How I got the photo of the knitting man

The gender-bending picture was too good to pass up

Barbara Finkelstein
Jan 23 · 3 min read
The Knitting Man | Barbara Finkelstein

My Achilles heel is graphic design. I know what I like when I see it, but I have no talent for solving aesthetic problems. When it comes to web or newsletter layout, I defer to an art director. Thanks to my text-soaked brain, I cannot make any distinction between cornflower and aquamarine. Shades of blue are either light or dark.

To my juddering delight, I — as aesthetically blinkered as they come — struck photographic gold one evening when I got on the train at 96th and Broadway and sat down next to a man knitting an orange shawl.

I pretended to use my phone the way everyone else did — to text, play Clash of Clans, check out Kindle. Instead I tapped on the camera app, vertically positioned the phone on my lap, got the man’s face, hands and yarn-work in the viewfinder and tapped again. I was sure the micro-flash would alert the fellow and I was prepared to say how much I admired him for his commitment to busting gender stereotypes.

He didn’t seem to notice anything, though, including my real reason for taking his picture: I was shocked. I knew of only one man who had ever embraced the needle arts. That was the defensive tackle Rosey Grier, a practitioner of needlepoint. Presumably, 6 foot 5 Rosey could take care of himself if anybody objected to his interest in an activity typically associated with the gentle sex.

Photo by Jens Johnsson on Unsplash

I do not know what has to happen to make a New Yorker sit up and gawk. Almost nobody paid the Knitting Man any mind, and from all external appearances, I didn’t either. I reached back into my bag for Fleishman Is In Trouble and kept stealing glances to my right. The Knitting Man was humming. If it was up to me, he’d get a Medal of Honor.

The fellow packed up his distaff stuff and got off the train at Columbia University where, I assume, tolerance for gender-role ambiguity is higher than, say, in Bensonhurst. Out in Brooklyn he might have to put down his needles and put up his dukes to defend himself against the adherents of a more aggressive masculinity. A kind word of advice to the Knitting Man: Avoid Brooklyn-bound A, B, C, D, F, L, N, Q, R, 2, 3, 4 and 5 trains.

I did not notice the dumbfounded expression on the face of the commuter a few seats down until I got home and uploaded the photo to my Mac. Now I know: All the best surprises do not necessarily fly in on the wings of words. Sometimes they arrive with the clatter of knitting needles.

If by some chance the Knitting Man sees my post, I hope he can stay strong, maybe even give it a clap or two. If he does not appreciate a wider audience for his yarn-work, I will be glad to take it down.

Barbara Finkelstein

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