Friday, April 07, 2006

The Voyeur's Voyeur

There's really no better spot than the subway to witness people operating in an unnatural and often uncomfortable environment.

Four and a half million commuters cram into New York's subway system every day, sliding seemlessly underground from Point A to Point B with a packed car full of complete strangers. Mix enough different races and religions and lifestyles together on a daily basis and you're bound to produce a potent cocktail of interconnectivity. People Watching, sport of kings (and Queens).

And there ain't a calendar day gone by that don't feature some semblance of communal humor, situational irony or cringing comraderie down there. It's the closest thing we have to that nostalgic gathering place where we come together to laugh, to inhale with one nose the foul stench of the passed out homeless dude, to collectively mock and judge the riders that talk way too loud.

But there's something people often tend to forget: While you're watching someone else, someone else is always watching you.

Someone's watching when you're rolling your eyes at the dashiki-clad Dionne Farris look-alike who's contorting and twitching and gyrating in dire need of an exorcism as she exerts tender fits of "praise Jeeeesus," or when you're silently mocking the heavy-set college chick in the #80 Weekes jersey, whose unconditional love for the New York Rangers is only trumped by her apparent love of black cock...

They're watching when you're basking in the Schadenfreude of a middle-aged French tourist in a black leather trenchcoat who's embarassingly trying to unhinge his trendy backpack strap-buckle inexplicably and impossibly lodged between two filthy subway benches, or when you're questioning the lifestyle choices of the arrogant Williamsburg feminist with as many lip and face piercings as condescending scoffs per hour...

They're watching when you're marveling at the Tyrone Biggums-impersonating crack addict fencing his hot double-A Duracells to a downtrodden B train in six different languages (including Hebrew and an African dialect involving clicks and blood-as-warpaint), or when you're contemplating immigration reform as you stare at the good-natured Guatelaman secretary on her way to remit three-fifths of her bi-weekly salary home to the four kids she left behind just to be able to feed and clothe them from afar...

They're watching when you're fixated on the mid-40s nebbishy math teacher who constantly re-adjusts his package when two Catholic schoolgirls board the train and talk about "Brad", or when you're snickering at the impending doom as two tired ladies fight passive agressively for the last seat on a rush-hour bench...

I'm the guy absent-mindedly focused on your reactions to the religious zealot, your expressions vis-a-vis the dubious battery slinger. I like watching people watching people. I'm the voyeur's voyeur.

Now here's my best Doogie Howser ending-a-diary impression: "And it's easily the most inspiring part of living in New York."

10 Comments:

At 10:33 AM, Blogger Don Fiedler said...

Have you ever seen that one woman who looks like her face is melting? She can't be that old, she's black, and she's constantly crying and making infant noises. She's easily the scariest person I've ever seen and the best reason to stay away from crack. She can't even speak to ask for change. Just crying and drooling and her face melting off. And the stink that she has generated is beyond description. I banged her once on the A-train.

 
At 12:06 PM, Blogger PaulNoonan said...

My train derailed yesterday, and made me 45 minutes late. But I guess I'm glad I'm not dead.

Today some woman started waving either at me, or the guy right in front of me, and I failed to respond. And I'm still not 100% sure if I know her or not. Now I'm desperately hoping that I never run into this person again. I hate when that happens.

Also, some crazy black lady started yelling out that I was a "stanky white person." It's been a fun day so far.

 
At 12:32 PM, Blogger Kenny Alias said...

I call that post "Straphanger's Delight." Great band name.

 
At 12:32 PM, Blogger Kenny Alias said...

I was actually the center of attention in a little awkward situation on the subway (read PATH because I live in Hoboken)last friday night.

As my brothers and I and our harem of women were on our way into the village, we crammed into the Path train as it was leaving. There was this drunk/homeless dude sitting in the middle seat next to where I was standing. Apparently I must have made contact with his legs that were outstretched in the aisle because he yelled in loud drunk bum talk, "hey man, you like kickin people!" Immediately everyone around me either looked down into their free periodical or Ipod or watched out of the corner of their eye. Like a rationale person, I said, "Oh, sorry about that man." Two minutes go by and this guy again says, "Hey man, you want my seat!?" I say, "Ah, no. Why?" He says, "Cause you keep kickin me!" Because I was on notice from the first time, I knew that I had not actually made contact with this guy and I was getting annoyed at the awkwardness that our ladies were now experiencing. So I looked down at the bum and said, "Look man, this isn't you're goddam living room - it's a crowded train. If you stop lounging out and act like normal human being I think we'll be ok!" He immediately shut up and said nothing for the rest of the ride- maybe it was because I received approving looks from the women sitting on both sides of him. In fact, I actually got a pat on the back from some guy exiting the train at the Christoper street stop who said, "Nice man, can you believe that guy!?"

 
At 12:37 PM, Blogger Matty Mac said...

But Kenny.....that probably IS his living room. He just forgot to bring in the milkcrate/ottoman this time.

 
At 12:43 PM, Blogger jakezebra said...

Noonan's white?

 
At 2:44 PM, Anonymous en regalia said...

i was on an uptown headed for a halloween party in a refurbished (just for the evening) church...cannot give you the specific name or address right now, but its a beautiful space...anyhow, we are in full regalia and then a suicide or a fire on the tracks, or a combination of the two: a self immolation on the tracks stops our train...

after about 90 seconds in the darkness b/w stations (oh by the way we are high as buzzards on boomers) all of the sudden about 3 men in leather coats JUST ON OUR CAR id themselves as NYPD and tell us to relax...holy shit. these guys looked "normal" and i still am curious (this was maybe 1991) how many undercover officers are actually riding the rails. esp. in this day and age.

i speak in whispers even more than i used to. then again i am frequently talking about subversive things...but i wonder if it was only b/c it was halloween that 3 UC's were on our train...nice recollections all the same, that was one heck of a night. thanks

 
At 2:57 PM, Blogger the belligerent intellectual said...

"whose unconditional love for the New York Rangers is only trumped by her apparent love of black cock..."

EVERYONE knows this girl. And that's because a little piece of her lives inside all of us . . .

 
At 3:41 PM, Blogger Kenny Alias said...

That though occurred to me right after I said it matty. But it was no time for feeling sorry for homeless folks...

 
At 2:06 PM, Blogger Z. Madison said...

Genius post. And Don F - I know exactly the woman you're talking about melting/smelling up the A train.

I ride on the F and A all the time and let me tell you these two lines have shown me the most ridiculous action over the past seven years.

One of the better voyeuristic experiences I've had was one holiday - Thanksgiving, I can't be sure. I transfered across the platform at Jay St. in Bklyn onto an A. Very crowded car as it was a holiday morning and so the trains were on a modified schedule.

Like a mirage, I spotted 3 empty seats in a row. As I approached I suddenly realized why...There was a huge pile of feces on the middle seat. This was NOT something an animal could have produced folks, only a human could have marked their territory as such.

What a way to start the day - watching that piece of shit all the way up to 34th/Penn Station.

 

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