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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.


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.


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 (56/85)

April 19, 1996

Choose a different dreamscape

So much has happened what w/Zain’s unbelievably disastrous dinner visit, the Bergman film, trying to reassure both Zain + Jules, my own tragic inability to write and, finally, the light on the horizon: a new outlook + theoretical mechanism to begin again. Whew. But now it is 3:27pm and while, yes, I have wasted the day thus far (washed dishes notwithstanding) no, the remainder is not, unfortunately mine to further frivol and fritter away and, YES, I must now head to dinner shift. Ciao

→ Later

Definitely flagging in my effort to jot tidbits here, in direct, perhaps, correlation to drop in mean tip-wages at the Met. Poor showing, of late, on both fronts especially in comparison w/previous established norms  of higher numbers. But such is life + and all involved participants knew that the extravagance couldn’t last, we just didn’t predict it would taper so soon + suddenly. Of course, the general consensus remains that depreciation and reduction of eating tourists is due more to fine verdant spring weather than any real lag in tourist trade. Tomorrow, for example, predicted overcast if not downright rainy and should be a more accurate indicator. In other words, we shall see. Or maybe “time will tell.” One or the other, or both.

Jenny returned to work tonight and it was nice to see her again and have a new (renewed), female, friend w/whom to chat as opposed to all the aging queens who are collectively driving me nuts. (And each other. The bickering is nonstop). Even if she is a strict vanilla wafer with about as much dark edge as those red balloons that stopped by the window to visit last week. But dark edge is highly overrated anyway, n’est ce pas?

So what I’m really avoiding is direct discussion of the whole Zain spectacle / catastrophe – not so much due to any reluctance to delve deep, but more because the whole thing exhausts me. But here we go…

25 mins late, Jules having worked hard to prep the meal, now we’re basically waiting for him to arrive, he calls on phone: “Hey. Are you really anal about punctuality?” 

“Um. Just get here, okay?”

So he gets here, a full hour late, carrying a bottle of fine Bordeaux + a single long-stemmed rose. No apology or explanation, he begins to cursorily appraise the apartment w/typical Zain mutterings: “It’s like a real grownup flat,” etc. Then, as we’re starving and bringing out the food, he admits that he had just eaten, 2 hours previous. Okay. Then he starts an extensive search of my CDs for the correct mood-music. I give him free rein, tho Jules and I are famished. Jules keeps raising her eyebrows at me, I keep surreptitiously waving her off. I know how utterly imperative such minutiae can be to Zain: one thing out of place ruins the whole composition. So he finds some music, figures the volume, even repositions the speakers, then designates which lights must be on and off, and finally we seat at the table.

“Ah.” He lifts knife + fork as tho unsure how to use either (I know, of course, that his mind is fractured into zillonous varying, rapidly shifting and wiggling segments, none of which are concerned or even aware of food or eating). He begins to eat. He requests olive oil. He adds a generous stream to his pasta. He requests hot sauce. Jules obliges. Zain begins finally, to eat. All the while offering small Zain mutterings. Some moments later, in the middle of risingly tense debate, he blurts: “Jules!” We look at him, startled. “You have made a very good dinner!”

“Well, thanks,” says Jill, not impressed. “It’s better soaked in oil, I guess.”

And so the night progressed. “I believe that whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger,” Zain says. “So if somebody presses into my sore + sensitive psyche, I applaud them. And I feel that it is my responsibility, my duty, to do the same.”

“But that’s just mean,” says Jill.

“Yes,” agrees Zain, gazing down at his pasta, full lowered pedantic tone: “Indeed. Gloriously mean.”

And so the night progressed. After not much time it became clear that Jules seriously disliked Zain, found him pompous, filled w/himself, deluded, false, irritating, and she proceeded to more or less attack, giving him a dose of the medicine that he had just claimed to thrive on. It was equally clear that Zain was increasingly irked by Jules’ assault and by the clear fact that she was not prepared to hold him in the same high regard he holds himself.

Finally, the meal concluded enough for us to not rudely bolt out the door. Not that it would have mattered if it was rude. Jules wanted us gone. In the cool air of 73rd, I finally felt I could breathe easier. Zain was silent, agitated. “I think our relationship may have reached a crossroad,” he said, cryptically, and wouldn’t say more until we were seated on a lone bench on the edge of Riverside Park, overlooking the lights of the FDR + the Hudson River + New Jersey beyond. “I came to your house to meet your wife,” he said. “This was a big deal. I mean I was wearing a brown belt w/black shoes and so I went and bought another belt. And I came w/my heart in my hand for your wife.”

“Zain,” I tried. “It isn’t about belts and shoes…” but he would have none of it.

“I keep very specific protective space around me,” he continued. “But since it was your wife, I retracted my shields and she marched in swinging and I said it’s okay, It’s Jay’s wife, and she stepped closer, swinging, and by the time I realized what was happening, it was too late. She had not only approached my space, but had stepped on my feet and knees. And it hurts, and it’s only my fault. That’s what hurts the most.”

I tried to explain about the whole lateness factor, that if it was so important of an occasion why was he an hour late or at least call to let us know.

“I went in the other direction,” he replied, by way of explanation. “Even though I was late, I headed in the other direction to get that wine and flower.”

“Okay, but what about at least an apology when you do, finally arrive?”

“Anywhere else this wouldn’t happen,” he said, ruefully, looking out over the lights to the east. “Anywhere else the wife would have loved me, or at least pretended that she did. America. In my country we have a saying: ‘your best friend and your father can flirt w/your wife.’ And I came ready to flirt. That’s what I was expecting.”

So, you begin to glimpse, perhaps, the depth of the disparity of perspectives between he and Jules. I, of course, know them both and I can see that Zain means no harm. He is incredibly self-consumed and rigid in his views, but that’s just him. He is deluded about his own worth, both socially and cosmically, but aren’t we all?

As for Jules, well she admits embarrassment for her behavior. She can’t explain why he offended her like he did – I mean, he’s clearly an infuriating character, but in small doses I, for one, find him more entertaining than irritating. Jules saw only the irritation.

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