill all on the floor. I’m telling you. There! You see? On the floor. It’s going to be all on the floor. And you. It’s leaking! I see it.
(Halal guy glares at her but says nothing).
Woman: (To a young woman sitting a few rows behind Halal guy): You're Sudanese?
(The woman, with very erect posture, bows her head, which is wrapped with an African headdress. The Muslim woman takes this as a yes).
Woman: Hrmphh (triumphantly)
(It is unclear if she is addressing the Sudanese woman or the bus at large).
Woman: Do you know…(turning to me, who unfortunately, is sitting right behind her, pretending to be really involved in game of solitaire on my phone)…that some people are looking to see how they can rip cell phones out of your hand?
(I hold my phone away from her so she can’t reach it. She leans toward me like she’s going to tell me a secret).
Woman: I think about inventing a laser. You know, a laser. (She makes a motion of a gun firing). It would scan the area for phones that are taking a picture of me and blast it!
(My internal technology having alerted me from the onset that taking a picture of her was out of the question, I put my phone in my bag and make direct eye contact with her).
Woman: (Pleased that she has my attention) But I don't have the technology yet.
Me: (Feeling brave enough to answer only because I’m about to get off the bus)
You’ll find the technology.
Me: Someday. (And get the hell off the bus.)
Grand Performance #2
Different from a monologue, an apostrophe features a speaker who addresses an imaginary person, an inanimate object, or idea. This performer is a tall African-American man, standing in the middle of a crowded subway platform at Broadway Junction during rush hour.
Man: SUCK MY DICK! SUCK MY DICK! Mumble mumble mumble. SUCK MY DICK! Mumble. Mumble. I SAID SUCK MY DICK! Mumble mumble mumble. SUCK MY DICK! (He walks by me and my co-workers punching someone or something invisible that is apparently blocking his path while he walks to the end of the platform). SUCK MY DICK! (more punching) SUCK MY DICK!
Grand Performance #3
Features a Hispanic man on A train, who is sitting at least ten feet away from a man who purportedly had been startin’ some shit with him minutes before I entered the crowded subway car.
Man: Oh no you di’nt! Oh hell no and am I gonna let nobody talk to me like that. Come get in my face. Get in my face. Say it to my face. Why you just standin there? Be a man. Ain’t you man? Ain’t you got the balls to talk shit? Why you all the way over there? You wanna get in my face? I oughtta go up and pop you, son. But I won’t. I’m on this train, cuz I gotta go work, cuz nobody gives me nuthin. Nobody ain’t done nothing for me, son. But I get up and I go to work. That’s my manhood.
(The people standing near him are shifting uncomfortably, not sure where to look. At the door across from the guy is a girl wearing black tights that have words written in white up and down her legs. Peace. Love. Peace. Love. Peace. Love).
You wanna come at me? I pop you son! You want to come start some shit? Yeah? Well come finish it! Don’t let nobody talk to me like that. That’s my manhood. Wha happen? Cat ate your tongue? Yeah, I thought so!
(An obese man sitting a few people away from the Hispanic man speaks up)
Obese man: What ‘bout my manhood? Why don’t you shut up? You botherin’ my manhood.
(The people around the Hispanic man start to laugh. The train doors open. The train car empties. I walk behind the girl who has words written up and down her legs. Peace. Love. Peace. Love. Peace. Love).