Subway Non-Fiction

December 25, 2009

They said it was going to rain today, but I didn’t think so

Filed under: Uncategorized — jonahman3000 @ 1:17 am

It’s the first real cold, rainy day in December. The Q train eases its way slowly down the rehabilitating Brighton line. A lone Mexican guitarist strums in a modest parka, occasionally correcting his key. A head of fine dark hair hangs from a tired young man across me, bobbing down and further down.

At the empty end of the car, a small white utterance of an object flutters in circles, counter-clockwise. It spins and spins, unaffected by the opening and closing of the doors. Sometimes the focus of its circle changes by a foot but it continues to spin. “It must be some sort of bug,” I think “With an injured wing”

And how strange it must be; lost and unable to right itself. In a non-stop tailspin, without hope to even crash. It would be one thing if it were in a non-navigable forest or even another unnatural outdoor habitat like the granite corner of a building. But it is stuck to the spackle-painted floor of the subway, destined for a Brighton Beach terminus and eventually back underground.

The guitarist stops, thanks the audience and sits close by me, unpaid. He replays a few notes and retunes before going on to the next car. At the next stop I look down and notice the white piece has stopped spinning and just skitters along the floor of the train, dead, but maybe never really alive in the first place.


My Tired Angel

Filed under: Uncategorized — jonahman3000 @ 1:14 am

A tipsy, pre-emptive run to the train reveals passengers exiting from the funnel known as Cortelyou Road station. I think “Goddammit”, but hear a series of beeps. If the people who are fleeing the scene are coming from Manhattan, I’m golden.

I’m right.

I dart downstairs with enough time to choose a car. I see one zoom by me with a flash of an orange bicycle leaning on a sleeping person. The car behind it stops inches in front me.

I visit my tired cycling friend. She’s got an orange Downtube IX FS, which is a short, thick folding bike with full suspension and a fat aluminum frame. It’s gears and wheels are filthy and its rider is weary in many puffy layers. She is leaning on a large black leather handbag. The seat to her bike is missing.

She wears a wide gray jacket over a yellow and blue windbreaker over a black fleece. Closed under that is a beige hoody with a pictorial scene dominated by a lighthouse. A fold in the hoody reveals a reflection in a pond. Under that, who knows how many other layers? The same go for her legs, sheathed by a puffy gray pair of columns. She wears a head wrap made of black fleece, but no helmet.

I leave her to her dreams and pray for her safety.

I See You

Filed under: Uncategorized — jonahman3000 @ 1:11 am

I’m peeling a clementine when an older man collapses on the bench with difficulty. ”Whoa, these must be the low-riders” he jokes to the woman next to him. He’s wearing light-colored jeans, fashionable black winter shoes and a wallet-chain like they wore in the 90’s. A trim gray goatee rounds out his youthful attempts.

“Yup” he says openly “headed to the doctors’”.

She nods sincerely.

“Y’know, at my age, you gotta go” His shrill voice bounces warmly around the station “It’s not like they give you a warranty or anything.” She is at least ten years older than him and responds in kind.

“Oh, certainly” she says, “I used to have the sharpest eyes of all the girls in my company and now I have to ask which train is arriving” Her voice is like beige tissue paper.

They speak about age and the losses of time.

“Yeah, I lived in the virgin island for 15 years” His tangent begins. “I would dive in the sparkling blue water and see all around me the beautiful coral, in glittering pink, green colors. Neon fish lighting up with the sun hitting them right-on”

Her eyes mist off across the four sets of rails and into the far world of these ancient colors.

“My buddy who lives down there still, I talked to him and he says it’s not like that anymore” His voice trails down toward his chest. “The waters are more cloudy and the coral is bleached black. ‘How does something get bleached and turn black?!’ I asked him”

“It’s a different world”

“But the people still go there and they’re amazed. It’s all new to them” He perks. The train arrives and I sprint to the garbage can to throw away my clementine peels before boarding the train. I enter a crush of people too lazy or ignorant to move to the less crowded part of the train and I make my excuses. I find a seat and at the next stop I hear a familiar voice.

“Here’s a coupla seats. You sit there and I’ll sit here” He carefully finds his seat across from the woman who finds hers. I notice for the first time that he’s wearing glasses, comically round, with thick black frames.

