The sacred space of the subway car is the epitome of everything that is New York City. If I believed that I could invade this space with a video camera to record the human spectacle without either losing a little something inside or else being beaten I would capture the round-the-clock performance. Particularly the bums fascinate me, each with their monologue of confession, concession and possession, unique like fingerprints.
I was particularly moved today on my way to band practice on the W to Astoria. A blind bum got on, and the train stopped for a few minutes at 28th street without any explanation. Not so unusual except for the silence underground without another train passing or a conductor announcement. We all sat there while this person, I’m not even sure if it was a man or woman, launched into a medley of songs, leading with a bucket and keeping rhythm with a white cane The train made the next stop at 34th Street and when the doors opened, the singing bum exited, just as mysteriously and silently the train went on its way. It seemed he was the only person who entered or exited at that stop, the awe lingering in his absence.
When you live in NY you turn it off – the curiosity, the awe, the nausea. In a city of eight million people there’s a homeless person with a story so close to home for every one of us. They get on at one stop, pitch their request for money for their kids, an operation, food, shelter. Some are insane and just rave outright. Others perform with pizzazz and dignity. This person was a spectre and everyone could see it. The performance was pleading and he couldn’t see us. Maybe that’s why everyone silently looked at each other, and then down at their hands. It was the most silent moment I’ve ever experienced on a New York City train.
People know what a New York minute means when everything and everyone are tossed into the atom splitter, translucent pink and not quite alive, pure energy and without God. This was a New York minute to be sure but turned upside down, silent and slow as an open wound. I can’t describe it, to see a bum get on the train and sing as a one man parade, everyone simultaneously aware of pain and suffering, but not their own. It would mean none of this but for the singing. I envisioned self-awareness like that of Adam and Eve at the garden but turned inside out. Moving so slowly, literally blindly, from one embarrassing song to another at the speed of an automatic car wash. Binding the ties of the haves to the have-nots, for one long medley minute, between 28th and 34th Street.
One moment in time on a subway car with a quasi-performing blind bum.