I’ve been riding the subway a lot lately.
For the past four years or so, I haven’t had to. My commute, as it were, comprises of going from the top of a flight of stairs to the bottom, through a room, ’round the way, and suddenly in a small subsection of my home with cheap carpeting, fluorescent lighting and all the other trappings of a humble, modern office.
But my girlfriend lives in Central Brooklyn, and, since Sandy, when my home also became the home of displaced family members, I’ve found my way out to her place to spend evenings and weekends.
And, thus, a commute is born. A commute “of sorts,” anyway, since I get to choose my own hours and can operate the entire business on my cell phone, if need be. And commutes are rarely anything if not mandatory, so the optional nature of it makes the word “commuting” somewhat imprecise.
But a commute we’ll call it.
So my commute now is about 20 minutes on the subway at whatever time pleases me, and so surely that means you won’t see me during rush hour. No one wants to be on the subway during rush hour. Not when Mr. Lee gets on at Canal Street with his red shopping bag sweating fish juice that inevitably finds itself perspiring on your leg, or when the Showtime Boys elbow out the space needed to defy gravity, or when Hally Toesis stands at the pole, face to face with you, mouthing the words to Fifty Shades of Grey with breathy whispers, punctuating the decadence with whiffs of tooth decay.
No. No one wants to be on the subway during rush hour.
And so I find myself on the train during “regular” hours. My Midday Commute.
And I’ve learned something about commuting, as it were, in the middle of the day. During regular hours. And yet, there is so very little that is “regular.”
I ride along with the dregs of society. The animals and the malcontents and the mouth-breathers and the twits. Yes, I’m sure they’re there during rush hour – no, I know it – but the herd appears thinned when buffered by the somewhat normal city dwellers. In those situations, the dregs just don’t stand out until they start muttering to themselves, and even then only get sideways glances from the complicit straphangers, for whom, I imagine, the greatest fear must be to have another straphanger call them a weenie for changing seats or, gasp, alerting a conductor to one disturbance or another. (Well, I suppose if conductors went about addressing disturbances, we’d have quiet subway cars that never make it anywhere.)
So I ride the train in the middle of the day with the dregs, and anyone who is friends with me on Facebook knows I occasionally let off a little steam just to be consoled by friends and perhaps, hopefully, maybe, hear a kind word from the world that I’m not alone, not crazy, not one of the dregs myself.
Like last week, I shared this story: I sat down on the train and saw an Olympic-sized pool of spit sloshing its way closer and closer to me on the humped curve of a Q seat. I didn’t see it when I sat down, and I was reluctant to move – because some straphanger might think me a weenie – and so instead I sat and I glared at it and glared at the guy two seats away who kept making hocking sounds – the mating call of the dreg, I suppose – who I assumed summoned this watery golum from the depths of the shambling mess of his existence.
And I looked across the row and saw a mouth breather, the kind of person who you can’t help but imagine a bouquet of bacteria bursting forth with every exhale. And down the line, one of the twitchers, whose bodies always jerk and jive in exaggerated response to the subway’s rumbling ride.
There was a guy whose ass hung out of his tighty whities, which hung out of his jeans, and none of which – ass included – was where it should have been, anatomically speaking. He was testing out his ringtones, which all appeared to be purchased in 2003 from one of those commercials that aired on late-night cable television; the ones that told you how you could show your friends you were at the cutting edge of technological achievement if your phone blasted a midi of Chingy’s “Right Thurr” when mom calls.
And between all of these people there was me. Me and no one else. The ratio of dreg-to-Ned was about 16-to-1.
But I ride the subway in the middle of the day because no one wants to be on the subway during rush hour. Maybe I ought to reconsider, before that dreg-to-Ned ratio worsens.
The open thread is now open.