Everyone walking around New York City is a ticking time bomb. A tightly wound, sleep-deprived, fiercely alive ticking time bomb, and they’ll claw your damn eyes out. There are bedbugs, there might even be cases of ebola, but what you really need to watch out for is your everyday run of the mill New Yorker.
Naturally, commuting anywhere in this city using public transportation means close proximity, shoulders touching shoulders, bombs against bombs. Sometimes, when such incendiary masses are surrounded by one another, things ignite.
Part of the phenomenon of calling a city like New York “home” is forming patterns of regularity. Much like a local favorite coffee shop or diner you might have frequented growing up in a small suburban town in anywhere USA, living in New York City means you find things you like, rope them together with vicious determination and never let them go. If you like to take a certain path through the underground inferno that is Atlantic Terminal during rush hour, then you stick to that. If you like the bagels at this one bodega even though they take 20 minutes to make and there’s always a line and your hair smells like a bodega afterwards, well dammit, you stick with that bodega.
Part of that routine—what makes this incongruous, jagged-edged city feel like some semblance of home—is a simple sense of habit. Because at our dumbest, rawest core, we are all nothing but creatures of habit. Bite, chew, swallow; lather, rinse, repeat. The skyline fades in and out of our line of vision as we head over the Manhattan Bridge, but knowing it’s there every morning setting the scene for our grind…well that’s what feeds our dreamy hunger.
In the morning, I can expect to see the exact same handful of bizarre, ultra-specific types on the Manhattan-bound N train. Hell – I can rely on them. These are the fabled humans of New York, and we’ve all seen articles that attempt to categorize them. They aren’t always the same person, but they are sometimes—I know it, I recognize them, my brain registers the pattern. But mostly, they fulfill a general type of human interaction quota. They’re my traveling companions, and they remind me I’m part of this crazy city algorithm too. So essential is their presence on my morning commute that if I don’t see their type or shape, something about the day just seems off-balance, sagging, incomplete.
First sample type: Girl applying makeup. The morning makeup fluffer. She hustles to get a seat, almost always there is not room for her, or, more importantly, her elbows, which jut out at 90 degree angles during the entire trip duration as she holds a compact mirror in one hand and applies sixteen layers of mascara in the other. She’s wearing some sort of pointy leather boot with a heel, has bangs, and you can’t help but stare at her staring at herself in that compact mirror with bugged-eye intensity. You judge her in your head for her stupid vanity and jerky, precise morning cokehead movements, but still you stare like an animal.
The Chinatown restaurant owner and/or line cook. Gets on or off at Canal Street, where everything begins or ends for them. This person nods off immediately after sitting down, mouth gapes open, slack jaw, head rolls down and then snaps back up, eyes fling open as reality replaces train dream, cycle begins again. At their feet is a bag filled with weird fish parts and chicken feet.
The coffee mug-from-home type. Full reusable mug of French pressed coffee. Receding hairline. They probably live in Fort Greene and already spent their morning tending to their Indigo Child. They’re wearing corduroys, nice brogues and flannel. They look sort of like a complete tool, but you’re still curious about what their living room looks like; what they go home to every night after work.
The school teacher, surrounded by a sea of tiny, screeching schoolchildren fish. You’re not staring at her, per se, but more generally into the baffling grey unicorn mist of endless energy and patience that surrounds her. And that fucking kid picking his FUCKING NOSE with his mouth open and then eating goldfish from the same hand after… and goddammit when did the subway become the Magic School Bus?
The wild card. This individual is either homeless, an addict, mentally ill, smells weird, is actively taking their clothes off or is some combination of all the above. They’re either hitting themselves in the face with a full loaf of wonder bread or warding off demons with a twisted, knobby pointer finger. Everyone else on the train is keeping this person in their peripheral line of vision while they think in their head, “fucking crazy ass people in this place.” Funny, because the crazy ass person is likely thinking the exact same exact thing about you.
The list goes on – the man with no legs playing the harmonica in a wheelchair, an old lady with thinning hair that looks hollow and lost, Brooklyn kids selling fruit snacks—but the fact that they are there—next to you, going through the motions together, 9am and 6pm, quiet, sleepy but re-charged enough to do it again, that anonymous comfort and sense of belonging makes New York City sometimes feel something like home.