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10 Apr 98

A High Station in Life

A High Station in Life

The Smith and Ninth Street stop on the F and G lines is the highest subway stop in the city. It rises above the Gowanus canal like a cross between a bridge and a skeleton. If it collapses soon, which seems likely, it will collapse with a splash. From its platform, you can see Manhattan's architectural behemoths, and in the other direction, the Statue of Liberty.

Both up escalators are usually broken, while the down escalators chug merrily towards gravity. Trudging up, someone behind me usually carps, "I'm gonna write a letter to fuckin' Mayor Guliani, tell him what he can do with this fuckin' station."

The industrial paint looks like it's caught a 14th-century skin disease. And the inside of the station dumps fluids even when it's not raining. Mysterious colored puddles appear everywhere on damp days. Odd, calcified stalactites hang from the girders.

Outside the base of the station someone has written two large, orange phrases: "I wish I were a black girl," and "Return me to the mystery."

Sometimes concrete drops in chunks from the girders, and emergency transit teams come in plastic overalls, wielding scrapers and patch kits. At first, entering with my Metrocard, I felt excited to see the emergency transit vans. I expected drama on the tracks, a chance for rubbernecking. But usually they come to fix the concrete, or the escalators. The emergency workers in their white plastic coats are as much a part of the station as the surly token clerks and the Nation of Islam guy selling "The Final Call" newspaper.

The station is always in sight; the tracks run past my window. As I typed this entry, I watched three or four trains pass, heading deeper into Brooklyn. They give off a little roar as they go by. Even more, when I'm spread out on my bed in the quiet, I feel them. My whole building rocks, a quick rattle like the fridge turning on, then three seconds of shivering floorboards.

Perhaps this explains the corners in my apartment, the way the doors don't square into their frames, and the two inch difference in floor height, over a span of ten feet. At first the shaking drove me nuts, but in the last few months, the rattling has become familiar. To be honest, when I end up in other beds, I miss it.


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About the author: I've been running this website from 1997. For a living I write stories and essays, program computers, edit things, and help people launch online publications. (LinkedIn). I wrote a novel. I was an editor at Harper's Magazine for five years; then I was a Contributing Editor; now I am a free agent. I was also on NPR's All Things Considered for a while. I still write for The Morning News, and some other places.

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