Inhuman Swill : Subway

Uh-oh! Oreo!

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Oreo mayhem
Oreo packet,
rip'd open and crush'd on the
subway floor. Tragic.

—for the kid in all of us

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Brooklyn-bound N train, Thursday evening.
Leaving Ditmars Boulevard,
End of the line,
He slouches through the doors from the next car
Like a gunslinger into a quiet saloon.
Angry and blond under a straw fedora,
Jaunty beach towel around the shoulders
Of his Cuban shirt,
Belligerent hips thrust forward,
Hand jammed down the front of his
Oversized blue swim trunks
Like he's just waiting
To unload on the first cocksucker
Who looks at him funny.

No one gives him the satisfaction.

Where's he coming from, this Lord of Flatbush,
This Warrior coming out to play?
There's no beach at Ditmars,
Not unless you just swam over from Rikers.
It's ninety minutes to Coney Island
And dusk will soon be falling.
A hundred minutes, let's say, since humiliation
Sent him fleeing the sand and cotton candy
To the farthest corner of the earth:
Astoria, Queens.

But the gravity of betrayal on an otherwise
Perfect afternoon draws him back,
Back to an abandoned beach blanket for two
In the shadow of a graffiti-tagged lifeguard tower.
Flopped in a plastic seat, legs splayed,
Glaring and helpless,
He burns to curse the heavens,
But all the God was prayed out of him as a child.
Or is he still a child,
Hand down his pants
Fondling his balls like worry beads,
Like a long-dormant rosary?
Hail Mary full of grace.
Spectacles, testicles, wallet, watch me,
No, don't watch me,
What're you lookin' at anyway?

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Never again

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The never-agains are starting to come thick and fast. I realized already that I may have eaten at our favorite Greek restaurant, Aliada, for the last time. But just now I realized that I will never again buy a 30-day MetroCard.

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You're a real gone guy

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He's highstepping up the subway stairs ahead of me—tall, soda-straw thin, hair cut Ivy League style and slicked back on top, long sideburns curving to points near the corners of his mouth—back rigid, knees rising and falling in a bizarrely quick clockwork rhythm. Tight black denim jacket, pegleg jeans with the cuffs rolled up, black sock, Converse hightops.

As he pulls away up the ramp at the top of stairs, twisting the throttle, I think to myself, Now that must be the Stray Cat Strut.

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Steinway Street Station

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A sign at my local subway stop warns me that the station is managed by one Crythen Langhorne.

Every time I see this sign, I feel as if I have somehow wandered into New Crobuzon. And I check the track bed for nasties, just in case.

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Subway safety for dummies

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Speaking of which, I have a subway-tracks story of my own, though I was no hero, believe me.

I had lived in New York only about two years when I let someone do something stupid. It was late at night and I was waiting for the train on a thinly populated but by no means deserted D platform at Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. Near me, a girl who couldn't have been more than 20 was digging for something in the front pocket of her jeans. The jeans were so tight that she couldn't get her hand into the pocket very easily. When she finally latched onto whatever it was she was after and pulled it out, a few folded-up $20 bills popped out of her pocket along with her hand and went sailing out over the edge of the platform. They landed right in the rail bed.

The girl, who was slender and less than medium height, stared down at the bills in chagrin. "Shit," she said, "that's sixty bucks." She noticed me and came over. "Hey, mister, if I climb down there, will you help me up again?"

I should have said no way, but it was very late, the girl looked desperate, and who knows how long it would have taken to find an MTA employee and report the loss. (That's what you're supposed to do—there are signs on the trains telling you never to climb down onto the tracks if you lose something.)

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Hero between the rails

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This brief article from the New York Times begins by asking who hasn't thought about what you'd do if you fell onto the subway tracks. I've certainly wondered, and more to the point I've wondered what it would be like to press myself flat in the bed between the rails while the train thunders inches overhead. Now Wesley Autrey, who jumped onto the tracks to save another man, knows exactly what that's like. Holy shit.

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My subway reading the past couple of days has been the Bruce Sterling collection Globalhead. This morning I was sailing right through—until I decided to change things up and take a different route to work. When I hopped onto the 6 train downtown, I entered the flow of a voice that made continuing to read impossible.

The owner of the voice wore a strip of newspaper pinned in her hair. She sat looking at nothing and no one, and her first rant was about how Bush should be impeached. Fair enough. Her next rant was a long, vulgar, and virtuoso screed against Condi Rice, which I wish I could reproduce in full but which ended with the phrase "got-damn bitch-ass skank."

I sort of lost the thread when Bill Gates became her next target—don't you know that AIDS isn't the problem, Microsoft is the problem?—but it occurred to me to wonder if anyone had bothered to tell her that the Democrats won Congress last week.

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No power until next week? So says Gothamist. Jesus!

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The 8% solution

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When you call ConEd today, they'll report an 8% voltage reduction in northwestern Queens. In our bit of Astoria, though, it's more like 8% voltage period.

For a couple of days now, throughout the heat wave, our power has flickered from time to time. We had pared our electricity usage down to bare essentials, like air conditioning and some lights. But last night, sometime between 11:00 and 11:30, the voltage fell drastically. Some appliances still ran, like the cheap digital clocks and the fan in the bedroom and the fluorescent light over the kitchen sink. But throughout most of our floor, there was not even enough power to run the lights. (The circuit breakers were all fine—I checked them.)

We sweated through the night with the windows open, though at least the thunderstorm last night had cooled things down. But there were lots of sirens.

By morning, a few of the incandescent lights showed a very faint orange glow if you turned them on. I called 311 and ConEd both, but got no helpful information. Laura took Ella out for a walk and gathered more helpful intelligence: electrical fires in the power lines all over our neighborhood. One man reported watching all the power lines for blocks around catch fire and burn. At 31st Avenue and about 44th Street, Laura herself saw a ConEd manhole cover in the street with black smoke pouring out it while it danced and popped and crackled. It was cordoned off and guarded by a cop.

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