One of the things that I find pretty interesting about New York sociologically is that despite how unfriendly and distant NY’ers try to act, we are actually unusually close (in both senses of the word) due to the tight squeezes of public transportation and the crowdedness of the city. When you think about it, we get pretty personal: we’re all pressed up against each other in the subway, see what everyone’s reading, and hear one another’s conversations — or in some cases, arguments.
Case in point, my younger sister was in town a few weeks ago covering a concert in the Bronx. We were headed back to my apartment on the train when a couple’s argument presented a pretty awkward situation for us. Here comes the reenactment as I somewhat remember it: and…
Woman [tall and heavyset with multicolored microbraids]: I can’t believe this bulls***! Why do you always do this to me!?
Man [wearing a hat low over his eyes, kind of attractive, with a bored look on his face]: Yo, I don’t know what your talking about. I told you I was goin’ out. *rolls eyes*
Woman: *throws hands up dramatically in frustration then leans her forehead against the pole, sighs loudly, and proceeds to sob*
Man: Seriously, what is your problem? I told you I was going out with my boys!
Woman: *loud, uber-dramatic growl of frustration* You told me we were going out together! I don’t know why you keep doing this to me!?!
Man: *Makes awkward eye contact with both my sister and I, so we both uncomfortably act like there is suddenly something fascinating happening out the window*
That’s actually not the end of the scene — if you can imagine it, this exchange lasted for a good 10-15 minutes as our train traveled downtown and the couple tried to publicly hash out their problem as the rest of the subway car watched, clearly entertained, and my sister and I tried (unsuccessfully) to avoid making awkward eye contact with them in the middle of their lover’s quarrel.
It felt strange and socially awkward to be right in the middle of the drama of people we barely know, and making eye contact at that, but in reality, people are living out their lives everywhere in this city and everyone has an interesting story if you stop and look, although everyone’s might not be as loud and brazen as this couple’s. Whether it’s the tearful conversation someone is having at the corner of a sidewalk or what the book someone’s reading on the subway reveals about them, sometimes people have no choice but to share their personal life with the rest of the city. So maybe we’re really close after all…