Friday, April 4, 2008

If I See You On The Subway, Am I Allowed To Look?

The weirdest--and the least emotionally stable--people in the world ride the TTC. It doesn't matter if you're east or west of Spadina. It's bad everywhere. I've been to New York almost twenty times, and here's the deal: Toronto now is what New York was in 1977. And next year we'll be like New York was in 1978. So look forward to about twenty years down the road when we'll get our Giuliani and not have to step over human shit on our streets.

But you will have to use the transit system. And the shit you're going to deal with between those filthy aluminum walls is worse than any surface-level, pan-handled assaults. It's a different city down there.

Next time I see someone shout at a fellow subway passenger for "looking at me," I'll be carving the fifth notch on the pole. The first time was six years ago when, on the Yonge line, just north of Bloor station, a dreadlocked guy in his late 20s let loose at a fifty-ish woman sitting across the rubberized floor from him. "What you be lookin' at me for! What you be looking at me! Huh! Huh!" She got up, walked to the other end of the car, and got off at the next station. I still laugh at that goddamn idiot, sitting there with a black and yellow knitted cap, bobbing his head side to side. "What you be lookin' at?" It wasn't funny, it was just so sad.

But that's the city we live in.

Fast forward to the next time, a few months later, and it was a woman who couldn't handle the pressure of being in a public place. She was late-forties, grey, and about five-feet tall. "Don't touch me with your eyes," she screamed at the girl beside me--early twenties, Asian, and wearing nice black leather high-heeled boots. "Your eyes are touching me! Your eyes."

The woman beside me, as the first had done, got up and left.

The third time: an obviously homeless man was hacking out his lungs at the end of the car. This was actually during the SARS epidemic. A very prim-looking middle-aged woman glanced at him to see whether he was, in fact, dying. "You fucking bitch! Fuck you looking at me you fucking bitch!"

As I held my breath, she got up and left.

The fourth time: a kid, in his teens, with his girlfriend, tonguing eachother against the burgundy plastic dividers that border the sliding doors. The girl was wearing skin-tight white leggings, and the guy was wearing a gold belt buckle and couture army fatigues. A guy, who was just standing across from them, waiting to exit, was the victim this time. "What you lookin' at, bitch! This bitch is lookin' at me. Bitch, don't look at me!"

The guy was leaving anyway, but he hauled ass to another door.

So I've resolved to get involved next time I see something happen. I don't want to die on the subway, but I don't want to be emotionally castrated there, either. I'll accept being stabbed. What a mistake that guy'll make by bringing out his blade. He can do the crime, but can he do the night in jail? If I see a gun, that's a little too much. But at least talk radio callers'll remember me. And if I have to fight a homeless man or woman, I'll just wrap my jacket around my fist. An interesting comment on the city, huh?

I've had conversations with strangers on the subway. I didn't particularly enjoy myself, but the person talked, and I answered. Usually it was about where I was going, and what I was doing. I have a feeling that's how it used to be. You got into an elevator and said hello. You walked past someone on a Sunday morning, going to get the paper, and you said hello. For crissakes, so that's what we're going to longing for now? A time when you could look at people in public?

If you smile at me on the subway, I'll smile back. Or at least look at you and acknowledge the gesture.

But I realize that's getting rarer and rarer. Recently someone told me that their subway time was "their time." Don't bother them, because it's "their time." What the hell does that mean? Am I talking to Clarence Darrow? Am I being billed by the minute, your time being so incredibly precious.

Funny. TTC employees are such happy, generous people, yet the subway's such an unfriendly place. It just doesn't figure.


metro mama said...

I've been yelled at by a crazy woman. I didn't get off, but I did move seats.

Actually, the TTC drivers are surprisingly friendly, given what they put up with!

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