“So I can look at you and you can look at me” he says.

Two Men and a Sandwich

Filed under: Uncategorized — jonahman3000 @ 1:11 am

I go up to Gramma’s for lunch, but she’s not there, so I pack a tuna sandwich and head back downtown. I partially unwrap the foil and begin to chow down, and while I do I notice a man looking at me. He’s sitting directly across from me. His gaze is slightly troubling and it’s possible he’s locked on an area below my face, like my collar. I look around, avoiding the issue. I look at my neighbor’s study guide, at the cute girl reading a graphic novel across the aisle, and back at the man.

He is no longer looking at me. He is staring at me.

In some cases like this, I tend to stare back. Sometimes they don’t realize they’re staring and break gaze, embarrassed. Once or twice they’ve had something to say, but he is unmoved. Eight seconds pass and I can no longer return his interest. I look everywhere else: his hands, his jacket, the pole, my neighbor’s study guide, the cute girl, and back to my sandwich.

I focus on my sandwich. I keep track of it—every flake of tuna, every morsel of celery. I strategize on which bites have the most mayonnaise and how to avoid the crust. I look back up but my admirer has not found a new point of focus. His head has lowered slightly, as though he’s a predatory animal leveling his eyes at prey. I continue to munch away, but stop to wonder.

“Is he hungry?” My sandwich isn’t the most appetizing thing, with its cheap whole-grain shell. Nonetheless, I am all too aware that when one is truly hungry anything looks good. He doesn’t look very hungry, though. He’s no shabby hobo…not even a gaunt lost man. But I take a chance.

Holding the last bite of the sandwich out from the foil, I ask “Do you want it?” I do my best to maintain a face of sincerity and openness.

No response. Not even a blink.

“No?” I return the last bite to my mouth, feeling rather magnanimous. The last bite of the sandwich may not be a prize, but it’s nothing to turn away in a time of hunger.

Maybe he’s a germophobe.

June 5, 2009

Next Stop: Vacation

Filed under: Uncategorized — jonahman3000 @ 1:52 pm

It’s a warm, rainy night. A couple boards the train, she in a brown floral blouse and khakis, he in casual business attire. They are fit, fine and lovely. The train begins to move. It rocks back and forth comfortably, causing them to adjust with minor footsteps. The movements of the train become harsher and they step to one side—suddenly back to the other. A rhythm develops; she steps to the left, to the right. In perfect time she is practicing the Salsa they learned last Tuesday. He begins to follow with a bit of a kick to impress.

            “I probably couldn’t imagine you speaking Spanish”

            They practice the romance language.

            “Are you sure that isn’t Italian?” she teases and corrects his pronunciation.

            The train lurches to one side and they are conjoined momentarily for a kiss. The natural perfume and taste of her lips and the warmth of his mouth transport them for a split second as their lips’ split and become one. As the train rights itself they remain close and continue to practice.

            “Donde estas”

            “Good, that’s good” She says. He notices her umbrella standing on it’s own against the closed door and he reminds her not to forget it.

            As the train rocks, they return to their lessons. A slowing movement of the train causes him to gracefully place foot over foot, which impresses her.            No one gets on at the next stop. The train starts again with a click of the tongue against the roof of his mouth. He starts to perform a tap routine, first with his right foot, and then the left contagiously joins.

The rocking train causes his hand, which holds an umbrella to swing forward slightly. It swings gently, back and forth, back and forth. It swings up, close to her belly.

            “Pop!” He gently pokes her taught tummy. They giggle as her slender fingers stroke his torso. They discuss underwear, the intimate extents of which I won’t transcribe, but the word “ribbed” is mentioned.

            The train begin to slow rapidly for the next stop and he grabs the overhead bar. He bounces his knees playfully and holds his foot suspended an inch above the ground.  She is impressed. The doors open and the independent umbrella stays suspended against the corner. He is impressed. She grabs the umbrella and they get off at the next stop.

A Ruinous Device

Filed under: Uncategorized — jonahman3000 @ 1:51 pm

One man is talking to another:

            “I had this incredible dream last night where I was lost. I was on this bizarre bus that dropped me off at the wrong stop. So I’m walking around, trying to get back to Stratford through these dark winding roads, and here’s the key–“

            The other man puts up a digit, pulls out his cell phone and answers a call.


