The New York City subway system is one of the most contradictory things in my life. Though it remains a convenience unimaginable to anyone living in any suburb, it makes my life exponentially more complicated and frustrating. The advent of Google Maps has simplified matters considerably, but no amount of Big Brother will fix my biggest complaint with our public transit system: the lighting.
I don’t consider myself to be a vain person but I suppose what I’m about to admit will contradict that completely. The lighting on the subway seems to be designed for the singular purpose of making one look as if they had missed several nights worth of sleep after deciding to age ten years.
No matter how long I take to get ready (and this can range from mere moments tossing on gym clothes to a few hours applying products that promise to make me look like the man that I am not) one glance at my reflection in a window of the C train is enough to knock down my self image for the rest of the day. Something about the combination of fluorescent bulbs and the pained expression of a person trying desperately not to catch the eye of a busker creates a perfect storm of creases and translucency otherwise not found in nature.
I can be on the way to work, or the market, or the gym, or to a fabulous party full of fabulous people and the knowledge of what I look like in the worst conditions can reduce my self confidence entering such events to the point where I end up considering turning around and making up some excuse for my absence.
I have several solutions. I can tilt my head back at just the right angle reduce the effect of the lighting by about half, which is a comfort, albeit a small one. I can simply sit strategically positioned so as not to glimpse my distorted self for the duration of the ride, but I know going in that temptation will just be too much. I could do what any other college educated and otherwise emotionally healthy adult would do and simply get some kind of psychoanalysis to discover the reason behind this self-involvement and shallow fixation. But that’s a very expensive way to find out things I already know.
I’m so bothered by this issue for all the reasons anyone is bothered by being unattractive, by aging, and by the utter uselessness of all the rituals we do daily to make ourselves more presentable. It’s a lack of control. A reminder that death and chaos cannot be stopped and that all of our flaws cannot be exfoliated away simply through vigilance and determination. We are a generation taught that through hard work and a lot of money we can be anything we choose to be. This ends up not to be true, in fact, the moment one steps onto the C train. (I don’t know why, specifically, the C train is the most egregious offender. It just is.)
You might think that my subway issue is silly. You might not understand. But you have a subway issue of your own. I guarantee it. Even if you haven’t realized it yet. For now, I shall try to just look at my phone.