Illustration: Jim Cooke/GMG. Image via Shutterstock.
On Thursday, our friend and former colleague Jia Tolentino wrote, “The Personal-Essay Boom Is Over” for the New Yorker. Respectfully, Jia, it isn’t.
It’s 11 a.m. and I’m walking down Fulton Street, past the mom-and-pop shops, the beautiful brick-and-glass methadone clinic, past that old, funny man who hangs out on the bench on the edge of Cuyler Gore, usually wrapped in blankets, but today, prostrate in the sun. As I walk by, I don’t say hello—nor do I give him the 20 quarters I have bundled in my pocket for laundry I will never do (I will throw my dirty clothes out of my third story window and let them flutter, like memories, down to the pavement below where they will be picked up by someone else at some point, and purchase new ones)—but I do commend his free spirit in my mind, and promise to include him in my Work.
I am a writer, have been since I recognized my face in a mirror, and the world is my inspiration. Today, as I trot down the steps of the subway in my brand new Keds x Kate Spade new york CHAMPION GLITTER sneakers and romphim, I am thinking about Inequality and how I am touched by it.
I wait for the subway on the platform, like a normal person, and as one train passes—the B, shit—I catch a glance of myself in the mirror. Beautiful and introspective. But then, out of the corner of my eye, I see other people. And they are also beautiful, in a different way. And they make me sad. But why?
A young boy is holding an action figure—a Transmorpher, or an Animal Hero, I don’t know; I don’t keep up with pop culture because I’m so busy reading literature. He’s pointing it in his mother’s direction and yelling, “BLAMBLAMBLAMBLAMBLAM!” in her ear. She looks tired, and distraught, and I think of my own mother, but more, me. And how I, too, am tired. And then I think, because I’m always thinking, “Who else might be tired?” But I forget to see the thought through.
The Q train comes (thank God, a clean one), and I board it with a group of my sweaty companions on this adventure called Life in the Big City. And I feel a camaraderie with them, insofar as we all push our ways to empty seats, especially the three pregnant women. I win the race and sit in the one remaining spot. I deserve the seat as much as anyone, as I too am pregnant—with good thoughts and a lot of potential.
What was I thinking about when I boarded the train? Oh right, other people. “Oh no. Oh no, oh no, oh no,” a man sitting directly next to me says, as he grabs his chest. I tell him to hush please, and that the train is a shared space that we all must respect.
As I was saying, other people. We all have hopes, dreams, families. We all think we’re talented (though only a lucky few of us are).
“Is that guy okay?” one of the pregnant women says. I smile, but also shoot daggers in her direction. She probably doesn’t know I need absolute quiet because I am writing a masterpiece in my head.
Where was I? Suffering. Economic inequality. Trump! That’s it! We are real America—crammed together in a rickety old train, at the whim of a conductor who probably didn’t even want the job, ha ha! This is smart! I am getting somewhere!
The man has collapsed onto the floor, and his weird hand is lying directly on top of my right Keds x Kate Spade new york CHAMPION GLITTER sneaker. “EXCUSE ME sir, haven’t you heard of PERSONAL SPACE,” I cry. “YOU ARE DONALD TRUMP TOUCHING MY BODY WITHOUT PERMISSION! THIS CITY IS DONALD TRUMP TOUCHING MY BODY WITHOUT PERMISSION!”
Another of the hugely pregnant women mounts the man (ew) and starts performing CPR. I look at them on the ground in front of me and I think, it’s the CPR our nation so desperately needs. I write it in my notebook.
I stand up in triumph and step over the now probably dead man’s upper head, and stand exactly one inch from the subway door, where I will remain until the train reaches my stop in nine-to-12 minutes. I am staring hard into a reflection of my eyeballs, and in them, I see—could it be?—a gorgeous blue and green marble; it’s Earth, in my eyes. The sight of my eye is so beautiful my heart stops, much like the heart in the corpse behind me, and I am stunned; at the beauty of this world; the beauty of my fellow WO-man; the beauty of my own mind.
The subway creaks to a halt and the doors open (not my stop yet, though). Men, women, and children stream in and out of the train around me—I don’t move, but I do cry, and sing a soft song by a poet named Bob Dylan. As I’m singing, my eyes shut, my fellow travelers raptly listening to my voice, I’m sure, and the subway doors close right onto my nose.