*                        *                        *                        *                        *                        *                       


He’s absolutely thrilled to be here. His feet, in his baby Nike sneakers, are dangling inches above the floor of the train, and kicking erratically, spastically. The expressions from his small mouth rapidly shift in a cycle of wild grins, playful sounds, mischievous smirks and blank, observant interest in all that’s around him.

            His arm shoots up—he’s noticed his reflection in the glass across from him and has found a new playmate. A young blond woman in the other row can’t stop shooting him wide smiles. Shy but voracious, he thwarts her gaze by popping his head in and out of a crook in his mama’s arm.

            He often peeks down the car, as he can’t get enough of the variety of faces, actions and mysterious comings and goings of all the people. They come from so many different environments of outdoor and underground platforms, holding all sorts of packages and wearing so much on their faces and huge hulking bodies. They are part of a seething rapid-fire universe that is a far off goal to his energy and interest, if not a match for it.

            His mother is too tired for it, though, and she hands him a cell phone. Almost immediately, his feral energy becomes focus and minimized like a laser beam. His legs kick occasionally, and the wild monkey sounds pop up here and there, but otherwise he has become complacent. He is fooled into satisfaction for the rest of the ride and tied into a world the size of his tiny palm. He has conceded.

Eye for an Eye

Filed under: Uncategorized — jonahman3000 @ 1:50 pm

“Not on trial, but being judged as a villain to Mr. Astor”, the headline read. I find it a piece of interest, a story about a descendant of John Jacob Astor. Astor was arguably the first billionaire of New York City, a real estate mogul who famously regretted on his deathbed “not buying up every square inch of Manhattan”.

            However, it’s not my newspaper. It belongs to the woman sitting next to me. She feverishly munches on the Pringles she purchased here on the 42nd street platform. She rhythmically sweeps crumbs off the paper, which she is also reading. I make my way to the sensational 3rd paragraph, when her pink horn-rimmed glasses poke their way into my vicinity, her lashy eyes and face of poor complexion turning towards MY notebook. She wants to know what I’M reading, what’s part of MY personal existence here on this platform.

            I understand her obtuse existential attack and turn my head back. The train comes and we board, sitting apart from each other.

Golden Girls

Filed under: Uncategorized — jonahman3000 @ 1:49 pm

It had been a very long day. At the end of a thirteen-hour film shoot in Park Slope, I was forced to walk three long uphill blocks to get the B68. I don’t like taking the bus, and this is generally the only bus I take. When it arrives, the driver says, “Get on the one behind me”.

When that one arrives, the other driver says, “I’m done”

“The other driver said to get on your bus,” I explain, with a couple of tired passengers behind me to back me up.

“I’m done” He’s stone cold, with his gloved hands up at a full stop.

We head down to the F train, which isn’t so bad if it weren’t for the fifteen-minute walk from the stop to my house. Fortunately there’s a bus that can cut that down to a five minute walk if I’m willing to wait. I arrive at the bus stop to find four people already waiting. Their names are Kate, Kat, Val and Chris; they are my age, and the first thing I hear from them, with all the aching walking and waiting, makes it all worthwhile.

“We been waiting for this bus so long, we coulda watched a whole other episode of Golden Girls, lemme just point that out” says Kate. This iconoclastic moment all but drops the exhaustion from the day behind me. My heart lifts and I slump down to jot it out.

“Y’know someone learned English from watching Golden Girls” Kat says.

“Yao Ming” Kate and Liv say simultaneously.

The bus comes and the girls say goodbye to Chris, boards the bus with me. He tells me he’s engaged to Liv and shows me the tattoo on the inside of his lip, which spells out her name in black ink. “I got so blottoed before I got it done, but the moment the needle touched my lip” He jolts upright and his eye shoot open, “Stone sober”.

We talk about the originally kung-fu stars of Hong Kong Cinema and he tells me about the price of beer in Berlin “Twelve cents after the bottle deposit”. My stop comes in a few moments and I bounce all the way home.

