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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?

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