I ride the subway a lot. I prefer it to buses, which make me feel claustrophobic, especially when school lets out, and cars, which are pointless in New York. I don’t own a car, so I’d have to buy one. That seems ridiculous, since the last time I owned a car I had to go to the garage on campus and start it every two weeks. Besides, I just let my license expire (do I really need an eye exam?).
There are certain conventions that one must follow as a responsible subway rider. I’ve mentioned some of them before: let riders off before you get on, take up as little space as possible, and do your personal grooming at home. Society needs these rules or we would go hurtling into the abyss. Actually, we’re not far from it now, but that’s another story.
There are also personal rules, at least pour moi. To wit, I always give up my seat to someone who needs it (e.g., mothers with small children, expectant women, elderly men, big children with little children, little children with cookies, anyone crying). Now that I think of it, I do a lot of standing, which is why what I am about to warn you about is so important. In a word, it’s heat. Not just any heat, but the heat that is left on a newly vacated seat. You see, I find it as close to disgusting as you can get without actually crossing the line.
Whenever I am going from, say, East 187th Street down to Wall Street, I usually look for a seat somewhere around Columbus Circle (59th Street). The problem is that it is invariably hot from the previous occupant’s buttocks. And if that person was on the XL side of normal or bigger, the heat generated can be enormous.
And therein lies the rub, in a manner of speaking.
I find wallowing in buttocks heat to be as unpleasant as using public bathrooms. Not only do I have to sit and take it, praying for a quick dissipation (see heat transfer), but I am subject to the magnetic forces, ionic discharges, and psycho-physiological aura of the former occupant. God only knows who that person was and where they had been (this is New York City!).
But this is much more than a personal issue. For I believe that what I am experiencing on a personal level is the individual expression of climate change. In fact, I am convinced that there is a direct connection between global warming, the Brazilian drought, and the well of personal body heat that I have to slide into on every extended MTA subway ride. And don’t get me started about cows and methane.
I know what you are thinking: the man has lost his mind. Sure, but consider this. Have you ever had to bathe in someone else’s bathwater, use another’s toothbrush, share a fork, eat something off the floor? These are disgusting phenomena of varying degrees that many people have had to endure. I am merely adding subway hot seat to the list and making the connection to larger systems. After all, I teach in a university. I have to talk about meta something or other. And if I can’t go on about hot air, who can?
If you ever had any doubt about the direction Western civilization is taking, just imagine me trying to hold my buttocks an inch or so above the seat until it cools with passengers all around me.
Hey, it’s New York. You get all kinds.
Middle photo by Stanley Kubrick.