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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 (1/85)

March 9, 1996

Choose a different dreamscape

My new concept: write on the train. That is: subway. This gives me a solid 20 mins each way – to work and back – w/which to agonize my arm. On that note: oh the pain! It’s been far too long since I wielded a pen for any purpose other than ornamental or defensive. Such a silly mode of recording things. Dastardly, fiendish, torturous method. Perhaps my technique is wrong. A looser style? Relinquish this antiquated idea of ‘control’. It’s all about relinquishing control, as we know. But too much relinquished (in this case) translates to illegible scribbles, scratches, beyond recognition.

Speaking of illegible scratches, what was that guy’s name? Our Providence bum… “Spare change, money, food…” That was his mantra that he would mutter, murmer. So odd that he was odd to us. We had no long proud tradition of panhandlers at that point. I mean, he was really Providence’s only beggar. Excuse me, “street person.” This was before Republicans rescued our economy and brought it into vogue. Before homeless chic and that whole romantic “Freedom Tunnel” crowd. Before it became as valid as any other mode of getting by here. But Vernon (that was his name!) was legit homeless and shuffled around Providence as a fixture (not a friendly one, for sure, a bit surly, but regarded with begrudging respect from the high school kids, and maybe even a certain camaraderie). The reason I mention Vernon in the first place is that he carried a big book around with him and could be seen, occasionally, scratching in it. I asked him about it once. He muttered something about, “Keeping track.” Aren’t we all, Vernon, aren’t we all. 

Could it be that my arm is adjusting already? Perhaps just gone numb from the shoulder down, on autopilot now, no signals sent or received from the brain any more, god only knows what that hand is even doing at this point. I see it, moving, but it is no part of me. Like that time I woke, had been lying on my arm in a weird way so it was completely numb and I had no idea where it was in relation to the rest of me, so when I saw a hand, rising up beside me from seemingly below the bed (I was on top bunk which made it all the more freaky) I thought it was coming AT me, not part of me and I jerked wide awake to be sure with an involuntary whimper that woke up EZ beneath me. When I explained, he couldn’t stop laughing. Ha ha ha. Well I remember EZ duck-walking toward that rest stop restroom in Mexico, already unbuckling his trousers, so I get some chuckles too, stored up, don’t forget.

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