Heaven Below

There are roughly 9 million residents of the fair city of New York, and most of them are forced to regularly engage with the dark, piss-soaked abyss of the subway system. Unless you can walk to work (rare) take taxis everywhere (expensive) or are homeless (sucks), or you have a death wish and choose to cycle to work (which I did often, sometimes arriving at my office genuinely surprised at still being alive), you are hereby sentenced to share a very small, sealed space for an unpredictable amount of time, at least twice every day for the rest of your working life. You will share air, germs, unwelcome advances, viruses, silences, stares, frustration, judgement, proselytising, uncomfortable temperatures, standing space, uncomfortable seats, screeching noise, and a variety of smells (good and bad, often very bad) that you cannot escape, with every other cog like you.

During your sentenced subway rides, you will encounter (often intimately) people you otherwise would not have believed existed. In that human-as-spectacle sense, the experience will be fascinating. Documentarians, take note: the New York subway provides more of an in-depth look at the private lives of modern city dwellers than any film you could ever hope to produce. Where else could you expect to find such a diverse cross-section of people, and in such intimate detail? It is both unexpected and illuminating to witness the usually-private rituals of people who are so rushed for time that they are forced to carry out their morning hygiene practices on the train, shoulder-to-shoulder with their neighbours. To wit, during one oppressively hot summer morning commute I learned that the man sitting one seat over preferred to clip the toenails of his left foot first, and that the woman jamming her colossal behind into the too-small space between me and toenail man suffered from early morning flatulence. What’s more, had I not been crammed onto that seat I might never have noticed the “Heaven Below” tattoo that was peeking out from the expanse of her buttocks as she descended on me. Heaven itself, in all its blazon glory was amongst us on the morning subway!

Without this slow and uncomfortable underground journey, I might never have known the sheer scale of a truly enormous ass. I have born witness to asses so big they cover three subway seats with ease, spreading across the hard plastic like a non-Newtonian fluid. What’s more, without the subway I might have continued to assume that the only place I could throw garbage was into a garbage can. No longer must I endure the indignity of holding my own trash until I find a suitable receptacle to dispose it in. Now when the subway doors open at each stop I can throw my empty wrappers or the thoroughly-sucked bones from my bucket of fried chicken onto the platform before the doors close and the subway leaves, my dignity intact. If that isn’t American freedom, then I don’t know what is!

So thank you, New York City subway. I have learned many valuable lessons from my countless forays into your often foul and stinking belly. I know you are not just a vessel to transport me from A to B and back again in a slow grind to old age and dissatisfaction; you are my resting place when I am too drunk to stand, my toilet when I can’t hold it any longer, my conjugal bed when the time just gotta be right here, right now. Thank you for reminding me that I am not above the struggle; rather I am in the shit with all of your followers, and I’d better take something to shield the nail clippings and fried chicken bones flying at my face. Or get out and fucking walk.

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