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standinginprotest2114

New York City’s radically reshaped political and economic landscape has me thinking more about the creepy fading Twilight of the Giuliani Era, a time when I viewed the city’s turbulent identity crisis from the vantage point of a silent Silver Man standing very still in the bowels of the subway system. In the decade-and-a-half that’s blazed by since, select sectors of New York have become safer but also heartrendingly sterile, with chain stores and bank branches muscling out locally-owned enterprises, and bohemian live-work warrens razed to accommodate obscenely costly condos—all of that frothy money polishing New York’s idiosyncratic edges into a smooth, homogenous sheen.

The Subway

By Luke Kelly-Clyne

Essay

Above ground, I’m human.

I say “excuse me” when I need to squeeze by.  “Sorry” when I err. “Please” always and “thank you” until I sicken myself. “How can I help? How can I help?” I never gawk. Men, women, and children are my confidantes, my countrymen, and my heart beats well with each untroubled step they take.

On the subway last week, the man sitting opposite was ranting about his groin. “See this?” he asked me, pointing at himself. “Think I don’t have anything? Well, you’re wrong. This is mine.” As he continued to spout I got out my book (Anais Nin’s Fire, since you ask) and walked to the other end of the train, before I heard him move on to the next poor soul. He was right, of course. He does own his groin. But how sad that he had to announce it.

Like it or not, there’s often a sexual vibe on the subway. Of course, sex on the train is a classic fantasy, which, during rush hour, can give rise to as many furtive looks as you’d find in a busy bar. I suppose being sealed into a compressed space and traveling superfast is a recipe for lust, particularly when you find yourself face-to-crotch with a stranger. (Depends on the stranger! Depends on the crotch!). And perhaps being in the underbelly of the city releases all those urges we attempt to suppress. In London the subway is called the Underground, a word that also connotes spycraft – rather fitting, considering the amount of watching going on.

As it happens, I’m all about sex on the subway, but there’s a context. I use my commutes to catch up on my reading, which is often about sex and sexuality. The written word offers us a wonderful way of revitalizing and nurturing our sexual imagination, broadening our erotic focus and challenging our assumptions.  As an activity that can be solo, reading is also a great reminder that our sex lives lie within ourselves – we can still experience rich sexual worlds when we’re alone, and beautifully at that.  So, seeing as I love book recommendations, here are some quotes from great sex books/stories I’ve been reading on the train:

From “Dumbrowski’s Advice” by Steve Almond, in This Won’t Take But a Minute, Honey:

“At the hospital, you told Dumbrowski: I met a girl, which might have been the truth from time to time, though really you dreamed of the waitress, your waitress, sweet greasy onion rings on her fingers as you lay in a pool of your own heat.”

Riki Wilchins in Genderqueer, ed. Joan Nestle, Clare Howell, and Riki Wilchins:

“…I am speaking, of course, of intersexed infants. Such children, who are not clearly male or female, occur in about one in every 2000 births. Because anything that is not male or female is not a true sex, we pronounce them ‘abnormal,’ fit them legally into male or female, and fit them physically into boy or girl by cutting them up at a rate of about five a day. Thus are ‘natural’ males and females maintained…”

From “Lina” in Little Birds by Anais Nin:

“She bought herself a black lace nightgown like mine. She came to my apartment to spend a few nights with me. She said she had bought the nightgown for a lover, but I saw the price tag still fastened on it. She was ravishing to look at because she was plump and her breasts showed where her white blouse opened. I saw her wild mouth parted, her curly hair in a wild aureole around her head. Every gesture was one of disorder and violence, as if a lioness had come into the room.”

It turns out that 2011 may be a good time for us bookish types to bask in the limelight. Sex expert Petra Boynton predicts this will be a year of sexual introspection: “…I think we’ll see the idea of self reflection and sexual diary keeping become more of a mainstream phenomena.” Self-help, philosophy, guided explorations…these may well be the kind of texts we’ll see reflected in print and online. In fact, Susie Bright recently brought out a 2011 sex journal, entitled Love & Lust, which provides prompts and guides for exploring your sexual self – my copy’s on its way and I’m excited to get started. So we don’t have to shag in public to be sexual while we commute…though maybe a few of us will get to do both! But as sex-positive readers with a mischievous streak, we can always tell our friends, “I had sex on the train today…” before pausing for effect, and adding, “vicariously, of course.”

