Living in Manhattan during this post-Apocalyptic era is often a testimony to the enduring fortitude of my fellow denizens. Sure, in the past, we've had to deal with the appalling paucity of affordable housing, the absence of quality public education, and a cost-of-living index so high that restaurants can actually charge $99 for a fucking hamburger.
But, in the wake of 9/11 and the London bombings, living here seems to be taking a greater toll. Imagine living in a place where ones civil liberties can be dismissed in the name of safety. Imagine living in a city where millions of lives are disrupted on a daily basis by ever-changing threat levels. But most importantly, can you imagine living someplace where fear still inhabits the hearts of even the strongest among us?
Don't get me wrong. I love this city. And it's going to take a lot more to get me to leave. I'm only bringing this up now because of events that transpired during my commute home last night. Normally, my commute on the subway takes about 10 minutes door-to-door. But last night, as the train was about 500 yards from the platform, we lurchingly ground to a halt. This is not an irregular occurence in NY so most people didn't even flinch. But after about 10 minutes, the conductor announced that police and emergency personnel were shutting down the station so they could examine the tracks. He didn't know when we'd be able to get moving again and cautioned everyone to stay calm. After another 20 minutes, you could feel the tension in the subway car slowly building. It was eerily silent. Since the A/C was cut off, people were taking off their jackets and rolling up their shirt collars. Was this a terrorist attack? Had there been a bomb scare? You could almost smell the fear in the car.
But me? I couldn't smell the fear. All I could smell was the fucking body odor from the five people standing next to me. The guy directly in front of me smelled like he'd been digging latrines all day. The guy by my side smelled like he'd been rubbing his face with dirty socks. The young Wall Street intern had cleary thought he was supposed to pour the WHOLE bottle of Paco Rabonne on his neck. The lady stepping on my toes decided to eat her 2-day old Big Mac. And I think the nanny in front of me was carrying some used cloth diapers filled with Indian food.
Now, don't get me wrong. I know bad smells. I've walked along the world's most polluted rivers in Bangladesh. I've been elbow-to-elbow with thousands of people on the streets of Karachi during Ramadan. And I've been to factory towns in China where toxic yellow clouds come billowing out of smokestacks. But for some reason, last night was tough for me.
The great Prussian military theorist Carl Von Clausewitz once said that war is the admixture of politics by other means. Well, let me amend that to say that the NYC subway is the admixture of smells by many means. I think it was the combination of all those smells that caused such cosmic dissonance and proved, once again, that the sum is often greater than the whole.
So, to all you terrorists out there trying to put fear in my soul? I offer you my middle finger! Suck it, bitches! Not now nor ever will you cause me to wallow in terror!
But all you smelly mofos on the subway? You win. I'm walking for the next few weeks.