May 13, 2009

Karma and Calculations

Filed under: Uncategorized — jonahman3000 @ 9:51 pm

            The rain lets up for me just as its time to get out of rehearsal. I walk through Crown Heights to get to the shuttle train at Franklin Avenue. I’m dressed up from an afternoon at the theater; as a lanky white boy, I’m a sore thumb in the heavily Caribbean-and-African-American neighborhood. Many used to equate this place high crime and racial tension but a lot of the crime you read about is on Wall Street and the Upper East Side.

            I sit on the platform bench, exhausted, scanning an article in the New York Times Magazine about the Dutch Welfare system. I’ve got my brown leather messenger bag and black camera case on either side, a pure example of inconsistency in this working class/ghetto culture last-stop station. I enter the train, which waits for a few minutes before reversing its path. I attempt to continue reading despite a young mother talking loudly on her cell phone. She’s pushing her young son around, not paying any attention to him and eventually chooses to leave the train, dragging him carelessly behind her.

            I fume for a bit about her lack of attention and insensitive grip of his wrist. It’s late in the evening and the doors close. We’re halfway to the next stop when I realize—I forgot my camera bag. The bag holds a brand new $800 HD camcorder. My mind and heart begin to race and I calculate the possibilities while preparing to exit at the next stop:

            The thief passed me, part of the swarm that crowds the platform at the last shuttle stop. I’m already up and waiting to board, so he sees that there is no potential owner next to the package. His swift actions have already been calculated in the numerous thefts he both succeeded and failed at. His billowy clothes have been streamlined to accommodate many items.

He knows that a seamless snatch would be barely noticed although it’s possible that the owner has run back to grab his/her bag and realize it’s been stolen. It’s unlikely, however, that the owner would be able to rush down the stairs at a quicker rate than the descending crowd. Finally, the theif calculates, it would be nearly impossible for the owner to get in front of the crowd and in a discernable position to scan for his/her stolen item.

I rush down the stairs and out of the station, beginning my damnable frantic stride back up Franklin Avenue. Still somewhat hopeless, I consider the irony of the skinny white guy practically running up through this neighborhood to prevent the potential crime made available by his own negligence. Picking up some sense, I begin to walk through the street in order to hail down a cab.

I figure that the probability of my camera being stolen, already at a high considering the mass of denizens already passing by it, is only increasing by the minute. So, to decrease that probability, I can cut a 7 minute walk into a 3 minute cab ride by the application of a mere $5 toll in the face of an $800 loss. The cabby charges me $7 for a four-block trip. Highway robbery…

I faultlessly glide through the turnstile (my 16-minute window between rides on my unlimited Metrocard ticking off with impeccably good timing) and rush up the escalator. The speed of my double-step jumping compounds with the upward motion of the escalator, but the blur of hyper speed gives way to an open-air subway platform—with no camera bag on any of the seats.

The next train in the station has been boarded, but has not yet departed. I dart onto it, using the highest possible scanning ability to look for my bag while moving quick enough to cover both cars before the doors close. It seems nobody on this train stole my bag without the deviousness to keep it out of sight of the owner.

I descend the stairs, dejected, with one final possibility before me. This possibility depends solely on the good of the common man. Someone, man or woman, saw my bag, saw that it was not in the vicinity of any other passenger, asked anyone close-by of it’s origin and came down to the station attendant to hand it over to the authorities (I put a marginal increase of probability in this scenario considering the “If you see something, say something” vigilance ads)

I ask the station attendant if anyone brought down a black bag,

“Around this big”, my hands cradling every last hope.

“What size?”

“Like this” I hold the phantom bag on all six sides as though I probably won’t touch it again.

He points towards a set of massive steel doors. I pull its heavy weariness open and see before me a bizarre stretch of an empty concrete hallway. At my feet is my little black bag, tilted and upside-down, as though it had been dropped in the favor of an arriving train. I pick it up, check it’s contents (all intact and untouched) and thank the station attendant with both hands clasped in each other.

The train has left, and I happily wait for the next one. They say the crime rate in New York City has dropped 90% in the past 18 years, but I can’t slap statistics on whoever had the sense to do the right thing tonight. I can’t exactly look at a karmic record either, with all my good and ill deeds wavering in complicated woven pattern, both invisible and opaque.