The photo on the main page is by By Étienne ANDRÉ

Enough Grows

By Mary Hendrie

Opinion

This post is excerpted from my blog Not an Activist, which I started in response to the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico this summer. Please visit the blog to learn more. Thanks!

I’m beginning to wonder if it’s really possible to “do enough.”

Yesterday, I realized that to some folks I may look like a real hippy-dippy, granola weirdo, which was a funny thought for me since lately I seem unable to shake the feeling that I’m simply not doing enough. I’m not living quite the eco-friendly lifestyle I thought I could. True, I’m working toward some major changes, but they all happen slowly. One doesn’t just become a yoga teacher and quit commuting over night. Rather, there is money to be saved, training to be endured, and a clientele to be built before teaching yoga is really a viable career option. And yes, that’s where I’m headed, but who knows when I’ll get there.

Meanwhile, I usually eat lunch near my office at one of the three places that are close enough to walk to during my break. But I get sick of the repetition, and yesterday I wanted Subway, which is a little further than I can reasonably walk in the amount of time I have. I joked somewhat lamely that I was really living on the edge by going to Subway for a change. The office administrator was kind enough to laugh unconvincingly, but truthfully, I felt pretty conflicted about going.

At Subway, I pulled up in my Prius, walked in and ordered a veggie patty on wheat bread, piled high with lettuce and spinach. I declined the use of a plastic bag to carry out my order and gently placed the paper-wrapped sandwich in my oversize purse instead. I did accept the combo deal … because I love Sun Chips. But I didn’t use a lid or a straw for my soda cup.

On the way out, I thought I felt the eyes of the other patrons on my back. It could’ve been because I was exceptionally well dressed, or they might have been thinking I was a real eco-douchebag (I promise you will love this article by J.B. MacKinnon, who is not a douchebag). But the funny thing to me was that while on the surface, perhaps to the uninitiated, I might have looked like a real do-gooder, I didn’t feel like one.

I still drove to get the food. I still used their waxy paper. I still used the paper cup. I still ate the chips from the weird composite bag.

Once you become aware of the materials you use on a regular basis, it’s hard to justify using them even once in a while. If they are non-recyclable, or if they are made from non-renewable resources every single use feels like a transgression. Yes, I was enjoying a vegetarian lunch, driving a hybrid and avoiding plastic waste, but the fact that I drove there at all felt like I was doing something wrong. It was a little like sneaking out of the house in high school, only without the devilish thrill.

So, as I was having what might have looked like a very green lunch break yesterday, I realized that there is a massive disparity between what most people probably consider “green living” and what I think is “doing enough.” And the truth is, I don’t think it’s possible for very many people to do enough. I think most of us are capable of making these surface changes like what I’ve made so far, but many people aren’t even doing that.

But how much of a difference could we make if all of us just did the very basics? Recycle, avoid plastics, drive less, eat less meat.

MacKinnon notes in his article that switching to power-saving light bulbs hasn’t had quite the impact on our electricity consumption that we hoped, which makes me wonder if what I’m doing is a waste of time or worse — hypocritical. Still, I can’t help feeling that not trying at all would be a far greater waste.

There are two questions for me now:

  1. How do I continue to make small changes that will add up to something meaningful?
  2. How do I (or can I) reach those folks who aren’t yet doing anything? After all, it will take much more than just myself to make a difference.

Tonight I took the public bus to the public library to return, browse, and borrow some books.  I was car sick (or bus sick) on the ride down Fifth Avenue.  I still harbored resentment for the driver of the previous bus I had just missed, who closed up and advanced the bus twenty feet to wait out the red light at the crosswalk instead of the bus stop where more riders could have boarded. I decided my present driver was okay but not good enough to prevent my bus nausea.

