Posted tagged ‘drawing of boy on subway’

Fear and Loathing on the Number 4

September 30, 2012

Boy on Number 4 Train

“The people here
are f—ing animals,” says hard-
creased mom to youngish son
as they slip between
double rubber, closing doors.

The boy, buzz-cut (mom holding Yankees cap), edges
uneasily through the crush
towards center pole–

Mom hooks him
before he can latch on–“These people push you,”
she snarls,
“I’ll push ‘em back.”

I try to angle smile that only boy
will see (so that the mom
won’t slug me), but boy
turns face to door where, nothing
to hold, he lists with the tight
till mom’s boa arm heavily

Then, even as train
smooths, even as she
releases, he bangs
his head against the dark glass—-

The bangs are soft below the train’s
now again–but
again–eyes lowered–

Mom’s harsh lines
limp; she spans one hand
to his forehead as if
to take the hits herself–
now again–

In the jumble of next,
seat empties – I point it out–
boy sits; she smiles at me,
sort of.

Then each of us consciously
looks neither at the other or
the boy,
peering instead
through the translucence of
train fug–the rumple of so many–


I am posting the above – a re-write- very belatedly for dVerse Poets Pub’s Poetics prompt about people watching hosted by the very good people-watcher Brian Miller.  

Fear and Loathing on the Number 4 (The NYC Subway Not Much Of A Tea Party)

February 17, 2010

Boy on Number 4 Train

“The people here are f—ing animals,” said the slightly hard-faced young woman to her ten or eleven year old son as they scooted onto my express.

The train was full, but not jammed; there was space not only to breathe, but even to move around a bit.  The boy, wide-eyed and buzz-cut (his mom was holding his Yankees cap), stepped towards one of the center poles, reaching in between passengers, to hold on—his mom quickly pulled him back towards the door.

“These people push you,” she said, draping an arm around him, “I’ll push them back.”

At their side, I kept thinking how unfair this was.   Saying that people push on the train is a bit like saying that a bunch of clementines slung into a bag, clothes crushed into a hamper, or lemmings urged into the sea, push. Okay, maybe we and the lemmings do.  Some.  Still, in my experience, most New York City subway riders, especially the ones whose faces are almost grazed by my forearm as I reach for something to hold onto are pretty forbearing.  (A very different f-word.)

I’m kind of a busybody, I guess, in the sense that I pay attention to strangers.  (As noted in my previous posts, I believe in a “ripple effect” of trying to be peaceful, pleasant, on the subway.)  So now I tried to smile discreetly at the boy to reassure him that he wasn’t really surrounded by f—ing animals.

But it was hard to smile at the boy.  First, because I was afraid his mom would slug me;  secondly, because I was worrying about the fact that his mother had thrust him into a spot (by the door) where there was nothing at all to hang onto.   (I envisaged lurches, collisions, a huge altercation.)

But as the train pushed from the station, the mom grabbed him again, folding her arm around his neck.

After a minute or so, as the ride stabilized, she loosened her grip, and the boy turned himself around so that he faced the door itself and leaned right into it.   This worried me even more.  GERMS.   (I’m a mother too.)

Then I realized that he was (probably) not pressing his mouth into the rubberized seam of the door, but into the collar of his jacket. And then, that the little boy was gently but firmly hitting his buzz-cut head against the door itself.  Again and again and again.

He did not look autistic.  (Who knows?)   But he did not look like he had any “organic” type of problem that might lead to headbanging.   He just looked, well, down, as he softly banged his head.

The mother gently put her hand on the back of his head to try to stop him.  When that didn’t work, she put her hand on his forehead to shield the place that was banging.  That didn’t stop him either.

Finally, we got to Union Square where she put her arm around his neck again and told him they had to get out—

“This our stop?”

“No, to let the people get off.”

As they stepped back into the train, there was one emptied seat left, which I pointed out quickly to the woman.  I felt a little guilty as there was a little old lady right behind them, but the old lady probably wouldn’t have swooped down on the seat in time in any case, and the boy, with his mom pushing him, was a pretty good swooper.

The mother nodded at me once her son was situated,  half-smiling for just a moment.  Then she leaned heavily against the center pole, her face tired, stressed.

The incident somehow made me think of the Tea Partyers again.  I don’t think I quite said what I wanted to yesterday in my post about sneering.  And I don’t mean to imply that the woman on the train was a Tea Partyer.  Only that she seemed frustrated and fearful, and I’m guessing (with really no clear evidence) that she doesn’t much like or trust government, and probably not Obama.

A big part of me wanted to say to her:  ‘Hey!  Don’t spout the f-word to your kid.  Don’t teach pushing on the train!  Enough with automatic retribution!’

But I was able to stop myself.  Besides the fact that she really might have hit me, that kind of speech would simply not have been very useful.  As it was, I was lucky enough to be able to help her get a seat for a tired boy.  And to get a smile from her.  And for both of us to feel that strangers in our society could, in fact, have a kind of connection.

I don’t mean to pat myself on the back here.   Just to say that it felt good.