My Brain Is…


Forty-three?  Or was it sixty-two? I stare at the bus chart like a European tourist.  I’d only taken the bus once before, about six years ago, for a reason I can’t even begin to remember.  That memory was an uncomfortable one that took place during a rainstorm.  There were fogged windows and people with wheelchairs.  I stuck to the subways after that.  But Jon said it would be easy.  “Just get off at Jefferson,” he said.  Or was it Jackson…

A bus comes.  Sixty-two.  I think it’s sixty-two.  I had committed it to memory with a reference to the B52s, but I couldn’t remember if the bus I wanted was the one that sounded like B52 or didn’t sound like B52.  That was the problem.  I do things like this all the time – things that seem clever at the time and then only serve to confuse me later.  If I had only looked at the direction each bus was headed, I would have been fine.

I board the evening bus filled with passengers too lazy to walk short distances or so physically limited that their limbs cannot take to the up and down of subway stairs.  I dig into my wallet for my Metro Card while the bus driver pulls away from the curb.  Fuck.  I left my card in my other purse.  Stupid, stupid, stupid.  I start picking out quarters and nickels from the mess of receipts and gum wrappers in my purse in a feeble attempt to find enough for the $2.25 fare.  The bus driver, still driving, looks over at me as I scramble like an idiotic, fresh-off-the-boat white girl who never takes public transportation.  Three stops down Manhattan Avenue and he presses a button, depositing the paltry $1.35 I was able to scrounge.  “It’s okay, miss,” he says, tired and dismissive.  “Thanks,” I squeak.

I shuffle to the first seat I can find, close to the driver and his big window that I can look out for Jefferson or Jackson or Meserole.  Did he say Meserole? My butt occupies only the last two inches of the seat in my ridiculous attempt to thwart the invitation of the bedbugs that I would imagine prefer to live closer to the wall.  Walls gross me out; they always have.  Bathroom walls, wallpapered hotel walls, the seat closest to the wall in a restaurant booth – these were always kept at arm’s reach, like that dirty kid my ex-step brother used to be friends with in fourth grade.

Without any real firm ground in a chair, each stop sends me sliding across the seat until I hook my leather jacket around a pole for support.  I look over at the woman across from me with her fake Louis Vuitton bag from Canal Street.  She’s looking at me and I wonder if she can see all of my neurosis playing out like an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm on mute.  My mom has always said that I’m an easy read.

We pass a street that starts with an M but I wasn’t really paying attention.  I keep listening for Jefferson or Jackson but the announcement never comes.  I just keep hearing the same dinging sound followed by a sign lighting up saying “Stop Requested.”  The bus drives by a Chinese takeout place called Fortune Cookie, which doesn’t seem nearly substantial enough part of a Chinese dinner to name a whole restaurant after it.  Was that Jefferson there?

In the distance I see the BQE and a McDonalds, at which point I call Jon.  “I’m pretty sure I’m lost,” I giggle stupidly.  “I’m at Broadway and, hmmm, what is this street?  I’m at the highway and Broadway?”  Jon emits a longwinded “Noooooooo!” in the inspired vein of Homer Simpson and tells me to get off the bus and start going the other way.  Now this poses a problem: it’s 9:30 at night, pitch black, and I am no longer within the Polish/ hipster confines of my known neighborhood.  Oh yeah, and I’m wearing my inappropriately short shorts I’ve lovingly dubbed “denim underwear.”  I look up at the looming projects on the horizon with their iron gates and their dim florescent-lit living rooms.  Fuucccckkkkkkkk.

I walk back up to the driver who I’m sure has missed me terribly since our last encounter and I ask him where the nearest subway is.  Whatever he tells me doesn’t make any sense.  All I know is that we are approaching the foothills of the projects and although I am tall, I am probably an easy take.  Any attempt to assume the clench-jawed tightness of a hardened badass only leaves me looking like a pale blonde chick with stomach cramps.

