The Mute

I’m on the L train heading to Manhattan. I’m in the end of the car in one of those little two seaters. Sitting across from me is an older man: tall; skinny; wearing thick-rimmed glasses. On the floor in front of him he rolls out a rubber chessboard. He quickly begins to place all the pieces in the correct order. Every now and then he looks at me, observing me observing him. Next to him is a bag from which he pulls out a book. I look at the book and notice the title “101 Chess Moves.” I assume this is a playbook showing strategies for people who want to learn chess. A sort old school cheat manual, if you will. The train shakes back and forth forcing the man to have to struggle to keep his balance as he holds the “cheat book” in one hand and slowly moves around the players on the board with the other.
The car is empty except for the two of us, until the next stop when an old black dude steps on. He begins singing “A Change is Gonna Come” while holding out a Dunkin Donuts bag for change. Personally, I’ve never made that connection before, the irony and maybe even sarcasm of singing “A Change is Gonna Come”, a song with such profound meaning, while begging for spare change. Not only that, but its quite common to hear this song being sung on the train.
At the next stop another man gets on the train at the opposite end of the car. I’ve seen this man before, on the same line. He’s another beggar. He should have been an actor… because of the pure unadulterated trauma he puts into it. His voice will be trembling erratically and sometimes he’ll even get on his knees begging and sulking for people to help him. Most beggars just come on the train, go thru their schpeel, circle the car real quick-like, and move on to the next, but this guy takes it to the hilt. Pleading with people for change, he will be on the verge of tears, like “this is it folks, I’ll take my own life if I have to”. Honestly he should give lessons to the other beggars, and thank god he doesn’t. But for now the car is practically empty; there is no audience and without an audience, there is no stage. So instead he just sits down, then stands up, then back down, then back up again, until finally he stops and pulls what appears to be a bottle of Niquil from his old leather jacket,. He will nurse on that bottle for a few seconds then go back to his routine: up and down and up and down …
I have the seat to myself, my headphones on and Gerswin on full blast, but it’s not enough to block out “A Change is Gonna Come.” The old man playing chess by himself across from me is someone whom I’ve never seen before. Maybe he’s new in town. Maybe he just arrived to New York for a chess convention. Who knows and who cares? It doesn’t matter. Is it Friday night or Monday morning? Once again, who knows and who cares, this is just another commute, or as I have started calling it the “mute.” I work in all 5 boroughs and average 3 boroughs a day, and I don’t drive. I’ve come to realize that I have a very intimate relationship with the subway as I am sure many New Yorkers do, and it’s different from when I’m at home. To be honest, there are too many distractions at home, but on the train there is just a seat, maybe your headphones or a book. Sometimes someone will be selling candy or maybe sometimes someone will be singing for change, or maybe someone will be break dancing for tips. Or maybe, just maybe, several people will be dancing, singing, and selling candy all at once. It all sort blends together into a fog that surrounds you like a big blanket while the train rocks you to sleep. Do this at least 4 times a day for a minimum of 20-30 minutes each ride and you’ll notice it starts to take a toll.  Hence, “the ‘mute.” Like a giant black hole slowly devouring everything in its path; cold and unforgiving, yet somehow warm like an oven. It slowly renders you lifeless. Then average in all the track work, delays, time spent sitting in the tunnel, and pretty soon you begin to find yourself waking up in the middle of a “’mute”.  Sometimes with your head hunched over, or maybe you begin to lean into the person next to you unconscious and unaware of what you are doing. That’s always fun. Or maybe you woke up because the person next to you has started to push back. It doesn’t matter. I am in a vacuum and I am powerless, and can only stay alert for so long. This is “the ‘mute.” Just blur out all this as time spent, scratch that, as time lost. ‘Muted out, and never to be recovered.

I need to average that into my hourly rate.



~ by thmjklmstrymn on June 22, 2010.

2 Responses to “The Mute”

  1. dopeness! keep writing and keep posting!

  2. good shit kid…

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