I really do miss riding the subway, daily. I even kind of miss the crowdedness of the trains during rush hour – all of them. To ride the train is to experience all kinds of cultural and social forms – great rudeness and even more kindness… frustration and wonder… selfishness and compassion… the very young and the very old – it is all here. Perhaps I’m waxing nostalgic, since I rarely ride the subway these days, but on Monday night as I was traveling to and from seeing Willie’s musical (Willie Martinez is a parishioner and Jazz leader – he is the drummer for the
band), “This Side of Paradise” about Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, it felt good sitting on the subway and watching the people and their interactions, seeing the “up and coming” cultural changes, the vast array of cultures and dress and languages and attitudes, and knowing that this is New York City, the center of the known world.
This isn’t necessarily a personal observation, but the experience of a parent (Christoph Niemann, artist) and his boys on the NYC subway. It is very cute, and there really is something about trains and boys.
The Boys and the Subway
(Drawing by Christoph Niemann)
HT: Sarah at the caffeinated priest
I was riding home on the “F” the other day after work. The train wasn’t very full. A young lady and precocious and very cute small boy in a simple stroller came in. They got on talking. She sat on the seat next to mine at the angle. The little boy came out of the stroller and plopped down on the seat next to her, on the side of me. Later, I found out he was age 3, and she was a student going to be late for class – his babysitter or au pair or some such thing. She was quick witted and funny and very good with the kid.
There was a black woman sitting opposite me. She was put together, but not in the rich-b**** kind of way – down to earth. The little boy wondered over to the seat next to her to look out the window when we pulled into a subway station. The black woman watched the little guy with a smile on her face and she watched the babysitter. I watched them all.
At one point the boy was pushing the boundaries and the babysitter, who was good with the kid, was negotiating with him, “You have two options – stand still and hold the pole or sit your butt down flat on the seat!” He wanted nothing to do with either one. So, the babysitter said, “That’s it; you’re going back in the stroller, now!” She proceeded to grab the kid and put him into the seat of the stroller, all the while the kid was fighting her, stiffed backed and verbally protesting.
I just happened to look at the black woman at the point the babysitter said, “that’s it; you’re going in the stroller…” and there was a quick nod of approval by the black woman – like, “Yup, that’s what’s needed. This kid needs to do what you say and you need to make him.”
That split second nod of affirmation by the black woman said volumes. I remember listening a while back to a Youth Radio reporter on NPR. The reporter was young, a boy, and black. He talked about observing the difference between the way white parents handle their kids and the way black parents do so in a mall. He said that he watches white parents try to negotiate with their kids to make them do right or to stop acting up. He said it never seems to work very well.
Now black parents, he said he knew this from experience, black parents take their kids to that long hallway in the mall that doesn’t have any stores and gives the misbehaving kid a “woopin’!” No negotiation. From his observations, black kids mind their mothers a lot better than white kids! I think I have to agree. The whole notion of treating one’s little darlings as equals that need to be negotiated with hasn’t really crossed the color-line.
So, here was this black woman quickly nodding her head in approval when the babysitter told the kid his options were up – he didn’t mind and now this is what’s goin’ down. No questions, no more negotiation. Of course, it didn’t last. The kid was up in the seat again, but this time he sat down on his butt flat and stayed there.
“How old is he,” I asked. She said, “Three, going on twenty-one.” We got off at the same stop and I could hear him say, “Hey, he’s getting off here, too.” Nothing much passes by a precocious 3-year old without notice.
On the subway this morning, I watched as a youngish man was talking to his female companion (or at least the woman standing next to him). He is a new father. You know the old joke – the man pulls out his wallet and out spills three feet of pictures of his kid, and he has to show you. The proud father!
This man did the same thing, but more in line with the technological times. He passed his cell-phone to his female companion and she skipped through all kinds of really cute snap-shots of the man’s baby. Anyone could tell that if it were 20 years ago, he would have pulled out his wallet and three feet of pictures would have spilled out. He was a proud father.
Yesterday, I was riding the “F” train back to Brooklyn. Around 32nd. St., I noticed on the other end of the train another guy in a clergy collar. “Hum,” I thought, “I wonder who he is.”
Through the next couple of stops and as the congestion lightened a bit on the train, the other guy came closer. Finally, we introduced ourselves. He had on an “Anglican style” collar, so I figured him to be an Episcopalian or perhaps a Lutheran.
He asked, “Roman or Episcopalian?”
He is a Roman Catholic priest, pastor of a parish, and was just returning from the meeting with the Archbishop of this archdiocese of all clergy concerning the anonymous letter of no confidence. He said it was not a nice meeting and the archbishop made a number of enemies that day.
I don’t think I have ever seen another clergy person in a collar on the subway, other than other clerics I am with at the time. It is strange, and I was surprised to feel like, “Oh, another one of me!”
Young woman sitting on the train, traveling
Beautiful in black and turquoise,
hair pulled back
She’s sleepy, tired, eyes closing slowly
Her neck goes slack, tilting back, long neck
a vampire’s dream
Her mouth falls agape, eyes shut tight
If she saw a picture of this moment,
she would be embarrassed
The train jumps to a stop, a jolt
She awakens with a jump, startled
The train moves forward,
all things begin again
Nothing new under the sun.
I’m finding the people on the “F” subway train between Brooklyn and Manhattan an interesting bunch to observe.
Today, the dance, really a sport full of competition, of those trying to get a seat was kind of fun to watch. Surprisingly, a man got up and actually offered his seat to a woman. Another woman came up to take it and there was a brief “dance” between the two as to who was going to sit down. The first woman declined the seat. Then, another man a couple seats from me offered his seat to the first woman, still standing. She declined again, saying that she had on her sneakers so she was fine.
The through ran through my mind whether I was going to offer my seat to the other women standing around. What about “women’s lib?” Some women are actually offended if a man acts in a more chivalric way, but these women are getting older and their aging bodies are winning out over their politically correct minded indignation. That statement will get me in a lot of trouble. Oh well.
I didn’t get up. I was selfishly keeping my seat and justifying my self-centeredness with the assertion that if they want to be equal, then equal I will treat them because to another man I would not give up my seat. That is my own failing – my issue of resentment or indignation or whatever towards those kinds of attitudes.
There was this little boy on the train with his dad. I suspect he was around 4 years old. What an incredible imagination this kid had. I watched him play with a couple of his toys imagining all these different scenarios. He was so free with his thoughts – what a joy to watch him. He broke into a R & B’ish, Hip-Hop’ish version of Greensleeves (sp?). His father kept looking at him, as the kid was playing with his toys on is father’s leg, and just smiled and laughed. What a joy. (Of course, like any good uncle knows, I don’t have to be around for the care of a child when it is anything but fun!)
I do not think there is any greater joy or responsibility for humankind then to be involved in the formation of a new life. What an incredible privilege to mold and help a child come into his/her own sense of self in a mature and balanced form. What a travesty that society encourages the aspiration of self over the giving of self to the development of the next generation.