“Incident on the #2 Train” — digital collage by AleXander Hirka

What Do I Do With This?

Fear & Loathing on a New York Subway

It had been a really wonderful day out and about in the city with my partner Tammy. We looked at some used clothing at a Goodwill, walked around a bunch—it being our primary form of entertainment—and bought some groceries for our evening dinner.

We were sitting on the 2 train heading home. My head was buried in a short story by David Foster Wallace and Tammy, sitting across from me (the train was quite crowded) was having brain discourse with Gabriel García Márquez.

Just another day in New York City amidst a pandemic—so I’ll mention here that everyone within sight in our subway car was wearing a protective mask.

On 42nd street a group got on announcing “showtime!” The usual little boombox was blasting music and the three guys proceeded to set up to do their act.

For those not familiar —”Showtime” is a type of performance pole flips/acrobatics done as a busking routine using the hand holds and poles on the subways. The performers are young black men, and some of the acrobatics can be impressive.

I have only been lightly clipped on my knee once, but I personally do not enjoy being in that close a space with univited physical acrobatics with shoes flying past my face. Personal taste.

And so, since they were going to utilize the space right in front of me, and thus no more reading was to be done, I closed my book, got up and went to stand by one of the doors.

A few other people moved.
Having been amidst dozens of these performances, my sense is that the experience works primarily for tourists. (They mostly work tourist frequented subways—though right now the city certainly has a dearth of out-of-towners.)
Most New York commuters do that notorious special New York subway thing of ignoring what is happening because otherwise they might have to address the fact that they are blazingly annoyed.

There was an older woman (older means anyone my age and up) with a bicycle standing near me. One of the performers was standing right in front of her loudly cheering his mates across the car. The woman recoiled and asked if he’d put on a mask.

Important for perspective. None of these guys—who are jumping around the car yelling and sweating—had masks on.
It is the law in New York City at this point that masks must be worn on the subways. There are signs all over every car. At some stations you can get a mask if you forgot yours. There is a $50 fine if you’re caught maskless on a subway or bus but enforceability is tricky.

He yelled something right at her.
I was behind her by the door and said Come on, put on a mask!
The next thing I knew the young man was aggressively standing inches in front of me, yelling right at my face. He was calling me a faggot and saying he was going to take me out, send me to the hospitalI wasn’t going to make it home tonight!

(From this point on, for the remaining two subway stops until I got off, I said not a word and made sure not to make any eye contact.)

He went back across the car to where his partners were. Still yelling. One of the other guys was yelling at someone else. Over and over, he kept repeating that he just needs to bring a grip (a gun) out here to deal with these fuckers who don’t appreciate talent.
My Personal Aggressor ™ © came back and masklessly repeated the same threats within inches of my face. My body was in some weird adrenalin mode fueled by the expectation that I was about to be punched in the face.

While the other guy was yelling stuff at somebody else, the one of the three who seemed the only one who wanted to avoid conflict, came over by me and kind of gently body nudged my aggressor back to the other side of the car.

At this point there was some additional altercation going on that side of the car. (The tone towards the passenger was not as threatening—he was a tall black man, not a 68 year old white “rainbow-haired faggot”.)
My Personal Aggressor ™ © was still yelling in my direction. Rainbow-haired faggot! I’ll send you to the hospital! You won’t get home tonight!

I have to admit that I found it interesting that by this point my aggressor had put on a mask.

At our stop I got off and walked directly to the exit and out into the street. I did not want to risk any situations if they followed us.

It took me a few hours at home to let go of the experience. I was glad to have Tammy nearby to share my thoughts, my shaky fears, my raging anger. (She had experienced being assaulted by a homeless women in the lobby of our building a couple years ago so my experience, my emotions, were understandable to her.)

And still today the trauma lingers. It poisons my thoughts about people (as if the pandemic didn’t do enough of that) and subways, and the city, and the country.

I really don’t know what to do with all this.
I know I will move on—such is life—but any of my few remaining long term hopes for this species are pretty withered right now.

About a year ago I wrote my fantasy response to toxic masculinity and its aggressive expression.
(It’s aggressive in it’s own ironic and humorous way. A Trump supporter who read it found it unacceptable and offensive—so there’s that recommendation for it. I stress that his distaste was not based on my writing skills, however weak or strong they may be.)

© AleXander Hirka 2020. All Rights Reserved.

Writer, visual artist, philosopher, autodidact, curmudgeon. More than half of what i do is make believe. https://alexanderhirka.nyc

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