My favorite bus driver is one who seems as eager as I am to reach a destination rather than just making his/her rounds, and he takes pride in his confident, skillful maneuvers that let us just make the light and continue on for a few more blocks saving, literally, minutes.

Sometimes I think of getting the driver’s name and calling the MTA with praise but then I wonder if the qualities I like most in this driver are the same qualities that would be considered by the MTA to be related to the breaking of certain guidelines.

My nausea persisted so I got off the bus two stops early and schlepped a tote bag of hardcover books to the Mid-Manhattan branch library at 40th Street and Fifth Avenue which is open until 11pm on weekdays.

More than usual, perhaps because of the heat, the scent of urine and shit wafted through the bookshelves, but was not as nauseating as the bus ride.  And, perhaps because of the time and day, 9pm, Tuesday, there was an unusually large ratio of weird old men shuffling around to not weird old men not shuffling around.

I dumped some books in the book drop (two days early!) and headed toward the elevators where there stands the only obvious recent improvement in the cleanliness of the library, an automatic Purell dispenser.  I took some Purell and took the elevator to the third floor.  Yeah, I already knew which floor the Art books are on because I am someone who takes buses and goes to libraries.  I even take buses to libraries.

More old men shuffling around, not seeming to know each other but similarly styled in academic wear and would be presentable but for their unshaven faces and yellowy-white unwashed hair, and a third “je ne sais quoi” quality.

I visited my favorite shelves and amassed a pile of books too heavy to carry home.  I picked a chair at one of the communal tables and began skimming, editing out the least useful.  At a parallel table, a few seats to my right and facing my direction, one of the old men who seemed particularly skittish in the way he was turning the pages of a book that he was reading at a diagonal, said to the girl across from him in a muffled, gravelly voice, “Are you a model?”

I saw from behind as she lifted her head in surprise, paused, and then sternly answered “No.”

The man went on about her having an interesting face and something else about models.  She said, “No, and I’m not interested in that, sorry.” and went back to reading.

The situation felt familiar.  I am sure that is the kind of thing I used to sometimes get asked by weird old men, or naive (or scheming?) country bumpkins and I felt a little surprised, a little jealous, and a little relieved that I was not the one being asked.  I wondered if I would have had an answer as effective as hers at shorting the conversation. Her answer implied to me her experience of having been asked those sorts of questions before.

Now it was time to see if that old library copy card still had any juice on it.  Around six years ago, upon returning from Nepal, I took out six books on learning to speak Urdu, (because I had bought a CD in Kathmandu by a Pakistani band called Strings who sing in Urdu) from this very branch, got as far as kind of learning the Arabic alphabet but without any meanings, and returned the books late enough to rack up a $46 fine.  This copy card was at least that old and I had miraculously remembered where I saw it last and to bring it.

I picked one of the heavier books to copy parts of so I could save my back the weight.  I shifted the rest of the books into a neat stack in front of my chair and placed my large, three quarters full Poland Spring water bottle on top to indicate that these books were not abandoned and should not be reshelved.

I found a nearby copy machine.  My card had 35 cents left on it, enough to make two copies at 15 cents each, and it worked.  I then refilled my card with a dollar bill at the nearby card vending machine and copied more pages.  I was impressed with the system and myself for having seamlessly blended back into it. The color copies were still $1 each which seems old-fashioned considering how these days everyone prints photos from home like it’s nothing.

I put my copies in my tote bag, walked back to the tables and scanned for a tall clear bottle to locate my seat.  I saw that same man who was interested in models rummaging through and spreading around my pile of books. I came up next to him and said somewhat hostilely, “Excuse me, those are my books.”

He said, “I’m sorry, I thought they were abandoned.”

Right then I noticed my manhandled water bottle.  It was rumply with many dents and still standing but with a slight lean.  I replied, “I put my water bottle on top of the pile to show I would be back.”

I quickly gathered the books I wanted to take, and my water bottle from which I made a note not to drink and to throw out as soon as possible.