When I get out at my final destination, it has started raining again.

Three’s a Charm

Filed under: Uncategorized — jonahman3000 @ 9:50 pm

“Starting now, I won’t watch TV for a month” She says. She sports a wool brown hat with various pieces of colored lint sewn into a central pink and beige band with points popping out like bear ears. Below that is a funky jacket with shaggy green fur in horizontal strips. She carries a green and white plaid STRAND bag.

She is with a man who is equally bohemian, but two generations removed. Her grampa has an indistinct brown jacket and stark white hat, fur-lined that almost perfectly matches his gray-handle bar mustache. There are splotches of white paint on the back of one hand, blue on the back of the other.

“Cassandra is coming over Sunday!”

She gasps.

“Do you want Hannah to come over too?”

“YEAH!” her enthusiasm is only matched by her diverting curiosity “Why does it say ‘I like’ on your hand?” He shrugs teasingly. She opens the hand in question and reads it, “I like 9…what does that mean?!”

The L train comes. They will travel one stop, going from the tip of the East Village into the heart of Williamsburg, which some call the East East Village. They will travel under a river, from a historic but immortal center of art, free thought and expression into a new world.

“Why would someone put $5000 on a Metrocard?”

She drops two Metrocards, one of them is white with lime green lettering.

“What’s that one?”

“I don’t know, I found it”

“Does it work?”

“I haven’t check yet!” Her bright green eyes are wide—almost as wide as her over-bite grin. She fumbles.

“You dropped them again!”

She giggles and guffaws at her own clumsiness. Barely two seconds pass before she drops them again and picks them up.

“Why do you keep doing that?”

“It’s like Gramma says” as she gets up “things happen in 3’s!”

He guides her off the train.


*                                    *                                    *                                    *


“Did Pop go to college?”

“ A little bit. He went to NYU for a couple semesters”

“Wasn’t for him?”

“No, probably not”

“Yeah, I can just image him tapping his pencil” She says, with a faux-grim look on her face.

They talk about college prices for a bit. He takes off his tan Woodsman hat, with it’s soft wool flops on the interior and holds it upside-down, letting the strings on the end hang down shaking at the mercy of the train. He focuses on them softly while chatting with his daughter. He speaks to her like a peer, with the friendly small talk rolling off his shoulders. She is learning things, always, and maturing.

“Prospect Pahk. Prospect Pahk” He says, imitating the conductor. “Gettin’ there slowly, slowly. About halfway across Brooklyn. Another half to go”

Look at this guy”, he says lowly, head squarely faced to the left in a distinct effort not to stare. “To the right, to the right.” A bright magenta mohawk enters the train and walks the opposite direction. “I can’t believe that woman was wearing sandals and no socks yesterday”, He says “Retaaaaaaaarded. And those guys with no belts. It’s a world-wide phenomenon.”

The train lurches a little but stops. “Just kidding” the girl gives voice to the train. His fat tan leather gloves, are the identical color of his puffy coat and hat. He’s stretching vastly out in a forest of tan. “I don’t feel like stoppin’, pickin’ any of you folks up” He voices for the train as we speed into DeKalb Ave. station “That means another subway’s close behind. These poor folks aren’t gonna get picked up”

The train stops. “Nope” They both say, and laugh. “Close the damn door” The warm mid-western accents and spirits are miles from any harsh, impatient temperament native to New York City, among others.

“Leaving Brooklyn” she says.

“That’s the Brooklyn Bridge. There’s an incredible story of how that was built”

“I know, I read it!” She says excitedly. He tells her about the Bends and I politely inform them that the chief engineer suffered a ferry accident that brought him to his death. It was his son, Washington, which fell ill from the Bends.

“See I could never remember any stuff like that.” The Dad says. “I’d be on Jeopardy like, ‘Who built the Brooklyn Bridge?’, ‘Uhhhh….John Brooklyn? Aggghhh’” He cracks up, his smooth mouth arcing high around his high-bridged nose. “’How much did you bet?’ ‘Uhhhh…30,000’ Alex Tribeck would say ‘Man, you’re the stupidest person who’s ever been on this show!’”

“Hey we’re here! Canal!”

“Yeah, it brought us right to it. Isn’t that amazing?”

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