Coverage of me and other train wrecks: my mama, subway nut jobs, sex and the environment.


F-Line Buffet

Do you ever play this game on the train: Who would I sleep with here…hm…that one, yes. That one maybe, but only once unless he’s got a miracle dick. Oooh, that one if I were straight; if I were gay then definitely her.

It dawned on me the extent to which we’re taught as New Yorkers (and as Americans) to shop for our identities. New York is a buffet, let’s face it: sex, shopping, art, “art,” food, and on and on—there’s always more than enough versions of a person place or thing here for you to drive yourself mad with indecision. But decide we must. We make choices constantly, choices we believe say something about ourselves as individuals.

I shop at H&M because I’m young, hip, and poor. I shop at Diesel because I’m young, hip, and have money (or want others to think I have money). It’s a sickening state of being when who you are is what you shop for, what you pick out of life’s buffet. Whatever happened to the “finding myself while sitting on a park bench” kind of self-enlightenment slash identity creation? Walden Pond? Is there no more contemplation? Or rather, is there no more value placed on contemplation?

The way advertising works—these kinds of people like this kind of product so sell it to them…or…find a way to make these kinds of people like this kind of product by making them believe it is the kind of product people like them would buy—can trap a person into believing they are what they buy. I see it everyday—the starbucks crowd, the ipod people, the nike converts. They fill their trains with a sense of self that is fad-ridden and so superficial as to float about their bodies with no more substance or effect than a colorful fog, ready to vaporize in the light of a new NEW product or person or place. Few contemplate—few show the burning innerness of true self-reflexive soul-searching. Who are they then? Just shoppers?

Without being sure of how, I have fought against falling into the current of New York life and letting my body ride. Even on the train, my head is loaded with unanswerables. But still I’m on the train, on the same trip, wearing Nubalance sneakers and sporting an orange Brooklyn Industries bag because I’d never buy from Prada.


SUCK hot DOGS, NOT succulent COCKS!!!

There are two kinds of seats on New York City subways: sectional and individual. The individual seats are a relic of our slim past. Found only on older trains, these seats are indented so they hug your butt and back. The indentation creates a ridge between your seat and that of the person next to you.

The problem with the individual seats is that most New Yorkers can’t fit in them because most New Yorkers are simply too large. More than half of New York adults are overweight or obese.

The sectional style of seating accommodates more body types because there is no standardized seat space limitation. It’s like sitting on a long bench; sometimes more commuters fit in a section, sometimes less, depending on their size. Still, as New Yorkers grow, space on the trains shrinks. This is by no means a state of emergency, but it is a sign of larger troubles, namely, health problems. The last statistic I remember hearing is that half of Americans lack full-time health coverage, yet more than half are overweight or obese. The fact is, the “obesity epidemic” is most prevalent in poor neighborhoods where there’s also a more prominent lack of health coverage. Catch my drift? Lots of middle-aged and older adults with weight-related health problems are gonna be in a shitload of trouble.

Clearly, weight isn’t the only factor contributing to the (un)healthiness of folks in poor neighborhoods: increased pollution, lack of health education, prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases, and other factors all play a roll.

But recently New York City Councilman Joel Rivera, chairman of the health committee, announced a proposal to limit the number of fast food restaurants in specific neighborhoods of New York City, especially the boroughs. His plan targets poor neighborhoods and focuses on schools in those neighborhoods. His goal? To increase the health of New York City children by limiting their access to crappy consumables. Out of every four New York City elementary school students one is considered obese.

Of course, there are loud and powerful critics already chastising Rivera for hurting business or for creating a proposal that in the end won’t solve the problem because families will simply travel farther to get to the restaurants. One convincing critique declared that money should be spend educating kids on how to eat, not just rezoning New York.

Not long ago, the city changed its zoning regulations to prevent porn shops from opening within a certain distance from schools. Even then, there is now a limit as to how many porn stores can be open and how much of their merchandise can actually be porn (many of them have resorted to putting I heart NY shirts and hats in the front of their locations and porn in the back). Few people objected to this rezoning. There was no doubt in people’s minds that kids should be kept away from porn. And yet, it wasn’t as if more than half of adult New Yorkers had become sex-crazed perverts. It wasn’t as if one out of every four elementary school kids had started making underground sex films. So why was it so easy for the sex shops to be minimized but so objectionable for the fat shops to be controlled? Why? Because America is still plagued by a sex-obsessed Puritanism. Masturbation is deadlier than malnutrition, semen kills more than toxic mayonnaise, vaginas are more satanic than heart-stopping oil-dripping burgers.



