Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Sitting Down - an attempt at poetic verse

And now, for something completely different... some attempts at poetry from the opinionated layman.  In this installment, we contemplate one of life's luxuries when living in New York City:

The subway, back when I was a kid.  For everyone today who never knew the subways to be like this,
count your blessings!

"Sitting Down"

Luxuries come in small doses
In New York City.

Down below
Where the scent of urine lingers in fetid air
Where a sliver of concrete is an island
Populated by dozens – even hundreds of people
For only a collection of minutes.
But it can seem much longer than that
When there’s only so much space
On that dirty concrete sliver of an island.

Trains come screeching into and out of the station
Blowing dust and debris and trash
Thin aluminum doors jerk open
And human beings of all sorts pop out.
Some pushed, some stumbling like they were leaning on the door before it opened
Most just rushing, rushing, rushing.
Only when a train is put out of service do people leave a subway car slowly
Reluctantly, wistfully
As if not wanting to leave what a minute before
Had been someplace from which they otherwise would have preferred to escape.
(“Sick passenger” is one of the things you don’t want to hear as a subway passenger
because that means your train is automatically going out of service
and there’s nothing you can do about it.)

So all ashore that’s going ashore
Having bolted from the train
But there’s no pause, no interlude... nope!
Even before the last person exits, others are pushing through the doors, clamoring inside
An intricate weave and bob and dance
As some rush out, and some rush in
Through the same little openings in an aluminum tube.

And let’s not forget the bags
The shopping bags of all sizes from stores posh and plain
The hand-held briefcases with their hard corners
The enormous backpacks with their swinging straps
The diehard travelers with their rollable luggage
Crazy moms with their strollers
Musicians with their trombone and violin cases
The Chinese immigrants with their bags of raw vegetables, meat, and fish
The corporate women with an impressive number of designer leather bags hanging from both shoulders…
Back in the 80’s, punks boarded trains with enormous black boom-boxes perched on their shoulders.
Older women in faded London Fog topcoats boarded trains with a flimsy wire basket on two bent wheels.
Everybody's got something to haul, it seems.

cautions the conductor in a bleak voice that betrays the frequency of the warning
And whether you were able to hear the conductor or not, the doors suddenly spring shut
Whether you’re ready or not
Whether people are nearly sliced in two by the closing doors or not.
After all, the pace of the city can’t stop because you might miss your train
Although some people will give it a try
And push their briefcase between the closing doors
Or their arm, or hand
Sometimes the doors pop right back open as sensors detect the obstruction
Or sometimes they close hard
Or sometimes, to the amusement of those inside the car
They slam open and closed in rapid succession, pounding against the stubborn briefcase (bodily appendages have already been pulled away) like the doors are beating the obstruction into submission.
If they’re quick, the briefcase’s owner can dart onto the train
And everyone can proceed.
And all this within mere seconds.
Life happens fast in New York.

And there – ahhh! – in the middle of the car
But preferably at the end of a row
Or maybe in a corner
There it is
The prize of the subway rider
The throne of the victor, the patient, the weary
The orange square that heralds relief:
An empty seat!
Luxuries come in small doses in New York.
And most subway seats are colored orange.
Which makes orange the subway rider's color of reward.

The rules for the empty seat are at once complex and simple.
If the car is mostly empty, everyone can sit in complete freedom.
If the car is SRO, people may stand out of rare deference to others
Or because theirs is the next stop anyway
Or because they’ve been sitting all day at work
Or because personal space is also a valuable commodity in the dense metropolis.
Obviously infirm people
Wobbling on crutches or with a cane – are oftentimes given a seat
In a magnanimous gesture not wholly forgotten in the City
And obviously pregnant women are given seats too
But that’s about the limit of subway rider generosity.

Its that orange square, however
Gleaming from its plastic frame
That is the prize
People scope the car quickly
Their eyes darting throughout the car even as they dash inside
In an instant, calculations are made
Evaluations of the neighbors of the orange square
Is that guy drunk? Is that woman too obese that she’ll lean on me?  Might that kid mug me?
All up and down the car
And then, in competition with the others who have just entered this microcosm
You make your move, stake your claim,
Or sometimes in exhaustion
Or sometimes defiantly….
And then
You think… 
...What’s that smell...?

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