Subway Strangers

If you slap this painting the kitchen
light turns on. Really. I couldn't
make that up if I tried.
So I live in New York now. That’s new and exciting. And terrifying. And weird. And a little surreal, if I’m being honest. It still feels kind of shaky and new, living in that weird stage between beginning and permanent. So I’m adjusting. I’m slowly but surely settling in. I don’t really have a bed (Craigslist is horrible and I don’t want to talk about it) but I have the world’s least comfortable fold out couch and a room that’s my own, and a kitchen where you turn the light on by high fiving a painting of some flowers.
And I’m learning my way around New York.. I’ve never been very good at directions. I navigate mostly by landmark, but that’s hard to do in a city that is 70% tall silver buildings and 10% construction scaffolding. So mostly I’ve gotten very well acquainted with Google maps which, amazingly, lets me plan out subway trips.
I am so intimidated by the New York City subway system. I know everyone says it makes so much more sense than DC’s (admittedly ridiculous) Metro, but DC’s Metro is ridiculousness that I’m used to. And all confusion about what train I need to be on aside (I still have literally no idea what any of the letters mean) New York Subway cars are filled with New Yorkers. And, at the risk of generalizing just a bit, New Yorkers are crazy.
There is something really comforting in knowing that no matter how weird you feel, you will never be the weirdest person on the subway. There is something less comforting about coming to that realization while watching a woman on the Six train give herself a haircut as the train moves through a dark tunnel underground.
I’ve had a lot of weird subway moments lately. And I’m not sure if that’s just because a lot of strange things seem to happen in my proximity, or if that’s just life in New York. I don’t know which of those possibilities is scarier!  
Yes, the tall building!
With all the windows!
Take, for example, my commute to work last week. It was a little before 9, and I was on a crowded train headed to Grand Central Station, which is one of the craziest, biggest most hectic places I’ve ever been. The train is packed, and everyone is crushed in, basically on top of each other. I am accidently getting like, third date level friendly with a very short middle aged woman. Her face is about my neck level, which is saying something, since I’m less than five feet tall. The train is moving agonizingly slowly, and it’s dark and all of a sudden I feel something wet. I look down, and this woman, who I have never met, has her tongue on my neck. Since this was the first time I’ve ever been licked by a fully grown woman on public transit, I wasn’t really sure what to do. I couldn’t move—the train was packed—I couldn’t really yell—we were in a car full of people—so I looked down at her and said “I need you to stop.”
And she did. And she got off at the next station.
The haircut lady experience happened just this weekend. I was riding home from midtown around 2:00 in the afternoon, which seems like an innocuous enough time of day that there shouldn’t be any crazy drunk people or hung-over 25 year olds on their way to brunch, but my car seemed to be filled with only the drunkest of the drunk and the most hung-over of the hung-over. One woman—she must have been in her mid-twenties, in a beautiful dress—sat down and pulled a pair of scissors from her purse. Which was strange, but, you know, I guess, not that strange.  Maybe she wanted to cut some coupons before heading to a store. Maybe she wanted to cut a thread off her cardigan. Or, maybe she wanted to give herself a haircut.
My Subway stop.
I tried not to stare as her bangs got shorter and shorter, but it was hard not to gape. We headed into a dark tunnel, and when we emerged on the other side, her hair was  about 3 inches shorter than it was before. There is hair everywhere. On her seat, on the floor, all over her beautiful dress.
She ignored it and got off at the next stop. And either I am the most observant person ever, or every other person in that subway car also saw this woman giving herself a casual trim and decided to pretend that it didn’t happen.
Maybe one day I’ll be used to this weirdness. Maybe one day I’ll look at the man sitting next to me on the 4 train carrying 3 different accordions and sigh with boredom. Maybe one day the buskers and the endless swarms of unaccompanied 10 year olds and people carrying objects that are MUCH TOO LARGE to be reasonably carried on public transit won’t seem so strange.
But for now, I’ll try my hardest to keep my incredulous looks to myself. It’s not going to be easy, though. 

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  1. Please never get used to it. That's what keeps people like you & me rolling in great stories.