This Is How I Do Rush Hour in NYC

Note: According to commute’s Latin stem cells, it’s a hybrid of “altogether” and “change.”

In the years prior to my status as an urban denizen, I took an extraordinary amount of pride in performing the New York Power Walk on my occasional ventures into the city. A combination of a jutted out chin, lengthy strides and inability to perceive people, their strollers, little ones, luggage, and pull-carts as anything other than barriers on an obstacle course, the Walk seemed equal parts strategy and conceit. Self-important and solitary, for the Walk cannot be performed with a partner—much less a family, and routinely prone to self-justification, I nevertheless coveted the steel-willed a.m. energy it evoked and vowed to myself to strut my stuff come my 20-something professional days.

What I had failed to realize also accompanied said jaunt, was the New York Push and Squeeze. As a day trip tourist bus bum, I’d only rarely participated in weekday New York City commute patterns and notably, never from the Outer Boroughs at half past eight o’clock. What a bear hug I had waiting for me the day I transferred from the 7 local at Jackson Heights / Roosevelt Avenue for the E and F Express. MTA men with flashlights stared up and down the platform, keeping the peace, while dozens of bodies anxiously crowded the yellow line, oblivious of one another and yet totally cognizant that if they did not run straight into (or around) these individuals—if they did not, in other words, dehumanize fellow straphangers in an attempt to land inside a subway car before the doors closed—they could be abandoned on the platform until the next train arrived. (Three minutes later.)

I suppose it’s incorrect to speak of such incidents in such a detached, third person fashion, that invokes a sense of neutrality, omniscient narrator, when this narrator has been quite complicit in the New York Push and Squeeze herself. Indeed, it may have been used as recently by the narrator as last Thursday when she horrifyingly woke up at 8:05 a.m. and had to make the Jackson Heights transfer at 8:29 a.m. and several days before that at Grand Central / 42nd Street, attempting to shove and shoulder and corner her way into a cattle herding 4 Express train at 8:36 a.m.

But if this essay, seems to hint at some sort of internal unease about these commuter habits, let me return, at first to the New York Power Walk. When I at first moved to a Corona duplex last August, I reassessed my new idea and decided I had no desire to adopt such a strident stroll and indeed,  mapped out a personal, moral framework that governed commuting and timeliness.

My reasoning was such: rushing, that is the act of feeling pressured for want of time, skewed my sense of moral agency in a given situation. Suddenly, what may have been perceived as choices when given copious amounts of time, become contexts where I had convinced myself I had no other option, but a self-interested mandate. In other words, I became flooded with the awareness that under time-related pressure, the selfless choice was often squeezed.  

Related example and necessary confession: A hunched over, elderly man attempted to cross the street last night at 12:45 a.m. at 1st Avenue and 23rd Street. I, as a bicyclist, was in a prime position to dismount my vehicle and escort him across the street—shielding him from any drunk motorist that would barricade into him. But, I was quickly able to quash this humanitarian (and inconvenient) gesture because it was already so late (!) and I needed to get back to my Queens home at a reasonable hour.

Very related example: If I don’t make this E train, I will be late(r) and shame my bosses and make their life miserable because they will feel like a failure for having hired me so there is nothing wrong with me shoving the masses (who are also shoving me) to make sure that I get on this subway car. Damnit.

Other very related example: That poor woman struggling to lift her stroller, with baby, down the stairs, I wish I could ask if I could help her but I might miss my train and I would stop the traffic flow of commuters marching behind me if I paused to ask her about this and that would be ugly so I won’t even go there instead I will just go.

Other very related example: I’m just going to pretend I don’t see the misery of New Yorkers all around me (person that has the same bangs as my sister sleeping on cardboard boxes outside Grand Central, pregnant women with sharpie signs and a sad story, feeble looking elderly folk clanging and jingling plastic cups) because This May Interfere With My Commute And I Am In A Rush. (Also, I Am Self Important, See My Walk.)

Ah, but see the detriment and discharge of rushing. The dearth of self-reflection on steps, the lack of holistic movement, the tendency to turn commutes into routes where morality and self-awareness may lay dormant without reproach and the sense that all this mindlessness really abets some sort of evil, if only thru our apathy.

We are not animals and the 4 train is not where the cows come home. To move is to be alive; to commute is to be human?  

 

Sept. 22

House’ A Quiet Darkness still disturbs me, still teases me into thinking my bed needs another body.

There’s a breeze tonight fluttering and then dying down through the windows’ that I shoved up the first week I lived in Elmhurst and have yet to yank down.

