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The following is not actually part of The Subway Diaries (or any other Dreamscape) but it seemed to embrace the ethos (not to mention the setting) of the category so well, that we include it, here, for your enjoyment.

05.14.91

I sit, as it were (crouched, really, my back braced to a wall), in the twilight dawn of subway station X, the twilight dawn that stretches, dim, through all these lonely and darkened corridors during any period of the night, every night.

Can you feel the breeze? It comes noticeably from my left, from the north, ruffles my hair... would ruffle these pages were I to relax my hold. That’s the air pushed ahead through the tunnel by the next approaching train. And look! Up the track, still in the tunnel: two yellowish eyes come a’rattling and a’screeching its approach: a #9 train, heading south? Well, thankie much; don’t mind if I do.

Now I sit in another expanse, internal and metallic and mobile this time, descending the colon of the beast, a long smooth chromium turd sliding down down, to dump me downtown, as it were.

And Look! Stuttering through the girders and briefly glimpsed as they rattle past: every station a book-in-waiting, if only I would take the time and...

Ah. The ride smooths as we coast from 116 → 110 on steady rails and no propulsion, superconductive it feels, steady as the night. Now we slow, pause, ka-ching, doors open, souls descend and disembark, or vice versa, as the case may be... ding ding... "Stand clear of the closing door!" to lurch us on our way.

Look!

The yellow/orange plastic pre-formed curves designed to palm the average NY bum. (Or “transient,” as I believe correct terminology these days, or "unsavory," by others [Cam!...]). And my bum too! It could be Mickey Ds, in here, with the form-fitting molded orange and beige plastic of it. But listen!

A rush of air. A higher whine. The low-slung murmured gossip that animals make to pass the time, distract the mind, from the terminable darkness.

Oh, hark. Why have we stopped now? No tiled aquarium glow to be glimpsed, just blank blackness outside the scratched and plastic windows, maybe a hint of grimy tunnel wall pressed close up to the glass. But still... feel that? A hum. The deeper, burning, glowing surge of electricity held in check. Do any of us really know: the thrumming power that feeds the grid?

Oop, on the move again. And someone laughs as we lurch and leave the station (103rd). Out of 22 passengers in this car (yes, I counted) I am not the only caucasian. Another sits opposite and ½ way down, his chin propped on knee-propped fist… no socks, white t-shirt, shorts (it’s damned hot, remember). And me, now, as we arrive at 86th (“Stand clear of the closing doors…” ding...ding. Swoooooosh. Hummmm.) Yes me. I'm glad you asked: red socks, red t-shirt, khaki shorts… I write. For no apparent reason, I write. I am a “writer”, pen to paper, thus. But when I pause (which I don’t often) what then? For example, as we hit 79th and I glance up to take assessment… When I pause to lick the quill and look around. Still a writer? Definition unclear.

"Burden of Proof" (by Scott Turow) is the novel the man held; the man who (bearded, bespectacled, marching resolutely from one car to the next, bracing himself occasionally from swaying) passed, just now, in front of my knees and, for a moment, through the world of my perception and description…

Hark! 66th street… south, south and south some more we go (59th next). Ding ding.

… but am I still a writer then?

I am surrounded now it should be glumly noted. And it ain’t no fun. To my right, to my left, and above, hanging one arm on the crossbar. If one of these scurrilous fellows so much as side-eyes they can read every word and meta-word (and meta-meta-word) I scribe. Well, fuck ‘em all! To hell with them! I scribble on, undeterred, and determined, it might appear, to set a new, and, as yet unconceived record, to be the first, foremost and probably ONLY person to scribble virtually unceasingly from 125th Street (ah, respite from the prying eyes: 42nd Grand Central brings an equally grand exodus, a general emptying of the train, the good from the chaff, as it were [chaff, including me, left on board, as only those heading TRULY downtown stay] and I can breathe again with some space and lucidity and privacy around.) Yes UNCEASINGLY, is what I was saying, I shall pull meaning from the void and press it in ever tightening spirals and hieroglyphs to this page, to be exhumed someday and marveled at by future sociologists and historians alike. They will ogle and gasp, unable to believe, equally unable to deny: the only person, I propose, ever to write perpetually from 125th Street to Christopher Street, unstopping! AND, as 14th St is now behind us, it appears I might just make it since Christopher is next and no more power outages in sight. Still, man plans and god laughs and when's the last time a power outage was predicted never mind spotted, so I won't count it yet, not yet, but now! The train slows! The aquarium glow. Most importantly, I can’t miss my stop (that would be a disastrous and dastardly turn of events). CHRISTOPHER STREET. Ding ding. Jayson, out!

