I hate you. Welcome to New York City.
Dear commuters, I hate you. I’m sorry that I hate you, but I do. And I know the reason I hate you is because I don’t know you. I’m judging you on the fact that you’re commuters and on that alone. I judge you en masse — because that’s how I perceive you. You’re a mass of people and you come out from the tunnels of a basement.
It’s not your fault. Where do you think the train platforms are going to be, in the sky? But that is what you do. And I hate you because you’re always in my way. And you move in a mass. And you’ve got that fixed expression in your eye.
You’ve just come from your loving family. I know that. You’re encumbered. You’re encumbered by much. But when you come out in your mass by the McDonald’s in Penn Station I race to get around you, to get ahead of you — I literally run to not get mixed in with you. You don’t seem to see. You just move forward in your mass.
And when you start to scatter that’s when things really get ugly. You charge like automatons in your different directions. You’re like mercury beading up and you march off in every which way. One wants coffee. Another goes into the McDonald’s. Yet another has to pick up cupcakes from Magnolia, almost invariably a female. Many, many of you head straight for the trains, but different trains, the A or the C or the E, the 1 or the 2 or the 3. And it’s this terrifying fixedness, along with the unpredictability, that most alarms.
It’s critical to get to the turnstiles in front of you — if not, all is lost. The concatenation of their cranking is too much to bear, along with the rhythmic swipe and beep of the Metrocards. Swipe, beep, crank; swipe, beep, crank; swipe, beep, crank; swipe, beep, crank. That terrible automaticity. That awful symphony. I run ahead to produce my single swipe and beep, smooth, almost well-thought-out. My push through the turnstile is a gentle melody, all on its own. It’s the difference between a solitary cardinal and a flock of noisy geese.
And then the stairs. How do you turn into the writhing mass that you do once you hit the stairs? I know it’s the effect of bottlenecking, trying to push your whole intemperate crowd through a funnel. God forbid I become part of that. God forbid.
And then the trains: how do they hold you? And where do you go? You have jobs, yes, of course, all of you do. You go off here, you go off there — you go from train to train. You spread out in your web through the endless city. You infiltrate every cell of New York, which, like a kind sponge, absorbs you all, and spits you back out at night.
And where does it end? You’re all sucked back in the opposite direction at five o’clock. It’s almost as if you move backwards until you reach Penn Station, and then you run. It’s you who are running this time, and you go off into your various tunnels — LIRR and New Jersey Transit — run.
You, too, have a life after all. You have a home. I’ve seen your streets and your houses. It’s a smart way to play it. I step out of your way when you tear down the corridor to catch your train, your train that leaves the city at five forty-five. NYC exhales in order to breathe you all back in the next day.
Some of you may spread out into the city at night, and that’s your right, too. It’s a badge of honor to stagger back late. I may run into you then and I may really like you. I might come home from some affair also, whatever that may be, and light upon you as you make your way across the street. You smile contentedly and head to Penn Station. In this case we exchange a hello. I’m going the opposite way as you and in that one moment we’re the only two on the street — for that split second we exchange a type of urban intimacy that’s as old as the night itself.
I might be sad to see you leave. I might wonder about your life, and your house and your streets. You go back to your train — we’re that far apart!!
In the morning you’re a commuter again and you become part of that impenetrable mass — that zombie apocalypse. You pour out of the tunnels as if at the sound of a starting gun. You trample all life in your way. You terrorize with your need as much as with your demand. The sound of those shoes — a marching army — not uniform. You sow chaos and leave nothing in your wake.
Forgive me. I’m a sensitive urban soul. I cower at loud noises and crowds as much as I’m drawn to them. I fear for my individuality because I know what an illusion it is. One in eight million. Anything viewed in a mass is horrible. Look at the way ants crowd around an anthill. Look at that bathtub-sized tin of lasagna. You have to have the strength of a god to see beauty amidst the riotous, calamitous throng.
The hunger, the sorrow, the need, the joy … all camouflaged behind a business suit, a straight skirt and blazer, a simple shift dress and always, always the right shoes. God, you’re clever! You make it your right to be there. Yes, you do belong.
I crawl out of my minuscule studio each day hoping to avoid you but what befalls me the day you’re not there? The vast emptiness of a story untold — an urban nihilism to scar the soul of even the most jaded among us. I need you. And NYC needs you. It’s my need that leaves me naked and ashamed.
And thus when I say I hate you perhaps it is really to say that I love you, and I want you there. Thank you for being you. And welcome, welcome, welcome to NYC.