Because it’s so easy to be anonymous in this city, I admit to becoming something of a voyeur. From my perch on the third floor of our building, I look down on our street, the park, and the school across the way. I’ve seen fistfights, make-out sessions, people buying drugs. Ahead of their early morning shifts, I’ve watched service workers, with their furrowed brows and white uniforms, walk with still sleepy kids to the bus stop.
Inside our building, I can hear the opera singer on the first floor warming up. The sound of an action movie playing on the other side of the wall. Fights between neighbors. From our bathroom vent, I can hear someone with a deep voice singing in the shower. I don’t know which apartment he lives in, but sometimes I’ll turn off all other sounds and just listen to his joyful noise.
At the coffee shop, I hear conversations about breakups and vacations and the unthinkable thing that Mandy did to Farra. The writers looking anywhere but at the blinking cursor. The lonely looking guy at bar hoping to catch anyone’s eye.
I’ve found that people are at their most vulnerable on subway cars though. They’ve looked around the train, realized there is no one they know, and suddenly they relax into their anonymity.
On the train, I review the details of my companions. I notice their scuffed shoes, the Hermes scarf, the book cover, the groceries in the bag. The badly bitten nails. The student learning English by writing phases in his workbook.
I try to guess where they are going based on what they’re wearing that day. Are they riding in anticipation of something? Are they trapped in the ennui?
Tourists are another thing entirely. Swedish tourists look like they’ve walked right out of the 90s. The FFA kids from middle America look both awed and afraid. The couple that looked like they’d walked right off the set of Jersey Shore if Jersey Shore were set in a Spanish-speaking country.
If I’m lucky, sometimes I’ll catch the express or local train running on the parallel track across the way and will see all the people miserably pushed together there in that car. I try to assess how they’re spending their time in this communal purgatory. Most have headphones. A few read books. Some try to sleep. And every once in awhile, someone catches me observing, because they are observing too.
More than books or clothes, however, a peek at phone offers the most personal glimpse into a life. Next time watch your fellow companions when the train nears the station and service returns to their phone: How do they react to the text that just came through? A laugh? A sigh? A furious scramble to reply?
It’s not unusual to see people watching, ahem, sexy YouTube videos on their phones, and many, many people play colorful games where they stack bars, or dots, or fruit. People tend to scrutinize Instagram posts more closely than posts on any other social network. Most of the time I don’t recognize the musicians that pop up on someone’s device. I almost always recognize the podcasts.
Of course all of this observation turns in on you, makes you wonder what people see when they look at you. When they see this outfit, do they wonder what I do? What does this choice of book convey? How must it look to a train full of service workers at 6 AM to see this white girl on her way to yoga class? Can they hear the pop music coming from my earbuds?
A Quick Note
Like many of you, I’m spending less time on Facebook these days. That means I’ll eventually stop sharing updates about about these posts on my Facebook page too. If you want to continue reading what I write here, you can sign up to receive the latest posts by email, or add this blog to your favorite RSS reader.
“My folks were always reactionary conservatives — they blocked MTV growing up because it was a “perverting influence” — and they grew up to be Trump voters. It has destroyed my ability to trust them and go to them for advice and help, and in doing so, taken out most of the central columns in the essential parent-child dynamic. It makes me angry every day. Words cannot describe how much I wish I had just one intellectually sound, reliable parent at this time in my life, but Fox News got to them first.”
From I Hate What [Fox News] Has Done to Almost Everyone in My Family
Little Grill Collective! Harrisonburg! An unknown band!
Consider the Grackles (The Organist)
On the weekends, I play a game: What thing has been hanging out in my cabinet and how can I get rid of it? I had some leftover Gouda in the fridge and decided to make this rich version of mac and cheese. It was a unique take on a classic and I’d make it again.
For My Lover, Returning To His Wife
She is all there.
She was melted carefully down for you
and cast up from your childhood,
cast up from your one hundred favorite aggies.
She has always been there, my darling.
She is, in fact, exquisite.
Fireworks in the dull middle of February
and as real as a cast-iron pot.
Let’s face it, I have been momentary.
vA luxury. A bright red sloop in the harbor.
My hair rising like smoke from the car window.
Littleneck clams out of season.
She is more than that. She is your have to have,
has grown you your practical your tropical growth.
This is not an experiment. She is all harmony.
She sees to oars and oarlocks for the dinghy,
has placed wild flowers at the window at breakfast,
sat by the potter’s wheel at midday,
set forth three children under the moon,
three cherubs drawn by Michelangelo,
done this with her legs spread out
in the terrible months in the chapel.
If you glance up, the children are there
like delicate balloons resting on the ceiling.
She has also carried each one down the hall
after supper, their heads privately bent,
two legs protesting, person to person,
her face flushed with a song and their little sleep.
I give you back your heart.
I give you permission –
for the fuse inside her, throbbing
angrily in the dirt, for the bitch in her
and the burying of her wound –
for the burying of her small red wound alive –
for the pale flickering flare under her ribs,
for the drunken sailor who waits in her left pulse,
for the mother’s knee, for the stocking,
for the garter belt, for the call –
the curious call
when you will burrow in arms and breasts
and tug at the orange ribbon in her hair
and answer the call, the curious call.
She is so naked and singular
She is the sum of yourself and your dream.
Climb her like a monument, step after step.
She is solid.
As for me, I am a watercolor.
I wash off.