Monday, October 8, 2012

Love to Hate: Vol. 1

In an effort to complain less about things that aren't worth complaining about, I've decided to match every complaint with an opposite observation of greater or equal value. I'll be making this a regular exercise, the end game being that I become less of a curmudgeon and more of a fucking delightful and tolerable human being.

Let's start with something I hate.

Hate01 Hate02 Hate03 Hate04 Hate05 Hate06 Hate07

And now - something that I truly love.

Love01 Love02 Love03 Love04

Baby steps, y'all.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Essentially the Odyssey

I’ve lived in New York City for just about two years now. For the past year, I’ve been living in Brooklyn. I like it here. Just when I start to get sick of it, the season changes and it’s like I’m living in a brand new city.


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I truly love living here. I do. But it’s not all warm bread and puppy tongues. Put me in the greatest city in these United States and I’ll still find something to complain about. Watch me.

All things considered, the New York City Subway is pretty great. The cars are often clean, mostly air conditioned, and an affordable flat fee will take you from the northernmost part of the Bronx to the bowels of Brooklyn. My commute demands that I spend a minimum of eighty minutes each weekday underneath the city, cruising through tunnels and making a concerted effort to respect the personal space of strangers, in the hopes that they might respect mine. I am usually disappointed, and always too chickenshit to speak up.


The trains run frequently and consistently Monday through Friday. My daily commute is rarely interrupted by track changes or construction closures. It’s the weekend I need to worry about. I’ll learn on a Saturday evening that the closest train to my apartment, the R train, is not running - suddenly my plans are cancelled and I’m eating peanut butter straight from the jar in bed, gazing longingly out the window at the iconic Manhattan skyline in the distance.


That’s a lie. I don’t have a view of the Manhattan skyline. Only rich people have access to that sort of view.


Let’s for a moment assume that it’s late on a Saturday night, and thus far the trains have cooperated. I find myself on the upper west side of Manhattan. I’m wearing a Tina Fey lady blazer - partially because I’ve been told that it does well to hide my broad shoulders, but mostly because I know for a fact that Tina lives on the upper west side, and how’s that for a conversation piece? Matching lady blazers. I keep an eye out for Tina but am mostly focused on finishing the $9 well whiskey I just bought so that I can start to make the long journey home.

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Leaving the bar, I note that I’m closest to the C train at 86th street. I make my way there while muscle memory pops the earbuds into my earholes and I resume my favorite podcast.

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I realize that I can’t remember the last time I walked more than 40 feet by myself in silence. And this trip was going to take an hour, easy. I suddenly feel very alone, and very conscious of the fact that I’ve forgotten how to think without the aid of aural or visual stimulation. This is upsetting, so I kill some time by being upset.

I need to get from the upper west side of Manhattan to my neighborhood in South Park Slope, Brooklyn. As an unsettling silence fills my skull, I make a map in my mind and hope that the subway cooperates.

I'll take the C train from 86th Street to Jay Street MetroTech. I'll switch to the R, and take it to my stop, Prospect Ave.


I hurry off towards the subway entrance, a quick three blocks. Foolishly hoping to get there without incident, an older gentleman approaches me with an astute observation.


Despite all its weirdos, I rarely feel unsafe in the city. I tell the man that he’s right, and he seems satisfied enough. A gust of urine air - the urine of a person who might want to think about incorporating water into their diet - greets me directly in my face as I take two steps at a time going down to meet the C train. No one is on the platform - a sure sign that I’ve just missed a train. It’s me and this other guy. He looks normal enough. Friendly, even. But he’s making eye contact, which is a big no-no.


I have the Whiskey Bravery and consider asking him why he thinks he’s above the rules of subway etiquette, when I hear the C train screaming into the station. I meet his gaze and tell him with my eyes that this isn’t over.

As soon as I get on the train, the announcer mumbles nonsense into the speaker, and what I gather through his marble-mouthed rant is that this particular train will not be making stops in Brooklyn.


My brain-gps says “recalculating,” and I have a new plan.

I'll take the C from 86th to Columbus Circle. Switch to the 2. Take that to Times Square. From there I'll catch the R and take it home.


It’s a quick ride to Columbus Circle, and I exit the train to make the transfer to the 2. I have to run to catch it, and when I do, I find myself in a cold, bright, and mostly empty car. It only takes a few seconds to realize why it’s so empty.


