Correspondence and the City

Dear Couple on the Subway,

It’s cute that you’re so into each other. Really. At least someone has found love in this cesspit, right? But it’s Thursday morning on the commuter express train and you two are making out like teenagers. Which you are not, and have not been for a few years, possibly even a decade—I’m not sure because I didn’t get a good look at your faces. However, I can hear your faces: the adorable puckering sounds, the wet suction of lip to lip contact. And I can feel you. I don’t mean that on some metaphorical level. I mean I literally feel your bodies with my body because we are that close to each other. Everyone is. My glasses just slipped down and I tried using someone else’s armpit to push them back up because: 1) my arm is pinned to my body and 2) the armpit in question is an inch from my face. So when you, sir, touch her, you are in fact touching me as well. By default. There’s nothing I can do about it. You have to be able to feel that.

And now more people are shoving onto the train, and it’s your armpit, sir, in my face now. Which is actually preferable: because it means we aren’t touching anymore. But now I can see you. Or rather, I can see where your hand is, ma’am. And where it’s going now. And can hear you, as I’m sure others can as well. I disapprove of the language you’re using. This isn’t working out. Please for the love of sanity, stop.

Sincerely,

Your Accidental Voyeur

 

Dear Tiny Old Lady,

I’m really sorry about this morning. I wanted to explain. I didn’t mean to get in your way on the sidewalk. In fact, I was actively trying to avoid you. But somehow, we collided.

Almost instantaneously you screamed “HELP!!” as loudly as you possibly could in my left ear. I think my heart stopped. It may have taken years off of my life. In my frozen brain, I struggled to understand what you needed my help with. But then you said “Ma’am, don’t do that. MOVE.” The penny dropped. You thought I was attacking you. With shame and fear and tinnitus I ran away.

I want to somehow explain to you that I meant you no harm. I think what happened is that I tried to go hard right to avoid you, but that you went hard left (your left) and then physics just took over. But it’s pointless, and it probably shouldn’t frustrate me that you think I go around attacking old ladies or even that I’m a complete idiot. Because the former is definitely not true, and the latter depends only on who you ask.

In any case, wow. You’ve got a set of lungs.

Sincerely,

Harried Student

 

Dear New York City,

You are batshit insane. Everyone has been calling the weather bipolar this week, but I refrained. I defended you. With hard meteorology and soft optimism. But now I’m pretty sure the temperature is not the only thing on a yo-yo string.

Yesterday was amazing. It had it all. There was even the feel of a narrative about it: good friends, good stories, and only mildly annoying weather. Spring has taken over and the flowers are all in bloom, so I was expecting your gentler face. But instead it feels like you’re trying to freeze me out.

Did you overhear our conversation last night? Frankie and me, out in the park? Talking about how we still felt privileged to be here, sometimes. Most of the time, even. If you heard us, you must have laughed. And plotted.

Yesterday you were open: painted with possibilities. Today you’re closed. The buildings crowd in and the sky is encapsulated by a claustrophobic haze of time and whim. The crowding—the overcrowding—of the subway and the sidewalks just reminds me of your remote heights: I am one of many. The coming, the leaving, the ones born here, the ones who journey here to crawl all over the packed earth and asphalt of this place.

And today, a few of my friends talked about leaving. About retreating out of your urban bosom and finding a place that isn’t quite so finished. That isn’t establishment and safety and basically a playground for the rich. It’s the rent, mostly. We can’t live anywhere near where we work, and we can’t live on what we make. And in the end, no one just wants to just scrape by: at least not without the hope for more.

I can’t let myself feel this way about you, though. I know you break promises, but I’ve got nowhere else to go.

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