Monday, November 24, 2014

stalactites in the subway

There are stalactites dripping from the ceiling of the subway lobby in Times Square.
I find this mesmerizing, and somewhat mystical.
Oblivious to the light and noise around them, the stalactites drip, undisturbed.
If they were dripping in a cavern deep underneath the earth, or in a brightly lit tunnel, they would never know.
They do not know the difference.
They just drip, calmly. 
Making up in serenity what they lack in sentience.


I am a firm believer in kindness.
In the words of Mother Teresa: "The world is lost for want of sweetness and kindness."
But also, I have been learning that part of living in a city of 8 million people means learning to set your own boundaries, because they hardly exist in the crush of people all around you. When people walk through the New York Subway, usually they do it because they are trying to get from Point A to Point B (surprise, surprise). Usually, people don't really just like loiter in the Subway. Except the Jehovah's Witnesses. I swear the Jehovah's Witnesses have set up a 24-hour post in the New York subways. Thus, inevitably, as I charged through the subway passage, a Jehovah's witness called out to me: "How are you?"
Feeling young, chipper, in good spirits, and full of good will towards all my fellow humans, I smiled and called out brightly: 
"Great!! Thank you!!"
He started to try to keep pace with me and tell me something about joining the chosen few or the rapture or "How Does God Define Real Success" but I could not hear him and I had to go do what they pay me the big bucks for, so I cut him off cheerfully:
"I actually have to go to work," I called out brightly and firmly over the crowd, in the same tone of voice I tell students: "That's not actually a question, that's you complaining about the grade you earned! And if you have a real question, I'll be happy to answer it!"
I actually have to go to work. That's why I'm in this subway, you see.

The man with bloodshot eyes approached me, and got right in front of me, with a confused but eager leer. There is an invisible barrier of space which is kept intact even in the most crowded of situations, even when packed together like sardines on the Six train. Usually you can tell that someone has breached this barrier by their manner: by the way they look at you, the length of their eye contact, by an erection* (*this actually happened. Fact, not ficton). Due to this particular man's sort of stoned demeanor and bloodshot eyes, I assumed that he was after drugs of some sort, and, if I was forced to make a guess, I would rule out Advil or Tylenol. Whatever illegal variety of substances he desired, I didn't want to wait around to find out. Hastily, I said in the firm voice that I use to tell my students to print out their homework and bring it to class on Monday. (And, yes you must print it, no you may not just email it to me): "I'm sorry, I cannot help you, sir. I am not here for that." I honestly had no clue why why he was there, but I figured it was not for the same reason that I was, so, with that, I walked to the other mural.
I hate to make rash judgements about my fellow humans, or diagnose their problems for them willy-nilly, but whatever other issues this man was dealing with in his life, he had one very clear problem: he absolutely could not read context clues. Oh, a girl in a Forever 21 Trench Coat, and a Grande Starbucks Hazelnut Latte? Clearly she must be a person who is vending some white pony.
Context clues, friend.

All this while, as I was waiting for my person to meet me, a man across the subway passage from me was playing an ungodly instrument, which was making an unbearable noise halfway between screeching and tinkling. I think it was supposed to be music, but it sure as hell didn't sound like it.
I was tempted to do great violence to the souped-up guitar upon which he was plucking the devilish notes. But, I do not believe in indulging in violence, or even fantasies of violence, as I believe it lessens our humanity. Violence debases all of us, reducing us to our sub-human instincts. Accordingly, as I listened to this man's strange instrument squeak out hellish discordant noises, I let myself fantasize several different scenarios in which I courteously walked up to him and said some variation of:
"Hey! I appreciate the effort! Thanks for trying to share your talent with the world. I know you think you sound good, but you actually don't. So why don't you go take some music lessons, and leave us all with some peace and quiet?"
Or: "Dear human being whom I respect: your instrument is using its outside voice right now instead of its inside voice. So I need it to start using its inside voice, since we are inside."
Or: "Thank you so much for playing! Music time is over now, unfortunately. So pack up your things and we'll see you next week!!!"
In all of these imaginary scenarios, he walked away with new valuable self-knowledge; his instrument remained unscathed; and all of us were left with the blessedly and comparatively peaceful noise of trains rushing by and people bustling by on cellphones.
Win. Win.
Unfortunately, I was too selfish to risk my comfort for the good of the community, so we suffered through the subterranean racket.


But the stalactites kept dripping, unaware of the discordant chaos around them. In complete stillness, their little drops of moisture created small mounds of calculus deposits on the ground beneath them. Blissfully ignorant of their surroundings, the stalactites kept growing, unaware that they were intrusions of nature into the habitat of man.

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