Handjobs. Nutjobs. Scarlet Bobs. In-carriage entertainment. Vomit. Trash. Sweaty armpits. Propositions of varying levels of (in)appropriateness.
In keeping with New York City’s standards of everyday glamour, the J train has it all.
Carriage to carriage, just like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.
What’s certain though is one thing, amongst soap opera going on around you - is that at any given moment, someone is giving you the ‘hard stare’.
Not something I ever had to deal with from the comfort of my VW Beetle back in Dublin unless there a was road rage incident to be reckoned with. Never my fault, obvs. But New Yorkers are completely at ease unashamedly STARING at you for extended periods of time while in confined spaces.
At first I used to think that the starer had gone into a trance and wasn’t actually staring at me but rather into space, in a state of thinking-about-nothing-mind-gone-blankness. I’d think that catching their eye would snap them out of it. They’d smile semi-awkwardly realizing that they’ve made me feel uncomfortable and look elsewhere.
I see her. She's looking. She’s looking. She’s looking…at me?! What the feck is she looking at? I fake check my phone for very important messages. Still looking. I glance left and right and take in the 1-800-DIVORCE ad above her head - when diamonds aren’t forever. Useful info. Biding time, biding time. I look up. She’s staring right at me. I catch her eye and she doesn’t flinch.
Feck. What do I do now?
That feeling when someone is HARD staring at you is palpable. You can feel the weight of their stare pressing down on you.
So as to avoid exhausting stare-offs when all I want do is ride two stops to the laundromat, I’ve taken to wearing sunglasses on the subway. I’ve heard it’s considered obnoxious but anything Anna can do…
Waiting at the station, applying my maquillage (most efficient use of time) I’m conscious of a youngfella watching me intensely (also known as hard staring). Brows and lashes done. The sunnies go on.
“Do you know when the next train is coming?” in what I decipher to be an Indian accent.
“I’m pretty sure it will be here any second.”
A moment’s silence. More staring.
I conclude he must never have seen anyone decked out in an all-silver Topshop tracksuit with BCBGeneration mesh heels before. To be fair, possibly nobody has. Today's look has a feel of spaceperson-hits-the-streets-fresh-from space. And it's quite the sight to behold.
“I love your hair.”
(Oh, it’s the hair.)
Train arrives. We enter through the same carriage door.
He sits beside me.
Again, the staring. Like laser beams. I can feel the side of my head begin to smolder.
“How often does the train run?”
A tap on my shoulder.
“How often does the train run?”
He’s talking to me. I turn and look at him. Sunnies on.
“About every 8 minutes during peak times then about every 20 mins off peak. There’s ways to find out.” (God sometimes I can be so New York)
"You going to Broad Street?”
“I’m headed that direction yes. You?” Just to be polite.
As I’m saying this, like it’s happening in slow motion, I see him lunge towards me, mouth opening, eyes closing. It quickly dawns on me what’s going on. What the ABSOLUTE???
I put my hand out and stop him in his tracks.
“Eh what the FECK do you think you’re doing??”
Surprised and also slightly affronted he says “I’m giving you a kiss.”
"Em, I don’t think so son!” I manage to splutter out incredulously, somewhere halfway between a laugh and a cough.
More than mildly irritated, he sits upright.
“Why are you backtracking now?”
“Excuse me?! WE WERE TALKING ABOUT THE J TRAIN.
At what point did you decide I was making the moves on you?”
More staring. This time, like a rabbit in headlights.
“Oh, this is now uncomfortable.”
“Yeah, it is!”
“I broke up with my girlfriend last month...and I thought you were really pretty.”
I realize the entire carriage is hard staring.
Quick thinking. Quick thinking.
“I think you should put your earphones in and pretend this never happened.”
"Can I get a photo with you first?"
The Irish in me overrules all rational emotions. I oblige.
After taking what is possibly the most awkward selfie in the world, the youngfella follows instructions and puts in his earphones. As do I.
We sit side by side, hard staring elsewhere. The tension is tangible.
He gets off at Hewes Street.
I continue into the city and wonder what’s in store for the latter part of the journey.
A group of girls get on the train at Marcy Avenue. One whispers to the others.
Five heads turn in sync. And stare.
Here we go again.
Just another day on the J.
GLOSSARY OF TERMS in order of appearance
Anna - Wintour. Personal hero.
Maquillage - French for ‘make up’. I’m fancy like that.
Youngfella - Irish English for ‘a young man’.
Feck - Irish English euphemism for 'fuck'. Be under no illusions. We're still swearing.
Silver Tracksuit: Topshop / Biker Jacket: ZARA / Mesh Heels: BCBGeneration / Jeweled Sunglasses: Prada / Lipstick Bag: Love Gang NYC