Jon calls me back and tells me to get off the bus and wait for Olivier who is coming to rescue me on a motorcycle.  Thank bloody God.  I request a stop (which I’ve just learned in the last two minutes is what I needed to do back at Jefferson or Jackson because it’s late night service) and exit the front of the bus, thanking the bus driver who thinks I’m a moron but is still nice about it.

Then I wait in front of a hamburger/ taco joint watching SUVs with tinted black windows and big tires drive past.  I stand with my arms crossed and leaning against a well-lit wall looking like a regular James Dean, who, in this case, probably wouldn’t look that tough either, especially wearing these shorts.

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Terror in the Underground

I would like to know whom subway ads are marketed towards.  Not me, surely.  My guess is that it’s for people that watch the local nightly news.  Grim people with a sick obsession for knowing about every stabbing, neighborhood rape spree, and other various horrifying things that are generally out of one’s control.  These are the people who don’t realize that the awareness of such only inspires them to be a suspicious apartment hermit.  Or maybe they do and they’re okay with that.  In which case, these people are truly sick.  I prefer to remain blissfully ignorant.  Safe in a bubble of naivety, because, in the end, what the hell can I do about anything?

The subway walls as of late have been well, rather depressing.  The first time I noticed the fear mongering I was subconsciously absorbing every time I traveled via subway was a series of photographs depicting the indecipherable interior of an open body next to a person wearing an oxygen mask.  There were other images that I have blocked out of memory.  The moment was very reminiscent of one time at Valley Bob’s Driving School, when I spent one air-conditioned afternoon watching Red Asphalt with twenty other fifteen year olds.  For those of you know don’t know, Red Asphalt is a midcentury scare tactic classic “documentary”.  It’s is pretty much like watching that scene from American History X involving a sidewalk and a man’s face being split in two over and over and over again until you need to leave the room.  The purpose of course being to inform teenagers of the dangers of driving, as well as a real graphic education on what your insides look like when worn on the outside.

Aside from all of the unsolicited gore, my main problem with this subway message was that whatever it was trying to communicate was lost on me because the words were in Spanish.  There was no context for what I was looking at, and that made it ever the more disturbing.  The image of moist, red, veined flesh being poked by some silver instruments was enough to make me throw up.  Literally, I didn’t eat all day after I saw it.

There comes a point when marketing is overtly invasive.  This was one of those times.  I refuse to watch medical shows on the Discovery Channel because I am overly squeamish.  I flip through the channels and if I accidentally catch a squirt of blood coming out of a body tarped with a thin blue paper sheet, I close my eyes, scream “Oh my God!” and press furiously on the channel changer.  The fact that I have to sit underneath this photograph for eight stops against my will makes me both nauseous and totally peeved.

I got off of the subway that day wondering if what I had been subjected to was actually legal.  If so, it shouldn’t be.

Later, on yet another subway ride, the same series of images was plastered above my head, only this time it was accompanied by English subtitles.  The gruesome tactics were apparently being used as an anti-smoking campaign.  I felt a little bit better for a few reasons:

1)   It gave the gore context.

2)   Smoking is, in fact, bad.  Sorry, dudes.

Even though I am a die-hard nonsmoking advocate, I still don’t want to get on the subway and see this shit.  I’m just trying to get from Point A to Point B.  Just because I buy a MetroCard doesn’t mean I’m signing up to be a captive audience for preachers with a high tolerance for the sight of blood and open-heart surgeries.

Yesterday, while riding down from Chelsea, I saw a poster I had seen before.  On it was a solemn looking African American male, his eyes downcast and his mouth in a pensive, droopy frown.  The accompanying pseudo thought bubble read, “I wish there was something I could have done to help her” next to the campaign slogan “Abortion changes you.”  There should be an ad for antidepressants next to it because that’s what I’m going to need after taking public transportation for the coming years.

Next time I take the subway, I’ll just make sure to stare at the passengers and not at the walls.  Then again, sometimes that gets pretty depressing, too.

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