Maybe It’s Not The End

Sometime on Monday afternoon, after having a lavish Indian lunch to take care of myself, I started cultivating a “you can’t stop me” attitude. Maybe it was the spice in the chicken tandoori, but some inkling of the resilient man I sometimes am kicked in as I resolutely refused to be distracted by the headlines or any superficial social media dust-up.

A few hours later, I was getting off the subway and some loutish man pushed me. I recalled how a fireman had pushed me not long after the November election as I was minding my own business walking down a sidewalk and how I had then said nothing. I felt a wave of adrenaline.

I turned around. He was a medium-built man, roughly my age, with a dark blue sweater that was preposterously at odds with the New York look he was trying to will into his eyes.

“Excuse me,” I said, “You can’t do that.”

“Why?” he replied.

“Because it’s rude,” I said, “and nobody here made you king.”

“Do you want to start something?”

“If you want to step outside and we both agree not to press assault charges on each other, then, yeah, we could go a few rounds. I personally guarantee that I’ll clean your clock. But I really don’t want to do that. I just want you to understand that, as a human being, you can’t go around pushing people.”

“I can push anyone I want.”

“How was your day?”

“What?”

“I said, how was your day? Shitty? Is that why you’re pushing people?”

“Dude, you don’t want to fuck with me.”

“And you don’t want to fuck with me. So let’s not fuck with each other. Seriously, are you having a shitty one? Mine hasn’t exactly been the greatest.”

And that’s when I saw the sadness in his eyes. Then he started telling me a story about how he snooped through his girlfriend’s texts and learned she was cheating on him and had not yet talked with her about it and how his boss was chewing his ass out. But I somehow summoned my wit and made him laugh a few times. I told the man that I had to go, but that I was really glad he opened up to me. He told me that he would stop pushing people. I wished him well and we gave each other a fist pump. This all went down in about five minutes.

And that exchange, which could have easily exploded into violence, somehow didn’t. And it has caused me to reconsider a rather dramatic decision that I made in the last few days. I still need some time to sort out how I feel and what I’ll do. I’ve enjoyed being disconnected from social media and being reminded that in the real world, which is the only one that counts, the beefs that people start with each other are more easily settled. Because it really makes a difference when we’re looking at each other. We’re more willing to feel something and see an unruly person as human.

(Image: Mo Riza)

The Bat Segundo Show: John Wray

John Wray appeared on The Bat Segundo Show #282.

John Wray is most recently the author of Lowboy.

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Condition of Mr. Segundo: Searching for those who will listen to him in the subway.

Author: John Wray

Subjects Discussed: The ABAB narrative of Lowboy, mirroring schizophrenia within a narrative structure, a sane perspective that assists the reader, subway details, Franz Kafka’s Amerika, real vs. imaginary details, Jonathan Zizmor, the C#/A subway tone, the origin of the character name Heller, Ulysses, resisting eccentric character names, merging two words into one unhyphenated word, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, ideal seating positions in a subway, appealing to a wider audience, balancing the uncompromising literary voice with suspense, comparing the research in Wray’s three books, the difficulties of convincing the reader, Daniel Paul Schreber’s Memoirs of My Nervous Illness, sexual preoccupation and schizophrenia, an intimate third-person voice, the relationship (or lack thereof) between Freud and Schreber, pat summations, urban exploration, the benefits of imagination, the Sikh religion and the end of the Seventh Avenue Line, open interpretations and false connections, respect for the subconscious, the old City Hall station, the dangers of being subsumed by research, writing vs. thinking, graphical segues in prose, B.S. Johnson’s holes, and John Wray vs. John Henderson.

EXCERPT FROM SHOW:

johnwrayCorrespondent: You have Emily and Lowboy entering at the 14th Street station. I’m going to get subway geeky with you here.

Wray: Okay.

Correspondent: I should point out that when you get into Union Square, there is — or there is now and there won’t be very soon — a Virgin Megastore.

Wray: Right.

Correspondent: Was that particular location a deliberate choice on your part?

Wray: (laughs) You know, sometimes there are just these happy accidents that come about either completely by chance or through some sort of action of the subconscious. I’m not really sure. The German editor of Lowboy was very proud of himself for the game of interpretation that he played, which involved a lot of reversals and mirror image analyses, that I guess you could say. He was very proud of himself for having been the only person to discover that the name of the detective in the novel, Ali Lateef..

Correspondent: Either the jazz artist or even the hip-hop artist in Oakland.

Wray: Well, there’s that. Yeah, that was a conscious reference on my part. But this German editor of mine was very proud to have figured out that Lateef spelled backwards is “fetal.”

Correspondent: Yes.

Wray: Which is something that I never thought of. In a million years, I wouldn’t have thought of that. And I still don’t know what he was getting at. But who knows? I mean, it’s quite possible that these things percolate up from the subconscious in some way.

Correspondent: But I also must point out that the 86th Street Station does not have a line that you can see across, as you point out in this particular book. This led me then to believe as I was reading it, “Oh! Is this really real or not?” It was a kind of clue. Deliberate choice on your part?

Wray: Well, I deliberately — I’ve always been a big fan of Franz Kafka’s novel, Amerika. Particularly of the way that Amerika begins. Amerika, of course, being a novel written by someone who had never been to America and who was making deliberate use of the myth of America as a way of addressing many other things. Kafka was not particularly interested in the United States. And in the beginning of the novel Amerika, this boat filled with immigrants enters New York Harbor. And one of the very first sentences describes the Statue of Liberty holding aloft its wonderful gleaming sword.

Correspondent: Yeah.

Wray: Rather than the torch, of course. So in an earlier version of Lowboy, in a bit of a tip of the hat to that novel, I introduced various, fairly overt features into this New York City that would differentiate it from the New York of realistic fiction. Then as the novel evolved, it became more and more naturalistic in a way, and eventually settled into this mode of heightened realism that it now occupies. But there are still certain little vestiges of that earlier alternative New York.

Correspondent: And this would be one of them.

Wray: I think you’ve caught one of them. Yeah.

BSS #282: John Wray (Download MP3)

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Subwaymarine

Ever wonder what happens to abandoned subway cars? Well, apparently, retired subway cars have proven to be quite helpful to the fish population just off coast of Delaware. Cars are dumped into the water, and the subway car’s roomy confines has resulted in fish taking to the cars like, well, water. (There have been other efforts to dump aircraft, automobiles, and other vehicles into the ocean to create these reefs. But the fish seem to like the subway cars the best.) Red Bird Reef, named after the famed Redbird cars being used for this experiment, has seen a 400-fold increase in marine food per square inch over the past seven years.

Red Bird Reef is not without controversy. The American Littoral Society has expressed concern that the small levels of asbestos within the glue used to affix floor panels and the like might prove damaging to the environment. And since there are only so many retired subway cars to go around, other states are trying to compete for the subway cars. (New York provides these subway cars for free.)

So is this a waste of manmade resources? A sullying of the environment? Or is it very possible that, given the declining fish populations in the Atlantic, it takes this extraordinary manmade reef to generate a sustainable fish population again?