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Subway Diary

An otherwise healthy-looking man is passed out, slumped on the subway car. A young woman rushes to get the conductor: ‘he’s not responding!’ I switch cars, gingerly stepping over the body, holding my laptop. Am I an asshole? Or just an ordinary New Yorker? Or just trying to not complicate an already complicated situation? Hard to tell. At my subway stop, deep in Brooklyn on the 2 line, there’s always someone passed out in the mornings (because we’re the second stop from the beginning of the line — so the overnighters aren’t awakened by commuters yet). It doesn’t seem so significant to me, except for the fact that this man is passed out on the floor and not a seat. If it was a seat no one would say a thing. The train is only delayed for a few minutes though — apparently the man woke up. The city flows around the poor, the dead, the ill, the drunk — the underclass, variously described — the way a river flows around a rock. Another man approaches me, looking a little tired, carrying a garbage bag in one hand and religious text in the other — written in Hebrew. “Are you Jewish by any chance?” he asks. “No,” I respond truthfully.

The man nods and moves on. I wonder what he was going to ask me if I said, “Yes.” It doesn’t matter. The river carries me forward. I’m on my way to play rehearsal — what a privilege. I’ve quit my full-time job; I don’t know if I’m happy about it or confused. I’m so used to having one it hardly matters now if I don’t: because my nerves, my brain, are wired to the mindset of a 8–4 employee; it will take months to build a new life — to literally build a new life out of my body, my soul; to rewire myself. I wonder if it’s even possible — if I’m too old to reconfigure the way I exist in the world; if I’m permanently damaged, like a cathedral in wartime Germany. Who knows, who cares. Certainly no one on the subway — and they would never know; can’t know. I am another mind: self-contained, invisible, unknowable. Just as they are to me. Perhaps they are even thinking what I’m thinking now. I won’t ask. I’m not sure I care.