When Mama talks, I listen. Part of that is because she talks so much about herself that she can just go on and on in pure self-righteous monologue. She makes Shakespeare quiver.

You can’t disagree with any parts of her speeches, though, because then you get accused of trying to make her feel like crap (her feelings are your fault) or of turning against her. Never does she stop to ask you what you think or to *gasp* ask how YOU’RE doing. When I was a kid our conversations were like strings of monolithic beads. I would talk for ever, then she would talk for ever--kind of confessional style. And she would "counsel me" on what I was doing wrong or thinking wrong or feeling wrong and she'd tell me how to perfect myself. Not very pleasant and not the kind of parenting that results in healthy self-esteem.

As an adult, I have learned that it's better if I engage in conversations by listening and asking questions. Since mamais willing to answer questions, and loves to talk, it works out. It's a tricky business this asking of questions because mama's paranoia causes her to believe that if I do nothing but ask questions I must be plotting something.

Once, in a conversation, er--speech, about her upbringing I asked “how did that make you feel when your parents didn't let you have any friends?” She paused and said, with a cross look on her face and water welling in her eyes, “I dunno. I feel like you’re trying to get me to cry. Why do you want me to cry?"

Another reason I don’t interrupt her monologues to give speeches of my own is that during the last presidential election mama forbade me to ever talk to her about politics. It’s the last thing she wants to talk about and I’m the last person she wants to talk about it with.

"Politics" in her mind doesn't just mean analyzing Bush’s latest fuck up. Politics involve anything that can somehow be tied into government and legislation: the environment, censorship, funding for the arts, theatre, literature—all these topics end up relating in some way to politics. Since these are the topics I like speaking about most, well, I just stopped talking to her about them.

Occasionally I forget and I cross the line and she accuses me of hating America and of having been brainwashed by communists in graduate school (uh, Yale, where Bush went for undergrad).

When she called me out on my "silence" during her visit this weekend I explained that I have learned that in order to get to know someone, you gotta ask questions of that person and then you gotta listen and then you can ask more questions. I secretly hoped that she would then ask me something about myself, but later remembered that she doesn’t approve of most of what I do and feel and think, so why would she ask about things she doesn’t like.

The whole reason for this post is that mama just called me at work. She went on about what she's done all day (not really asking me about my day of course) and then said:

“I called to tell you just one thing: You should not stop talking, Alex. People love to hear you speak. You speak beautifully and people are moved by the things you say. And you shouldn’t let anyone else convince you that speaking too much is bad.”

Knowing mama better than she knows herself (after all, I’ve been to therapy and she hasn’t), I bet she thinks my bf Rey has brainwashed me into silence because she’s always complained about how shy he is around her. She doesn’t speak English and he doesn’t speak Spanish, yet he’s supposed to engage with her in conversation and not making an effort means there’s something wrong with him. Mama’s always on the lookout for people who might wanna change me. Probably because that's what she's trying to do herself.

Until not that many years ago she was still asking if I was sure I hadn’t been brainwashed into being gay by all kinds of folk: friends, Madonna, my first boyfriend in high school. Oh yeah, the paranoia runs deep, and she’s never gotten professional help for it, although a few times she HAS, through tears, confessed: “Alex, I think I need to see a psychiatrist. I don’t feel right.” In each instance I asked why. A few outpourings later she has concluded, "You know...I don't need help. All I need is to talk to the son I love and for him to listen. You are my therapy." (Insert here the sounds of maggots eating my brain).

Mama's Visit: Day Two: THE LESSONS LEARNED

Here are snippets of conversation with mama, followed by the valuable lesson I learned....

Mama: You have lot of houseplants, huh?

Me: Yeah, they brighten the apartment.

Mama: They'll cause you allergies. And my mother always said that you shouldn’t have houseplants because they suck up the oxygen you need to breathe.


Mama: I don’t like that painting.

Me: Which?

Mama: That one. Ugh!

Me: Why?

Mama: I dunno. It looks like a man who’s...I dunno.

Me: What?

Mama: Committing suicide and he’s screaming. It’s grotesque. Like the artist was thinking about death.

Me: I painted that.

Mama: I don’t like it.

