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81st Street Subway station
New York, New York
Everyone’s favorite conman, Whit “Pop” Haydn, is fond of the tale of “The Scorpion and The Tortoise.” As time goes on, I have become more and more appreciative of this little instructive fable. It goes like this…
A scorpion asks a tortoise if he could take a ride on the tortoise’s back in order to cross the deep waters of the local river. The tortoise replies that he’s no fool—the scorpion will just sting him as they go across the river. But the scorpion answers, “No, no worries, you’re protected; for if I went and stung you, you’d die, and then I’d drown in the middle of the river. It’s simple logic, you’ve got a fail-safe situation here.”
The tortoise thinks it over for a few minutes and then agrees. The scorpion hops on the tortoise’s back and off they go. In the exact center of the river, however, at its deepest part, sure enough, the scorpion stings the tortoise. The tortoise, in agonized death throes, sputters out, “What in God’s name have you done? We’re both going to die now! How could you?”
And the scorpion, now about to be enveloped in the deadly deep water, just manages to eke out, “I’m a scorpion. It’s my nature.”
More than the great subway settings and the heartfelt sentiments, this Roy Zimmerman tune is probably the only song you’ll hear today that uses the word Weltschmerz. (For those like me, who had to look it up, ever-reliable Wikipedia tells us that Weltschmerz means “world-weariness, the kind of feeling experienced by someone who believes that physical reality can never satisfy the demands of the mind.)
More Roy at RoyZimmerman
So last night I was riding on the subway, on a line I don’t usually take, and standing next to me were two attractive women in deep conversation. I kept looking at one of the women because she seemed very familiar to me and yet I couldn’t place her. But I was sure I had seen her or met her before.
I racked my brain over and over, cursing my terrible memory, but I couldn’t figure it out. Well my stop finally came and I had to get off, but at the moment I hit the door, it came to me. I turned back around and called to her,
“Sixty-nine! You were Sonnet number Sixty-nine. ” She looked towards me, laughed, and nodded yes. I mouthed my words as I got off and pointed to myself, “Number Seventy.”
Since she had been assigned to read the sonnet before mine in the Shakespeare Sonnet Slam, she was my cue.
“Farewell! God knows when we shall meet again.”
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36th Street Subway Station
Brooklyn, New York
This is part of a triptych of mosaics in the station called An Underground Movement (1998) by Owen Smith, all inspired by the 1930s WPA-era style of art.
If there’s anything more wonderful than a well thought-out prank, it’s a well thought-out prank that involves thousands and thousands of people. Your intrepid reporter is here to give you the skinny on the recent New York No Pants Subway Ride. The basic idea is this. New Yorkers of all ages, genders, and colors enter a subway car on a cold winter day, and one by one take off their pants. Now the beauty of this is, that they act as if they are doing nothing unusual, and they continue their normal subway activities, that is, reading, texting, looking at the subway map, but all the while they are without their pants.
This prank was organized by a group called Improv Everywhere and it has been an annual thing, and has grown to be an international prank having been done in 60 cities in 25 countries around the world. In New York, people were organized according to what borough they were coming from. I interviewed, on assignment for WBAI radio, a group of eager No-Panters, including a young couple named Hannah and Mark, standing in a park in 32 degree weather. They were preparing to receive instructions from the Improv coordinator and then to head towards the subway to de-pant. They discussed their fears and excitement, and I’ll post the radio segment next week.
But, in the interest of hard-hitting investigative reporting, I also de-panted. I had bought myself a brand new pair of lime green boxers for the occasion. If it’s not too much information, I’m usually a brief, not a boxer guy, but I was too shy to wear briefs, being a No- Pants Subway Ride virgin.
The brilliance of Improv everywhere’s plan was in the details. Here’s how it worked. We all headed to the R train and about 25 of us were assigned per subway car. At the first stop, 1 person would take off their pants and get off and stand on the platform in the same place. Then another person would do the same at the next stop. At the third stop, 2 people would de-pant, at the fourth stop 4 people would undress, at the fifth stop 8 people, and at the next stop, everyone else who was left took off their pants and stood on the platform.
Then everyone would get on the next train to arrive. Now see if you can picture in your minds the genius of this strategy. First of all, riders on the first train, would get an increasing dose of craziness as more and more people, perhaps the people who had been sitting next to them, took off their pants. But the truly great part was what would happen on the next train. Because if you picture it from the point of view of the riders on the oncoming train, at the first stop they see one person get on pantless, then another pantless person at the next stop, but then 2 people get on without pants, then 4, then 8, and it’s like an hallucination coming to life.
So I was assigned to take off my pants at the fifth stop. I was wearing a suit and tie. Since people were getting off at the first four stops, the woman sitting next to me and I exchanged glances over these strange misbehaving pants shuckers. When I started to take off my pants, she gave out a loud, Oh, No. I stuck my pants in my back pack and got off the next stop to wait on the platform.
Now this was the hardest part. Because it was really really cold on that platform. And it seemed like forever before that train would come. I tried to appear like I was just acting normally, playing Sudoku on my cell phone,. Usually I can do a 7×7 puzzle on the train, but, man, I couldn’t even solve a 4×4 one, I was so nervous.
Finally the train comes and I walk on, and there’s a little kid holding his mother’s hand, pointing at me. By this time, there are a bunch of my pantless compatriots in the car with me, so I don’t feel so lonely. I sit down next to two women who appear to be tourists. They were speaking with each other so I don’t think they realized I had no pants on. I got a little courage and stood up and leaned over them, as if I needed to study the subway map behind me. They started giggling aloud. I think we made their trip to NYC very memorable.
Well, we finally reached our destination, Union Square, where all the No-Panters from all over the city had a rendezvous. Joyous celebration. Pantless kicklines. Cops and scantily clad young ladies posing together. Somehow I managed to find Hannah and Mark again, whom I had interviewed earlier in the day, and they were very happy, too.
And what, you may ask, have I learned, grasshopper? This: Next year, I’m going to graduate to briefs.