The smell is not of this earth.


I’ve never been glad to find myself in the Times Square area, but tonight it meant freedom from a smell that was beginning to melt my face. The switch from world’s smelliest chamber to Times Square subway platform turns out to be a lateral one in terms of desirability, and I’m beginning to think of my apartment door as one would a long lost lover.

Times Square is unbearable, even underground, because of the tourists. This is not a unique observation. I’m not saying it because it’s obligatory, or because this opinion is shared amongst all “real New Yorkers,” whatever that means. I’m saying it because it’s true. And listen - I’m a tourist. What’s the first thing I did when I arrived in Rome? Posed like a Gladiator in front of the Colosseum, threw a euro in the Trevi Fountain, and ate a bowl of pasta at the apparently ungodly hour of 6:30pm. They hated me there.

But there is something unique about the New York City tourist. They flock to Times Square, pay $17 for a roast beef sandwich, and forget how to walk with any sort of efficiency. They shuffle up Broadway with their eyes glued to the sky as if they’d never seen backlit advertisements before. Everything must be touched. Everything must be filmed. Everything is fascinating.

I make my way through the mass of confused people, looking for signs pointing to the R train. The R takes me directly to where I live, and I intend to welcome it like an old friend.

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After what seems like hours, the R arrives. In the summer, subway platforms are saunas, and I’m not exaggerating. I’m standing still, and I’m sweating. Normally I have my kindle or my iPod to distract me, but right now, my full attention is focused on how miserable my life is in this moment. Upon entering the car I realize that it is un-airconditioned. I don’t sit in one of the many open seats, because I’m mad. As if the subway car will feel guilt and remorse for my being hot and tired. Whiskey Bravery has devolved into Whiskey Passive Aggression at Inanimate Objects. A fan favorite.

A girl sitting nearby is comforting her sobbing friend.

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We get to Union Square, and when the doors open, they stay open.


Turns out someone has left an old duffel bag in one of the subway cars, and no trains will be moving from that station until the sweaty gym bag has been sniffed by every police dog in Manhattan. They shut down the 4, 5 and 6 lines for good measure. That’s when I realize - I have no choice but to take the L train.

It'll be the L from Union Square to Lorimer Street. There, I'll catch the G, take that to 4th Ave, then switch to the R.


It has to be close to 4am at this point. It’s 4am on a Saturday night, and I’m being forced to take the L. The L is a unique train in that it cuts Manhattan in half from west to east, while most other trains, however loosely, stick to the “north to south” route. Another thing about the L is that it’s really the only train that makes sense to take if you’re trying to get to Williamsburg or Bushwick.

I’m not going to go into a hipster rant. Hipster rants have become so played out that hipsters are now re appropriating them by embroidering the rants onto lacey birdcage covers. They’re so played out that hipsters are making guitar effects from the rant audio and using them during gigs at the old slaughterhouse-turned-cafe. They’re played out to the point where Urban Outfitters is now selling an anthology of notable hipster rants. For $32.95.

So, like I said, I’m not going to rabble about hipsters and their mecca, Williamsburg. It’s not fair. But I will say this. For those who enjoy people-watching, get thee to the L train. It’s never boring. And at such a late hour, headed towards Brooklyn, there’s plenty to see as twenty-somethings make their way back to their unspeakably expensive apartments and unconventional pets.


My eyes are fixated on a girl’s shoes. They are somehow conch shells. As I try to work out the logistics of this, a man sits next to me. He looks to be about my age, and he looks almost as tired as I do.

“Do you know if this train goes to Morgan Avenue?” He asks me.


“No you don’t know? Or no it doesn’t go to Morgan Ave.”

“I don’t know.” Whiskey Passive Aggression at Inanimate Objects has turned into Whiskey Indifference. It becomes clear after a few exchanges that this man intends to bed me, should I allow it. I imagine this as his last-ditch effort to make something of the night, and in the competition of “Least Unattractive Lonely Female on This Particular Subway Car,” I came out on top.


