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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 (85/85)

May 26, 1996

Choose a different dreamscape

I don’t have a lot to say, today, which is fortunate in one sense given the lack of space to say it. On the other hand, the last page of any journal holds unavoidable poignance, permanence and prominence, especially that last. It’s as close as one comes to writing on the cover and the first words to be seen if the book is opened from the back… BUT – that presupposes the vast insufferable arrogance and assumption which in many ways represents the paradox of any journal: If all goes according to plan, no one should ever read it, right? Because I’m clearly done w/that sophomoric need for praise or applause. No more ‘reading sections aloud’ to Jules for approval, hanging on her every snort and chuckle. No casually leaving it as evidence of my own braggadocio. Not this one, not this time. So then, when? More importantly, who? Answer is: my numerous fans, of course! Years from now, when they dig it up and add it to my oeuvre, it will be celebrated and translated into many a language! On the flip side is the more prosaic and likely scenario of never, no one, nada, nunca, nothing, nadie: like death itself when I close the right-side hardback, permanently gone. Yet I did write it. There’s that. It has been written. There’s not much sense in denying it, and I like to think I did so w/more than weird belated sideways eye to fame. I enjoyed it [ta-da!] and it helped me define my life… (maybe?) At least one evolving “real” story sprang partially from its pages (Charm); it helped pass the time (undeniably) as distraction and entertainment (tho that last of a rather masochistic sort). Kept my fingers nimble. In fact! I almost forgot to mention the exemplary strength + dexterity achieved through daily exercising of the digits. One need only to glance at my Popeye arm, or at an early page (say, March 9 + 10…) to see what a pathetic excuse for penmanship I had back then. Not that legibility has necessarily improved with time and effort… but at least I can physically do it now, that is: write. And when the system crashes and all keyboards freeze or melt, I’ll be ready to pick up pen for God + Country and pursue the grand tradition of NARRATIVE.

So I guess things are looking up, in the final analysis, since I began this journal some months back. We, first of all, have a decent and legal place to live. Expensive and stoveless, sure, but w/ample space and much of it (first guests already accommodated lavishly in our east wing). 2nd, well, I am feeling a bit more inspired and creative and energetic. The story “Charm” progresses without too much grumbling and backtalk and that gives me hope + courage, plus other projects, bigger, I feel approaching, though still out of sight around the bend. I’ll set my sights to those soon, really I will. 3rdly, well, there are those possible jobs I’ve been mumbling and ruminating about, a new path to get me finally and forever away from all that infernal ‘waiting’ (delicious tho the euphemism [and the snacks!] may be),and that could lead to, who knows? maybe… 

[And that’s it for this section. The final page concludes, appropriately there, stuttered and cramped into the lower right corner of the inside, right side hardback of a classic unlined sketchbook: a series of ellipses to indicate, perhaps, the ephemeral, ongoing and never ending cycle of effort and indifference? Maybe to show that though the book ends, the story never does. For presumably Jay Levine is still out there, somewhere, still musing on the leafy canopy of life, still jotting the occasional reflection or observation, still trying to make sense of and find inspiration in the characters that move around him. And what do we, the Eds, have to say in this, our final opportunity to add perspective or judgment on the scribbled pages that have become The Subway Journals?…

Rock on, Jay Levine. Rock on.]


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Comments (2)

  • Sorry to see this ‘story’ end, I enjoyed it SO much – Jay’s humor , and gentle approach to life”s circumstances.
    Thank you Jay, it’s been a pleasure.
    Thank you also to Mat for hosting this. Edith

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