This weekend:

  • Square Dancing (and casual bonding) with Josephine. How I love to laugh with my eyes and frolic with  New York City people!
  • Marielle and I perched on the ferry to Governor’s Island and soaked up the Statue of Liberty scenic-ness, picnicked on the lawn, danced around the French Carnival, giggled with goats, wished we had little ones, and wondered why we’d never done any of this before in our lives.
  • Chelsea, Mae and I strode down the Highline and up to the Standard bathrooms window with a view and then found a well-lit (because of the inversely proportional lighting and pricing ratio) noodle joint that fed our tummies so nicely. To be quite honest, I’m fairly convinced that I felt more satiated socially here in the city than I’ve ever.
  • Shoved two Trader Joe’s bags into Finnerty’s and recognized no one. Apparently, Baggs and Schulman came through later but I don’t know how to approach noisy groups when there’s there not a Giants game growing in the background. Lonely, because for everyone else, it’s community.
  • Junior High. I’m not stuck on anyone there but I’m a pro at the spontaneous generation of post-it activities. Poor Vanema.
  • I had no companion at the Brooklyn Bridge Festival and never felt lonely. Instead, I listened to Column McCann’s lilting, tragic accent read ambassador-peace poetry and Patrick Ness’ American/British hybrid speech expound on how kindness and niceness aren’t synonymous and Jane Yolen hijack the panel discussion to blurt out tidbits of her brain. Positively jubilant and I loved my yellow shorts-white-button-up-black-flat outfit too.
  • The Giants beat the Yankees on Mariano Rivera day and Andy Pettite’s last start. Pettite even took the loss. And all the prose and venues and yellow leaves were so pleasant I forgot to be sad I choose Brooklyn over the Bronx and Ness over the Giants and free over priceless.
  • Five years ago this weekend I saw the Yankees beat the Orioles in the last series ever played at the old Yankee Stadium.
  • My phone has terminal cancer. First five buttons lost their mobility and the speaker’s broke. Only a matter of time before I can’t make calls at all. I suppose I’ll try surviving right now.
  • I chowed on nachos tonight with folks from a clean water NGO that will all be in and about the General Assembly meetings this week at the United Nations. How should I feel when none of that dazzles me the way it might have?

Happy 15 years of Bfflship Alyssa Robin Hunnicutt Johnson. I wore a feather in my hair today and I love you so.

“Well, I want someone to hold onto me while I die”

Occasionally, there are scraps of text so dextrously placed together to form individuals so beloved that I have no choice but to fall for them and then keep myself upright and balanced and let my eyes burst with anguish while they fall (and get up) and fall (and get up) and don’t get up again.

And occasionally my body just convulses, the prose transforming into some dangerous potion that has just as visceral of a response as any chemical might have. For I have loved and I have loved so much.

My brain and my soul are still writhing as I slouch on my bed, 30 minutes removed from completing Patrick Ness’ last chapter in his Chaos Walking trilogy. Eff. (Though do you think it was the abbreviation I spoke?) And mascara all over the soft part under my eye, and smeared on the back of my hand, and stained onto paper of the penultimate chapter.

But. (Please press play. Please continue.)

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The one persistent reality of the series is Ness’ invention of noise. That is, visuals, sounds, images, endless streams of thoughts, all released from the clandestine compartments of the brain and transformed into a public buzz. There is speech and body language but there is also noise and it is unrelenting and shreds through norms about gender, privacy, security.

And yet the way that Ness’ book is constructed, his fragmented sentences dropping off after the —

His notation of realizations that interrupt and–

His play on fonts, CAPITAL LETTERS–

This series? This voice? This relentless, jackhammer like, incessant fuss that wails from these pages…

And I want to–

Let me–

Leave.

And I am loath to leave, because I want to be here.

And so much of me craves nothing more than kneading the rich dough of theory and ideas and the murder of them. Can we talk about my right to an animate daughter at the expense of of your listless son? Can we scale that?

Can we ask how much we are responsible for when someone else made the choice? Is the executor of such as complicit as the decision maker?

We are the choices we make. (Or are we the choices that God made?)

Your mind will believe comforting lies while also knowing the painful truths that make those lies necessary. And your mind will punish you for believing both.” 

XX

this summer I read two books about a male and female living in reality with two moons. note to haruki murakami: your literature has as wholly effective a grip on my emotional state as any piece of book that I’ve been captive too this past 100 hours but 1Q84’s tengo and aeome never laid siege to each other’s consciousness, being, and personhood the way todd and viola did. so i did not tremble. and i did not weep.

but two others that did: The Fault in the Stars and Mama Day. may their dearly beloved protagnoists now rest in peace but eternally jar my soul.