American Diary:Part 3 Underground Culture


November 2nd was my birthday. It began at a subway station in New York when the digital time display switched from 23.59 to 00.00. I didn’t notice because I was transfixed to an old man, who was playing the flute. He had a hunchback, a grey moustache and sad eyes. I gave him a dollar.

LSB saw the time change though. He’d been watching it. “The first act of your birthday is a noble one: Typical Katzi”, he said, flattering me, because it was my birthday and because he is kind.

Subways in New York are grubby places. They are for poor people and for people who read large books with city library stamps printed on their spines.

They are full of crazy people and sad stories. At every stop you can see the same slumped figure: somebody with their arms folded around their knees and their head tucked into their chest, motionless. You can find them on benches or hidden away in the corners.

New York is a busy place so the forgotten people talk to themselves. I counted about half a dozen men – all black- who were having conversations with themselves. I even checked their ears to see if they had any fancy devices. They didn’t.

There are so many faces on the subway that it’s hard to remember any. I stared at one lady because she looked ordinary. I wondered if I’d recognise her face if I ever saw it again. She was middle-aged, with shoulder-length auburn hair. She had peach-brown skin and a round face. I don’t remember the colour of her eyes and I might not know her if I saw her again.

The rudest man in the world works at 103rd Street station. He sits in a plastic box. His job is to advise commuters who don’t know how to work the machines or who would like to purchase a ticket but don’t have the correct change.

If you want to talk to him, you have to speak into a little microphone through the screen, which means that everybody around can hear what you want to say.

This man is the rudest man in the world because when you approach him, he roars into his microphone “ASK”.

He doesn’t say “Hello” or “How can I help you” or even “Yes?”

When LSB approached him, he yelled “ASK”

LSB was a little taken aback. LSB is polite at all times.

He bent tentatively towards the microphone.

“I was wondering if it’s possible to get a one-day metro ticket”

“NO”, the man replied and banged his fist on the counter.

“Oh…” said LSB

The man snarled and yelled “SECOND QUESTION”.

He said it as a statement, not a question.

But LSB didn’t have a second question, because his first seemed to have caused grave offence.

“You’d never get that in Ireland” we said because Ireland is small and flat and as my mum says, it’s a good place to be an eejit.

At another subway stop one evening, a young musician was playing guitar. I didn’t give him any money but LSB did. LSB is quiet and noble. The rifs followed us onto the train. It was cold and dark outside but the carriage was musty and cramped.

I have another story about the underground, but that will have to wait, because LSB and I have something important to investigate.

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12 thoughts on “American Diary:Part 3 Underground Culture

    • Belated though..but I was quite excited to wish you that I forgot to add my comments to your entry..heh.
      I like the suspense which you created and the style this time. It seems almost similar to your normal style but you made repeated emphasis on certain words. Was that meant as a contrast between kind and rude and also the ordinary-ness(if there is such a word) in New York?
      And also deliberate? description with the music at the station and ending with almost the same description… Quiet style but with huge impact.I like 🙂

  1. Thanks Clariice! It was lovely having a birthday abroad 🙂 This piece flowed more easliy for me and I think I’m more suited to a simple style. I’ve always preferred using short sentences but sometimes it’s difficult when you’re writing an argument-type piece. I wrote this piece right after the one on the “Newspaper Blackout” poetry, which inspired me to take the pressure out of creating! I didn’t mean to repeat certain words but I did mean to go back to the buskers at the subway station because I was reminded of Andrew’s (LSB) first comment to me when he himself gave money to a busker the next day! As always, thanks so much for your thoughtful comments, they mean a lot to me 🙂

  2. Great. NY is my favourite place, or joint fav with Manchester – I didn’t notice the mentally fragile-poverty stricken-confused nature of subway travellers, and (not surprisingly then) felt quite at home down there. I’m more out of place in a Marks and Spencers, people hand me mops and tell me there’s a spillage on aisle five, I guess different people feel at home in different places- the town where I live fits your description by the way, especially the people talking to themselves.

    • Absolutely. New York was wonderfully exciting and it engulfed the senses in a way that few places can do. But I like flat Dublin, with its red-brick buildings, its modest shopfronts and winding canals and scattering of city centre parks. Has this really happened to you in M&S? How very bizarre! Haven’t been to Manchester – passed through it on the megabus. Must pay a visit sometime!

  3. No it hasn’t happened, I just mean i blend in better in the low-class situations than the high-class ones 😉 Loved New York, loved Belfast, but Dublin felt a bit touristy to me, I was only there for a couple of days staying with friends but, I hate to say it, felt a bit tacky. I’d def. give it another try though since seeing the film Once about a hundred times, it’s one of my favourite films.

  4. oh dear 🙂 the touristy bits are tacky alright but it has some lovely spots and a really lively arts scene full of eccentric types! Once is a great film; its opening shot is filmed right on the main street south of the River Liffey.

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