Thursday, February 19, 2015

subway music

most subway stops, in Brooklyn especially, are wet this time of year, not freezing, not warm, but damp, and full of people up to their eyeballs in wraps and zippers and hats pulled low, scarves pulled high, echoes and drips, water running with a surprisingly swift current down the tracks. you and everybody mostly stand there and wonder how it's possible for one person to miss so many trains by so few fractions of a second. sometimes there's music from the other end of the station that frees your breath, sometimes you just bend and unbend your knees, make sure your thermos isn't leaking in your bag.

if and when the train comes there will be one person singing loudly while listening to headphones, one toddler looking at his reflection in the window, one man with a bike staring at the ground. there will be one person who lets go of a pole to turn a page of their book and falls into the man next to them. she/he will right themselves, she/he will go back to reading. sometimes you can understand the conductor and sometimes you cannot, so sometimes someone will jump up and run to the doors just as they close, missing their stop. They will stand there for a second as the train begins to move, then turn around and glance into the eyes of someone in the car, walk back to find that someone has taken their seat.

occasionally there will be music. maybe soft thrums of a guitar, maybe, improbably, a violinist keeping their weight low, moving with the motion of the floor. maybe mariachi, perhaps a single person walking down the aisle and singing unaccompanied. sometimes they'll sing well, sometimes not, always bravely or maybe numbly, since you have to be either brave or numb to walk down the aisle, loudly, alone. sometimes there will be dancers who'll swing around the poles and flip and land on their feet. you will think of the man/the woman/yourself falling to the side while reading a book and you'll think now THIS is a body, this kid has a body. that's what they talk about when they talk about the human form. his hat will land back on his head and the music will go quiet and he'll stroll down the aisle and you will give him a dollar.

sometimes there will be people sleeping on the seats. spread across three or two, with a suitcase or with a cart piled with papers. actually, maybe this person won't be sleeping, but talking or yelling, or maybe the man across from him will be talking or yelling or maybe that's the sound of a group of high schoolers who just got on, really on the train everybody is loud and everybody is quiet, we all just take turns.

Ladies and Gentlemen someone will say, I lost my job three years ago. I have a family to feed Ladies and Gentleman. Anything helps. Food to eat, if you have money to spare, God bless you. someone will pull out a Kashi bar, a woman in fur will rummage in her large purse and pull out a soft looking dollar.

sometimes, not often, the train will stop completely and the brakes will exhale loudly and there will be sudden stillness. not for long, or maybe for too long, and someone will have to crouch down and another person will murmur "I'm claustrophobic," and fifteen people will try to get cell service but mostly everyone will know that there's nothing to be done, so if it's not REALLY packed, if another person's hair isn't in their mouth, they'll stay quiet. except for the person who's turn it is to be loud.

things will get moving again and music will start or yelling will start and the doors will open. people pile out and people pile in, the doors close, (someone is a dollar richer,) and sometimes the train will make whistling sounds like the beginning of that song from West Side Story. "Theerrrrre's aaaaa plaaaaace for us..." and then the train will heave or roll or steam out of the station and each time everyone is newly gone, newly transported, on and on and on to the next.

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