I signed out some books with my tiny library keychain card which I keep on a ring with similar cardlets from Duane Reade, The Food Emporium, Staples and CVS.  To be honest, I can’t find the Staples one and I bought a roll of double-sided tape today (the one labeled “permanent” though I worry I may in fact find that I need the “removable” kind and have to pay for a whole new roll of tape) and was too lazy to look up my card using a phone number (which phone number?) so when the cashier asked me if I had a Staples Rewards Card I said no, which in a way is true since I did not have it on me.

This time I caught the first bus I saw, an M4 going up Madison Avenue.  This bus’s breaks were way too loud but at least the vehicle itself moved a little more smoothly.  The metrocard reader was not working so the bus driver waved riders in, motioning for them to keep moving and not worry about the fare.  That seems to happen quite often and it always feels like a happily fortuitous occasion.  The bus driver does not have to wait for riders to find their metrocard and then figure out which way to insert it and the riders do not have to pay.  I have an unlimited Metrocard but I still appreciate losing the hassle.

Service on several bus lines was reduced last week due to MTA budget shortages.  On the bus, with my fellow passengers, I thought, “That’s a shame.”  I imagined getting into an argument with some Libertarians or Republicans I know, who in this particular scenario I had just made up, were against having public buses.

A small Indian woman was pestering the bus driver for directions.  She mentioned Columbia Presbyterian Hospital which I sometimes took the bus to and from during the three months I participated in a CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) study there.  But I heard that is one of the routes that has been changed so I didn’t chime in.

Whenever I saw a man in a suit on the subway, I used to look at his shoes to try to judge what type of man in a suit he was. Whether he was a really rich guy on Wall Street riding home after work to avoid traffic or some poor schmo with beat up semi-formal work shoes who has to take the subway because that is his only option.

I stopped being as interested in the shoes of suited subway riders when I learned that really, really rich people don’t ride the subway at all.  Sure, Mayor Bloomberg rides the subway to work but he has to be driven to a stop other than his own and have a large security escort.  But non-mayoral really, really rich people don’t ride the subway.  They have drivers.  And so, they do not really know the subway lines.  They do not have an appreciation for the colors and letters and the joy of a perfect connection between two trains that do not come very often and the special knowledge one gains of which trains run infrequently at night and how to get up from those folding seats without creating a loud bang.

But some fairly rich people do ride the bus.  Most people who have been in New York for a long time or who have grown up here ride the bus.  But the crazies usually ride the subway.  Although, once, a crazy guy on the bus, who, by the way, did not smell, called me an “anorexic salad-ass ho.”  At first I thought he was just an asshole, but when he ended his rant with something about God, I was relieved to feel that he was actually just insane.

I can be made to feel bad very easily and I do not like feeling bad.  I like to read on the subway.  In fact, it is the only place I can really read and make progress in a book.  So when a performer comes into my subway car and does some break dancing, there are really only a few routines that have been used for years, I often become annoyed.  I want them to know, “I’ve seen your act before, I’ve had a long day and am just trying to get home and I was hoping to sneak a little reading in, and if I wanted to be entertained I would go to a performance and maybe pay some professional performers of my choosing.  I just want to read, I don’t want to see your act so why would I pay you?”

But once when I was making a particularly serious face and staring at my book, trying to transition from staring into reading, a breakdancer in the troupe gave us, the mostly reluctant audience, a lecture.

He was pissed off.  Not because almost no one gave him money.  It was because of our attitude and I fear that my unamused expression was a large contributing factor to his indignity.

What I heard him say to me, in essence, was, “you don’t have to be a bitch, we’re trying our best and you’re sitting there pretending not to see us.  At least smile when we’re finished, clap, you don’t have to pay us, just give a little respect.”

At the time I was so taken off guard that in my head I became very defensive and imagined all sorts of things to yell back.  But the next day his point began to sink in and I am actually grateful for the talking-to because I feel that I now am able to respond appropriately in an honest and friendly manner, by boldly smiling and not paying, when someone unexpectedly performs at me.