Needless to say, I decline his offer, to which his response is, "yeah, fair enough." My attention returns to the conch shoes and stays there until Lorimer Street. I get off and start walking in the direction of the G train. The G will take me to the R, which will take me home. The issue with the G is that, being the only train that does not go into Manhattan, it is unreliable and poorly maintained. Before I can even read the notice posted on a column at the G train platform, I know what it’s going to say.


In actuality, it’s an MTA notice stating that G trains will not run towards Church Avenue from 12:01am until 5:01am on weekends for the indeterminate future. Another dead end. The whiskey has worn off, and I’ve gone straight from Whiskey Indifference to garden-variety Rage. I have no choice but to take the L back the way I came, and by the sounds of it, I’ve just missed it.

I'll catch the L back into Manhattan - at 14th street I'll switch to the F, take that to 4th Ave, and take the R home from there.


On the L platform, it’s just me and a woman who appears to live on the bench on which we’re both sitting. I'm now immune to strange smells. Even when she starts mumbling to herself about lizards ("Millions! Millions of them! Repent!"), I am unfazed. I leave the woman to her lizard fantasies as the L rolls into and out of the station. At this point, I’m mentally spent. I’ve run out of unique thoughts. I’m so desperate to keep my brain occupied that when a subway performer introduces himself and begins to play his weird piano-flute, my face lights up as if I’ve just found myself front row center at a Radiohead concert. To be clear, the only thing that this man has in common with Thom Yorke is a wonky eyeball and an implied eating disorder. Which, when I think about it, is a decent amount of common ground. What follows is an odd medley of Top 40 and generic classics. I’m visibly amused by his set list of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” followed by “Hava Nagila.” It should be mentioned that this man’s instrument of choice is a toy keyboard hooked up to what appears to be a hookah tube. He blows into the tube while simultaneously pressing the keys. A makeshift digital organ. The sound produced is neither unique or interesting - but my brain is starved for stimulation, and I’m captivated by the performance. The man takes notice and offers me his collection cup.

For me, this sort of moment ranks among the most detestable, as far as moments go. The look that a subway performer gives you when he silently asks for money in exchange for entertainment. The pregnant pause. The expectation. I didn’t ask for the entertainment. But for someone who spends a minimum of ten hours on the subway per week, it’s inevitable that I am inadvertently and genuinely entertained by a performer every once in a while. And I can’t shake the subconscious belief that I shouldn’t ever get anything of value for nothing.

The bottom line is - I don’t want to give anyone my money. Because it’s mine, and I need it. For things.

Since I don’t have my devices to distract me, I have no choice but to look into his eyes. I concede. There’s no other way. I reach towards the bottom of my shoulder bag to the gritty depths where all the small bits of my daily routine trickle down and settle. Weeks worth of receipts, change, and sand float around along with chapstick, pens, and post-it notes with weird reminders like “next time try beans” and “make purple.” I grab what I assume is a handful of change and repeat “pennies, pennies, pennies” in my skull only to find that I’ve come up with six quarters, two dimes and a tampon. Into the collection cup they go.

I’ve been underground for two hours, now. The journey home had thus far been so unbelievably disastrous that I’m not at all surprised when, at 14th street, I’m told by a grumpy MTA employee that F trains will not be running downtown. And, after numbly boarding the uptown F, I laugh to myself as I’m told that this particular F train is running on the C line, and that the next stop is 86th street. I’m back where I started.


It’s 5:30am, and the platform is understandably empty. Except for one man, and I recognize him.


My Whiskey Bravery is long gone. I don’t have the strength to confront him, and the issue seems so trivial anyway, now that I know for sure that I’ll never see the light of day again. I default to staring at his feet. Nearby, a sick-looking rat is eating a potato chip. It’s common to see rats on the train tracks, but up until now I had never seen one on the platform. How did it get on the platform? Where did it get that potato chip? More importantly, why do I feel as though this rat gets me?


And with that, the B train crawled slowly to a stop - as if the only thing the subway gods required was for me to be willingly humbled by a filthy rodent, in the lord’s name Amen. I thought very few thoughts and ten miles later found myself on the Prospect Ave platform - just four blocks from my apartment. When I finally resurfaced - hours after a man told me that I had eyeballs in my face - it was light out. I had to shield my eyes, like a mole-person. People were jogging, people were walking around with cups of coffee, convenience stores were opening. It was the most pathetic walk of shame in the history of these United States.


I might be projecting, here.