“the city must never be confused with the words that describe it, and yet between the one and the other there is a connection” Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities
Monday, September 20, 2010
Private Places on the R
A belch precedes the train, the exhalation organizing constellations of people and their things over the gum- and garbage-dotted platform. Squealing to a stop, the chugging R aligns them, however chaotically, at its sliding doors. Ear buds face old-school cans, their podcasts breaking the train’s squeal. Reading materials bob and droop, bob and droop, bob and droop, resigned to their wrinkly fate. Bags jump from between the divisions of the station’s wooden benches, rising apart and floating apart. Sunglasses hide curious eyes, their wearers made mysterious -- a deeply cheesy brand of mysterious.
The R doors slide open in a synchronized swoosh. The station briefly reanimates, galaxies stream from train cars as our constellations stream in, objects orbiting their associated people. Once inside -- “stand clear of the closing doors!” -- subsets rush to work, feeding the seconds-ago depleted galaxies of struggling things. The faux-wood membrane of the third car from the rear keeps its communicating contents ignorant as to the physics of their trip, allowing for the manufacture of private places.
Private places, facilitated by orange and yellow seats -- seats that dip and rise horizontally, supporting individual claims to space far more effectively than riders’ bottoms. But those seats, those prized seats, have to be caught by the same bottoms or saved in advance by a colonizing book or eager garment during the course of the initial scramble. Print and technological objects struggle among those constellations not quick enough to take a seat into orbit early on. The strain of hanging from ill-placed bars causes the personal walls of the standing to buckle as they come up. They are hanging exhibitions. The cleverest constellations, in contrast, find their way to end and corner seats, coveted for their comparative seclusion and broad range of sight.
Sight: in a sealed galaxy where no one is looking for fear of everyone looking ("see something, say something!"), how can patrons rest? How can products act properly to produce self-contained universes with all those damned eyes bearing down on them? Distracting advertisements prevent staring to some degree, yes, but how long can a body take to fake read the lone "LEARN ENGLISH" sign in the third car from the rear? Sunglasses then? Few constellations can bear the conspicuousness. Teetering between hip and creepy, sunglasses make for an awkward sense of place. Sleeping, or, more commonly, fake-sleeping, puts the finishing touch on the private universe of the person-object constellation -- a strongly bodily component in a largely orbiting process. And the R squeals to a stop, fresh inputs clustered along its sliding doors, tired constellations pressed against its windows.