The Subway Diaries i (31/85)

March 31, 1996

Choose a different dreamscape

Later →

$165 post work, not a bad shift. Tho truth be told, only $146 of that arrives directly from tips. The other $20 comes courtesy of Mary and Nancy’s love of daily initiatives and competitions, today in the form of $10 for high sales and $10 for high check average, both of which I nailed, tho only the high sales number is indisputable. I sold upwards of $1200 in product and my closest competitor was Angelo w/a measly $800 and change. The check average however requires computations beyond Angelo’s ability and he chose, instead, to do the easiest thing and just give them both to me. Actually I’m pretty sure that both awards are legit, Angelo apparently having used 25 checks to get his total whereas I used only 28 to get mine, so there you have it. As for the others… ? Fook em. Not my responsibility to canvas the place to see if anyone beat it.

BUT near tragedy and catastrophe struck mid-shift in an almost paralyzing turn of events that put me in near panic and sweating profusely. Even now I have difficulty defining the exact sequence that led toward this problem. Mid-shift, bedlam, mayhem – all-out zany pressure from all sides to do all things at the same time. Pure madness and utter necessity to stay ahead of the game, paddling furiously to stay on top of the wave. Table 20 asks for their check, table 30 had a credit card out, as did 3101 (single gent), as did 32. I grabbed all three credit cards because obviously to consolidate trips to the Nabanco is vital, segregating them w/care in my book. Back I sped to the Nabanco – ran them through, stapled them, was on my way back from behind the dessert station when it occurred to me that something was off. In my mind I was thinking that table 20 had been one to give me a card. ALSO, I had already begun to worry because the name on the card I had designated for 30 was a female name even though a man had handed it to me. This was troubling. I hoped it was his wife’s card. The only other non-female contender was just an initial and the single man at 3101 had given me that. I was pretty sure…

[I’ve now assumed my customary, post-commute position in the station at Astor Place to grab a few more moments of archivation. Through the grate I can catch the clock in the token booth that confirms my suspicion that it’s 4:45 – I’ve still got 45 mins until the tax guy, a few more moments to recount the day’s events.

Also, today I made a horrible, ghastly discovery. Heading to the front of the platform for the return trip from 77th, I assumed I would be assured of optimum space + privacy. But when the train came in (clearly a short, truncated train) IT STOPPED BEFORE THE FRONT OF THE PLATFORM. Again I was compelled to regress, hurrying down the platform w/the others to squeeze into the foremost car. Again crowded! There is no escape – no solution. I thought the shorter trains pulled all the way forward. No! My only hope now is to craftily wait at the rear ‘til one pulls past, then push an old lady onto the tracks. The resulting lawsuit will insure the reinstatement of full size trains. Of course, I’ll enjoy my victory from behind bars, but it will be worth it! My victory over the MTA…]

Anyway, back at lunch mid-shift, running the checks, nervous, I checked my vouchers against the cards. They were correct in that respect. Then I saw that I had stapled the voucher for the credit card for (I thought) table 20 onto the check or table 32. This was bad but not insurmountable. Quickly [you must remember that all this is uber high speed, like timelapse, all actions and decisions performed at fantastic haste and hustle to avoid falling behind into the dreaded “weeds,” from which there is, really, no escape. That’s when you see servers wading head down through an all-sides assault of angry impatient patrons; they’ve (the servers) given up; no longer even trying to field the pop flies coming their way, just stoically accepting the abuse.] I tore off the voucher – disposed of it, voided the transaction on the Nabanco, found table 20’s check, re-printed a new voucher for the correct amount, stapled it, and with a stealing breath strode back down the aisle to meet my fate. As I handed the check + card combo to the woman at 20, I knew I was in trouble. She looked blankly at it for a moment before curiously reaching out to touch it. I was sure that she would say, “This isn’t my card.” Instead she said: “This looks like our check, but this isn’t my card…”

“You didn’t give me this?” I gulped.

“You haven’t even given us the check yet,” they replied, in unison. GAH! I snatched it back, struggling to maintain composure. Sweat had broken out all across my forehead. If it wasn’t her card, whose was it? I stood in a blind panic with all three checks clutched in my sweaty fist, paralyzed. What could I do? I approached table 30. “Is this, perchance, your card?” I asked, extending the check I had designated for them. “Oh yes,” the WOMAN replied. “Thank you.” Amazed I stood back. This one was right. I looked at the other two. Gingerly I placed the check on the single man’s table. Hardly glancing, he signed it and returned the card to his wallet. All that remained was the original mystery check. Then I knew what had happened. Table 32 had given it to me and I had actually punched it in RIGHT the first time, then panicked and replaced it w/the WRONG one. Back to the Nabanco, voided the second one, replaced it w/the first one reprinted, back to the table – TZA! All rectified. Could have been a vast spectacular fuckup and tangled knot of confusion, but not. Avoided by a hair’s breadth, if that. Now I’m late for tax guy. Must run, ta ta!

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