About Me

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I'm an NYC-based director, and this is an outlet for my various musings about theater and about the city of New York. Sometimes the subjects run together, sometimes they are entirely separate, but between the two they comprise the most fitful, most intense, most trying love affair of my few years. They fill my head, my heart, my mouth every hour of every day; they could fill a book.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Subway Stories

A good one this week; one of many:

Three young boys get on my train at around 86th. I guess they're around fifteen, but I'm bad with ages; they could be anywhere from thirteen to seventeen, really. They enter the train pushing and tripping, hurtling and smacking their way across the car like mad little pinballs. I've been on the train with boisterous teens before, but these boys fascinate me. There's this brutality to them, this ragged, caustic energy.

"Yo!" screams the loudest, the smallest of the boys. A skinny brown kid with a long ponytail and a nose ring. He wears wristguards. They all do. "Yo! Imma 'bout to do take a bump right here on this train!"

"No, dude," the others egg him on. "Don't take a bump! Seriously, you gonna take a bump?"

"Imma do it, Imma take a bump right here."

Finally, the quieter, taller boy concedes. "You take a bump, I'll take one too."

What's a bump? I think to myself. Is it... like.... a breakdance move? Is it some kind of flip? I'm fascinated and terrified by this possibility. This boy does not look what he's doing.

He leaps to about the middle of the car, throws his legs out in front of him and... lands directly and squarely on his back. I wince just watching him.

It's not until the taller boy does his "bump," that I realize that landing on one's back is the object and that I had actually witnessed what I can only guess was a perfectly executed bump.

This kid, though, the tiny brown boy, he keeps moving, keeps talking, louder and louder; he can't stop. Like his teeth are on edge, like he is trying to exorcise some something savage from himself. This is the one who fascinates me. The other two boys are just playing along. He is moving because he can't stop. There's this desperation, this violent hunger he exudes.

When the other, the tall boy, did his "bump," his hands instinctively reached behind him to cushion his fall. He tried to resist this impulse, but it was there. His wrists hit the floor a half second before his back did. His legs tensed imperceptibly in anticipation of the pain. Not this first boy. His hands were flat out to his sides, his legs went limp. His back and neck contacted with the floor with a sickening thud. He wanted the pain, this fifteen year old brown boy.

"Yo!" He screams at his friends, the other riders, himself. "I took a bump on the train, I took a bump on CONCRETE this morning!" (At this point I believe it.) And then a few seconds later, when his shouting and fidgeting was failing him: "I did one bump on the train! I'll do another! Right now!" It's almost as if he's asking his friends to let him push their game farther, as if he's begging them for another hit. His need is palpable.

He never took a second bump, thank god. My head was already turned away as I tried to distract myself. I didn't want to hear that thud again.

I get off at my stop in Harlem, and they are still riding. He is still talking, still hurling himself across the car.

There is no point to this except to wonder - where does a body, a mind like that come from, and where is it going?

Friday, April 9, 2010

Train Love

I took the Metro North on Saturday up to Bronxville, village of my alma mater, for a Seder. I have a friend who still works as an admissions counselor for Sarah Lawrence, a fact which brings me incredible joy, as it gives me an excuse to still make the commuter pilgrimage into the suburbs every so often.

Metro-North, my constant weekend companion for 4 city-adjacent college years. My shining pathway, my own pearly gates that I would have to pass through to enter my heaven of New York City.

I took the Metro-North the first time I visited New York, with my family at age 12. At this point I wanted to be an Actress, and NYC was the focal point of every one of my dreams. We were staying at my uncle's house in Westchester, a stopping point on our way to visit my grandparents in upstate New York. I begged my parents to take a day-long detour into the city.

I still remember the leather seats, red and blue (before the new trains), a little ragged around the edges. The unmistakable Metro-North smell, the rhythm of the ticket-taker as he walked up and down the car, hole-punch snapping, calling for tickets. All these things heralded my upcoming arrival in New York City.

When we stepped out on the street outside Grand Central, to me, it was ecstasy. Taxis crawling down crowded streets which were foggy with steam rising from manholes and subway grates, horns blaring, and the shades of concrete, buildings facades and sky playing off one another in the most complex and beautiful palate of grays I had ever seen. I thought, it's just as I imagined.

Later, when I returned to New York for college, I got on the train for the city the very first weekend after I arrived. It was the same train. The same seats, the same smell, the same clack-clack of the ticket puncher. It was always the same train, carrying me into the city weekend after weekend. I love that train.

So it brings me no small amount of joy to have an excuse to hope back on that train on a semi-regular basis, although now to head OUT of the city. I love everything on those trains: the cars, the people, the conductors.

On this particular trip, when the doors opened at Melrose, a frazzled and winded woman stumbled into my car. "How much... for a ticket?" she wheezed, as the ticket taker came around. "Had to... run for.... the train. Didn't have time to buy one."

"Hey, you just take a deep breath," said the ticket taker. "I'm going to let you rest a minute and collect yourself, and then I'll come back for you." I think he felt it was the least he could do, considering the next bit of information he had for her. "Cause it's a lot when you buy it on the train. Thirteen dollars. But you just get collected, and I'll come back for you."

OUCH. Twice as much as on the platform. "I've been there," I said sympathetically, as the ticket-taker turned to me, and gave the woman a sympathetic look. There has definitely been a time or two when I just didn't quite get it together enough to buy the ticket before the train arrived, and had to pay the price. It sucks. I felt for her. He laughed. The bedraggled woman smiled.

As the ticket taker returned to her she shook her head while she dug for her money. "I'm already late as it is. I had to run.... I BARELY made this train."

"I know," he responded. "But you made it, that's the important thing. Good job, I'm proud of you." That's what he said. These are the moments that I really cherish. I don't know, maybe we were just a lady running late, an MTA employee and me, all in our separate worlds, and I'm grasping for ties that aren't there, but in that moment we felt like a community. We felt like we were all in it together, a little train family. That's train love.