Lucid Culture

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If You See Something, Use Your Brain Before You Say Something

They’re all over the subway: those annoying posters from the MTA, encouraging citizens to get in the frame of mind to spy on each other and take us deeper into the Orwellian nightmare. “If you see something, say something…last year, 3456 people saw something and said something,” it taunts, as if we should all be narcing on our fellow passengers. But now that Bush is out of office, isn’t it about time we turned the page?

Case in point: rush hour, uptown train at Chambers Street, downtown.  A bunch of people get off, I get a seat. A couple of middleschool kids – brothers, from the looks of them – board the train behind me. One sits down across from me, the other stands since there’s what looks like an empty shoebox in a blue plastic bag on the seat next to his brother. Maybe he just doesn’t want to sit – he looks restless, like he’s been cooped up in school all day. I look up at the digital screen in the middle of the ceiling of the car to see what time it is. But the time doesn’t come up. And the train doesn’t move. It just sits in the station.

Waiting on the platform, I’d reflexively looked down the tracks to see if the signal was green, an indication that there hadn’t been a train in awhile. The size of the crowd on the platform had reconfirmed that. And the conductor wasn’t imploring or hollering over the PA to get whoever was holding up the train to get the hell out of the doorway. 

I looked around in frustration. There was an older woman to my right, past the doors. She pointed to the box in the bag. “That’s a suspicious package. Somebody called the conductor, he’s gonna come check it out.”

Calling in a bomb threat used to be against the law, but since the early days of the Bush regime it became mandatory behavior. Still, I’d never seen anyone actually be so stupid as to actually do it. I stood up, reached over and gingerly picked up the bag (you never know what kind of disgusting things people will leave behind in a box). It felt light. Obviously the box, one of the kind that has folding flaps to close it, didn’t have anything in it. I pried it open. Nothing.

I put it back on the seat.  The kid sitting there pushed it off and kicked it underneath so his brother could sit down. Then the conductor showed up, bemused expression on his face. Something told me he found this as absurd as I did. He looked around, puzzled. “It’s empty,” I said.

“Well,” he said noncomittally, “You gotta check these things out, I guess, a passenger called it in.”

“Who? What passenger?” I demanded. I knew it was the old lady.

“It was me,” she announced. Proudly.

I felt around for the right words. Obviously, I wasn’t dealing with the sharpest tool in the shed. How could I make my point in a way that would resonate so she wouldn’t do it again? An exercise in futility, I reckoned. Anger got the better of me. “You know, that was really stupid. All these hundreds of people on the train, they want to get home, they have places they have to be and so do I and you just held up the train because of an empty box!”

She muttered something about patience.

I’d been right: there was no use in talking to her. But now I had an audience. I had to redeem myself. “That’s George Bush thinking,” I said. “He wanted to make everybody so afraid of terrorists on the subway so he could fight his stupid war. There are no terrorists on the subway. Now that Barack Obama is President, do you hear anything about terrorists on the subway? No. That’s because he’s smart. You can’t let George Bush ideas make you afraid of everything.” 

It was all I could do to resist the urge to point out that if she’d really been afraid that the empty box had been a bomb, why hadn’t she left her seat, even left the station? Then it hit me a couple of stops later.

Maybe the box was hers.

Some people will do anything for attention.

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February 13, 2009 Posted by | Culture, New York City, Rant | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment