|Up: Walking/Riding||[Related] «^» «T»|
Friday, April 22, 2005
By Paul Ford
On my way to work last week.
When the F train comes the pigeons on the platform take flight and cross to the other side of the station. They always do this. It would make much more sense if they just stayed put, but something about the train terrifies them. They fly out in front of it to safety.
This morning on my way up the escalator to the platform two women with parched faces were in front of me, and one of them was complaining loudly about a man, all a stream:
I was consumed with annoyance. I wanted a dirty platform pigeon to fly into the woman's mouth, pfup. I would watch her flail as she tried to pluck the pigeon from her jaws. Spinning wildly she would fall onto the tracks.
Then my fantasy became a moral puzzle. I would be obligated to help her. And I wondered, am I the sort who would reach down and rescue a parched-looking woman (with a pigeon in her mouth) from certain death by an oncoming G or F train? Or would I stand with my arms at my side, locked in confusion, as the train ran her over?
The stories of subway fallers are a staple of New York City journalism. There are few each year. The fallers are innocents. They are, the stories imply, us—regular souls standing on the platform. They trip or are pushed. Their fall into the valley of the tracks is witnessed by a frozen mass of spectators who remain still except for some gasping and fluttering of hands. The spectator's minds are caught in an infinite loop. Sometimes a hero emerges from the crowd. He reaches down with a swift gesture, grabs the victim and pulls her to safety. Then he vanishes into the crowd right as it comes unfrozen.
I would pay money into a karmic hedge fund if I knew that, given the opportunity to pull someone from the tracks, I would take that opportunity without pause. But I have no way of knowing. Where do you learn to take immediate action? The Army, maybe. My high-school friend W who joined the U.N., who has witnessed mass graves and flown into a Liberian forest in a helicopter to meet with militiamen—she would know what to do. I know what to do when a web server crashes, and how to fix broken prose. I am very good at solving problems with the computer language XSLT.
I tuned back into the two woman. The one who was complaining was now quiet. Her friend said: “What I like to say is, 'I'm not a crack head. I'm a crack user'.”