13 March 2009

Momento Allegro

The D train hurtled through the tunnel from 34th Street-Herald Square to the West Fourth Street Station. For a long time, that was my favorite subway ride: When I was in high school and college in New Jersey, I used to take it after getting off the PATH train from Penn Station in Newark. I loved that subway ride, for it both symbolized and enabled what lured me into the city. You get on the D train in midtown, by Macy's and Penn Station ("...and lead us not into Penn Station"), and it takes you directly to the Village, with no stops in between. Sometimes I still think of that stretch of the NYC subway as my "escape train."

Now escape seems like an utterly implausible idea: I have some difficulties--Who doesn't?--but escape is not just an impossibility or impracticality; it isn't even conceivable because every time I've plotted or attempted an escape, it turned out not to exist. I could as well have been coming up with a formula or equation for phlogiston. I ran away to Europe even when I knew full well that what I was running from couldn't be evaded there or anyplace else. The funny thing is that if I'd understood that, I might not have taken those trips, but if I had, I probably would have appreciated what I saw all the more.

The thing is, when you're in the moment, but not living for it, you have nothing to escape. Today, at a particular moment, I was on the D train between 34th and Fourth Streets. Other people on the train read newspapers or dozed off; a few looked my way. It seemed that every time I looked at somebody who looked at me, that person flashed one of those smiles that, as best as I can tell, serves the same sort of function for humans that a wagging tail does for a dog: It signals that the person smiling or the dog wagging his tail is friendly, or at least not hostile. But it's also a sort of demarcation of psychic and sometimes physical territory: Both sides will be cordial to each other, which includes not transgressing each other. It's really not a bad way to navigate through time and space among people. I've noticed that, especially since I started to live as Justine, I am usually treated better when I have almost any kind or degree of smile on my face. And, faces that seemed to be cast in stone light up, if only for a moment, at the sight of a smile--even one like mine!

Two young men or boys--I would have guessed their ages to be somewhere between 16 and 20--sat diagnoally across from me. They were white and gangly with close-cropped hair: They had the look of young people from one of the last remaining blue-collar enclaves in this city. In other words, they're like kids I saw during my childhood and early adolescence in Brooklyn. Although I could follow little of what they were saying in the din and rumble of the train, I knew that they were talking about going to escape--from school, from parents, from who-knows-what--for the day, or at least part of this day, a Friday.

And every few seconds, it seemed, one or the other of them glanced in my direction and smiled. And I reciporicated. And it seemed that each succesive smile from them became broader and more emotional.

One thing I've discovered, and which has pleasantly surprised me, is how many "good kids" there actually are. One might not approve of the way they dress or the ways some of them spend their time. But more of them are polite, and even friendly and helpful, than I would have imagined. Maybe it's because I'm older and I remind them of --egad!--their aunts, mothers or even grandmothers. Somehow I can tell those boys in the subway had, or have, a good relationship with some older female family member.

Perhaps that's the reason why, even when nothing else is going well in school, I am still happy with most of the studets. We treat each other with respect, and sometimes even warmth. Most of them seem to want to please me; I don't mind that even if I'd rather that they'd do the things that will foster their intellectual and emotional development. Still, I welcome their friendliness, no matter how temporal, as I did with those boys on the train.

As I walked out the doors of the subway car, they wished me a nice day and weekend. And I wished the same for them.