After hours of walking in the course of my second weeklong
visit to New York in so many years, I may have thought I might be at least
somewhat conversant about where I was going, where there was to go. And yet, I
probably only had a nebulous notion at best. Even so, in the general scheme of
things, that kind of familiarity really didn't matter that much to me. In the
end, my path ends up being my path, and if I don't know what I'm yakking about,
I keep quiet.
Every now and then I rather enjoy being a bit disoriented in
a new place, even if it were simply viewed from the perspective of adventure,
exploration and discovery, especially if I'm walking on my own. Especially,
I say, because roaming around by myself meant that there's nobody around to
complain, about being lost, or about the somewhat efficient pace I usually
stroll, etc. Naturally, of course, this also means that there was no one around
to share in my adventurous explorations and discoveries. And although I didn't
actually dwell on it until later, I realized I hadn't truly conversed with
anyone for any amount of time all day. And although this sort of situation
might have seemed awkward to many of my friends and acquaintances, it never
seemed to distract me. Hiking the streets of Manhattan unaccompanied during a
workday seemed to facilitate this silence by the hustle-bustle, matter-of-fact,
mind-your-own-business attitude exuded from the many daily participants.
At any rate, it was getting towards the end of a long day of
sightseeing for me; and thus, my feet were talking and
complaining to me and they weren't being terribly pleasant in tone. And so, my
feet and I eventually found ourselves resting on a very crowded subway train.
Amazingly enough, and I guess I must have just timed it right, I actually found
someplace to sit down on the packed train.
Once my feet were fairly comforted by having my weight taken
off of them, my attention drifted toward the sounds emanating from a young boy
with his mother sitting across the aisle from where I was seated. I wasn?t sure
what language they were speaking, some sort of Eastern European dialect, I was
The child was truly bored to tears, as expressed by his
constant whining to his mother. I imagine there was some reason he threw his
train pass on the floor. Perhaps it was now useless? In any event, I stared
intently at the ticket for a moment before I picked it up and displayed it to
the boy as if I were a magician about to do a card trick. I proceeded to fold
the metro pass in half long ways. I then folded two of the corners toward the
center after some struggling.
After a short while, the discarded pass actually started to
look like a miniature paper airplane. No small feat with a New York metro pass.
These things are half paper, half plastic. So when one folds them, they aren?t
likely to stay folded. Nonetheless, the boy watched me for a while with a
mystified look on his face and then continued to whimper at his mother. At that
moment, I floated the little plane across the aisle between two of the standing
riders towards the boy, and then I hastily composed an obviously over-acted
posture, making it appear as though I had been gazing out the window into the
darkness for hours. Upon the sight of this, the boy's face lit up and he
laughed boisterously. At once he tried to fling it back, finding out that
throwing a paper airplane, especially one made of platicized paper, wasn?t
quite as easy as it looked.
At first he just lobbed it overhand, resembling a baseball
pitcher, which made the little plane quickly spiral straight down to the floor
in front of him as soon as it had left his hand. Unflappable, the giggling
child picked it up and again tried to make it glide, as I had done, only with
similar results as before.
After three or four tries he got it to tumble across the
car. Seeing this rather clumsy flight, I made a face of exaggerated mock
disappointment as I picked up the improvised toy and demonstrated to him how I
was tossing it, pinching the center fold of the pass, angling my wrist and
flinging it, to some extent like a javelin, and not letting go until the last
possible moment. Eyes wide, the observant boy caught on fast and soon he was
gracefully sailing the little metro pass across the car as easily as I was.
As his skill with launching the modest projectile improved,
the closer to me it would land. Soon it was zooming it straight at me. One
time, when the diminutive aircraft hit me in the shoulder, I hammed it up,
feigning that I had been terribly wounded. The sight of this sent the youngster
into fits of laughter and his mother also started to smile. She wasn?t sure
what to make of all of this at first, but she seemed remarkably open for
someone on a New York subway.
Consequently, this little game continued back and forth for
a while, as did the laughing. But I kept my composure, as if I was performing
for the kid as a circus clown or a slapstick comedian.
Once he threw the miniature jet, difficult as it was with it
unfolding on every flight, over my head and it landed in back of me. I
pretended not to notice where it had landed and persisted to look all over for
it, under the seat, in other seats, etc. And between fits of laughter, the boy
was trying to tell me where it was as he could plainly see it from where he was
sitting. He made this evident by his incessant pointing at it, not with just
his finger but his entire arm. I looked up at the ceiling in the direction he
was pointing and shrugged my shoulders. He then tried to communicate verbally;
only he didn?t know the English for what he was trying to say. His mother
eventually interjected with the word ?back? or ?in back? or something like that
and afterward, not to be to be too obnoxious, I finally found the plane
after I heard the boy repeat the words a couple of times; a seemingly small
reward for his jovial attempts at helpful communication. Unreserved, I threw it
back at him again and the plane's arrival was once again greeted with giggling,
smiles and laughter.
I found myself becoming quite satisfied about the fact that,
no matter how many times I did it, the boy would always go into hysterics every
time I would fly the plane at him and then change my pose, attempting to blend
in with the rest of the subway riders, minding my own business, acting as if I didn?t
Eventually all of this came to an end as I glanced out the
window and became aware that my stop had come up. Reluctantly, I stood up from
my coveted seat (you'd understand if you had ever taken a subway ride during
rush hour) and meandered through the crowd of standing riders toward the
entrance to the car.
I tried to wave to the boy, but I couldn't seem to get his
attention as he hadn't noticed that I had left my seat. Evidently he was still
enthralled by his new little toy. Yet his mother had noticed that I was leaving
and prompted her child to wave back. As we said our non-verbal goodbyes, I
become aware of the eyes of several other riders that we had apparently gotten
the attention of, looking at us, and especially me as I was about to make my
exit. It seems that we unknowingly had a small audience in the car. And from
those slightly wide-eyed looks from the overall solemn faces that were nearly
cracking small close-lipped smiles, I could see that the audience members were
also saying their goodbyes.
The train stopped, the doors opened and I filed out of the
car with the many other commuters. As I passed through the turnstile and made
my way up the narrow stairway to the street, I reflected on what had just
transpired. It occurred to me that this interaction had been like many that I
had had during that day. However, it seemed more of an improvised performance
than simple eye contact in passing or making a face that expresses an
"excuse me" when bumping into someone on a crowded street. And as I
continued down the sidewalk bustling with people, most of them silent on their
way home from work, I arrived at a sense of understanding and appreciation of
the fact that in the face of all the connections that had become obvious and
experiences that were shared on that subway car, I hadn?t spoken a word, nor
uttered a sound, the entire time.