Back to the bus ride home.  I got off the bus at 86th Street and walked home with an armload of books. The library no longer gives plastic bags but you can buy one for $1, or not.  I hoped I would run into one of my ritzier neighbors on the way in and they would notice the library stamps and call numbers on the books I was carrying and they would realize that I go to the public library and this realization would also be a proud, in their face assertion of my Jewish, liberal upbringing and my Jewish, liberal family and our continued presence in this ever-WASPier building.


When I first saw you, you were shuffling down the aisle of a crowded train, pausing every few seats to check in—

“How do I get to Myrtle?”

“How do I get to Myrtle?”

“How do I…”

I’ll admit to feeling a prick of annoyance (not another one), but it passed on realizing your compromised condition—a slight allover tremor, eyes milky with age. You were lost, and without assistance. When you got to where I was, it was time to step out. Thinking fast—Myrtle… Myrtle Avenue?—I said I could help you; I reached for your arm, and you gave it to me. As we stood together on the platform, I asked you for more, for anything. But all you could give was “Myrtle,” plus a few extras like “want” and “need,” conjuring an image of Myrtle not as place but as woman pined for. I consulted a subway map anyway, a matrix of colored strings to confuse the spriest of us. Pointing out various neighborhoods Myrtle Avenue traverses, I looked for signs—an affirming nod, flicker of recognition: home. None came. Instead, a new word, faint but there: “Lewis, Lewis and Myrtle.” Energized, I trailed a finger, inching east, and… Lewis. Lewis Avenue: a mere three complicated train transfers away. Daunted on your behalf, I did my best to explain the complexity of what awaited should you attempt again the train, next asking softly if you had money for a cab home. You were keeping up well enough, because you pulled out a billfold, which you opened and held open for me, revealing a brave sad emptiness. I told you it was okay, I could pay for your ride, and you followed me silently, slowly up the stairs and out into the circus that is downtown Brooklyn during rush hour. As you waited somewhere at my back, I watched cab after cab clear the intersection, every last one taken. An irrational desperation crept steadily in, erasing relationship woes, that problem at work, until the only thing left to care about was getting you out of all this. I chanced a quick look behind—your face, that impossible read—and a second later a yellow car was slowing at the curb. I filled in the driver, paying in advance, in approximate, and he gave you a kind smile, understanding. “We’ll getcha there.” You took some time getting situated, organizing your tired bones in that backseat, and I stood there wondering about so much… Your solemn “thank you” caught me unawares, struck deep, though I don’t believe it changed anything important.

Years out, certain evenings when I’m feeling lost, lived up, I take to Brooklyn’s quieter streets and think of you and our exchange. I hope you made it home alright,

home to your Myrtle.

I love my country. Not in a weeping, slightly creepy Glenn Beck way, but in a sincere but emotionally reserved way. I’ve had people comment that I don’t often write about England, so this is going to be the first in a series of love letters/handy guides to English culture. In this first one I’m going to discuss our oft maligned cuisine, because that’s the tangent I ended up going on…

Whoops

By Kristen Elde

Essay

One Friday morning, I was running the streets of Brooklyn’s Red Hook neighborhood when I tripped on some garbage and fell, bracing my fall with… my chin.

The sound was the worst: the dull internal clatter as top teeth met bottom. After lying prostrate in the middle of the dusty street for a split second, I scrambled to right myself. I made it to a sitting position and my thoughts went instantly to my mouth. My teeth: were they all there? A quick once-over with my tongue suggested they were. At the same time I brought my hand to my chin—but not before a nice crossing guard thrust a stack of napkins beneath it, urging me to apply pressure. “You hit the ground hard, honey. There’s blood—a lot of it.”

The subway train slows into the station and smoothes to a soft, comfortable stop.

It’s the fourth stop on my five-stop ride.

There are no seats available and I find myself standing directly opposite the set of entrance/exit doors.

Doors open, several people exit.

In the wake of their exit stands a rugged-looking hombre in his early 40s, holding a tall-boy of Mahoua Classica in one hand–the Madrileña king of beers–and a cigarette in the other. His dark green trenchcoat is bedraggled and frayed; his well-worn jeans end to reveal a pair of once-white tennis shoes that look like they were soaked for days in asparagus-alimented piss.

At his feet lies an old typewriter.