Me: It’s from a DVD still of a guy having sex with this woman. It’s a closeup of his face.

Mama: Ugh! Can you imagine a man making love that way? That’s not sex. That’s not real sex it's something disgusting.


Mama (to Luna, my cat): Lunita...Lunita you’ve changed. You used to love me and give me cuddles, Luna.

Luna: ...

Mama: What happened, Luna?

Luna: ...

Mama: She used to be loving to me, Alex.

My inner Satan: Yeah, but now she knows better.


Me: I love my sculpture class. It’s so much fun, I should’ve done this years ago.

Mama: Ugh! You get involved in too many things--it's gonna make you crazy!



Mama's Visit: Day One: MAMA'S KARMA

Mama came for a visit this weekend, from Friday to Monday.

Day One, Friday:

I took mama to my office so she could meet some co-workers and check things out. Everyone loved cutie-tums mama: a 70 year-old with the energy of a 5 year-old wearing more makeup than a 15 year-old. And everyone also loved how much I look like mama. If my skin were wrinkled and brown and my hair a frizzy mop and height about a foot less and if I were in drag, there’d be no difference between us.

After the office tour we had to get back to my apartment to retrieve mama’s pills before the evening’s affairs. She managed to land a corner seat on the Queen’s-bound F train. Near her, standing, was a man and his toddler daughter—the cutest sleepy-eyed thing ever, with two lavender berets in her hair. With the back and forth jostling of the train, the little girl could hardly keep her footing and she kept spilling the chips she was trying to devour.

Her mouth agape a tiny handful of chips jerking around in front of her face like stubborn summer flies until plop, down went the chips with the sudden break of the train.

Mama, always trying to do her best by Jesus, grabbed the little girl from her father—a bold move for a stranger to make on another parent’s child—and she lifted the little nugget into the tiny space next to her so she wouldn’t have to suffer standing the whole time.

The father was extremely grateful at the gesture and the little girl was stunned into silence.

“Say thank you, Karma,” the father demanded. Little Karma, in a whispered mumble, “Thank you.”

So there was Karma eating her chips next to mama, who had now put her arm around the little girl to hold her steady. Karma ate some chips. Then she ate some more. None fell to the ground thanks to her haven.

The chips made Karma’s blood sugar level drop slightly enough to blur her inhibitions, so she leaned closer into mama, her lids halfway down her eyes. Mama noticed Karma’s sleepiness and put her palm out so that Karma could rest her head comfortably on it. It must’ve been awkward for Mama, holding a sleepy child’s head like that on a rocking train car, but she persisted, and Karma slept soundly, barely clutching the mostly-empty bag of greasy potato chips in her oil-shiny finger tips. Mama is a trooper. Willing to go the extra mile for any child, anywhere. Once for a period of two years mama sponsored a little Mayan girl in Mexico whom she called “my baby.”

When it came time for us to get off the train, mama traded places with Karma’s father, who thanked mama several more times. Mama exited the train smiling, satisfied—a job well done, and a little soul comforted by her aging hands.

As we climbed up out of the station, mama mused, “You know, many Black people raise their children to have manners and be well behaved. They’re not all delinquents.” Mama was relieved to have encountered someone like Karma who had a grateful and polite father to keep her from going astray, like so many others do.


Train Lit

The optimistic desparation: mostly life's shit, but I'm not alone in that despair and the camraderie gives me hope:

"I have not managed to accept existence and to accept myself. I can see nothing beyond the beings and the things that surround me and that seem to me enigmas, more or less. I can never, or seldom, or with great difficulty, get on with other people, because I cannot get on with myself either. The forms of satisfaction I have sought, and found, to fill my life, its emptiness, its nostalgia, have sometimes succeeded, but how inadequately, in disguising the malaise of existence. They once distracted me, but can no longer do so. Pain, grief, failure have always seemed to me truer than success or pleasure. I have always tried to live, but I have passed life by. I think that is what most men feel."

-Eugene Ionesco, Fragments of a Journal, 1967, trans. by Jean Stewart


Steam Locomotive

He got on at the same station I do. Tall, wearing mostly black, using a messenger bag to carry his papers and a few books. Wire rimmed glasses sitting on a dark golden face framed by brown hair salted with stubble, which was more than a five o’clock shadow and less than a full beard. Divine. I wanted to eat him. Summer brings out the animal, you know, and the train is full of heat from packed-in bodies that’ve been rushing through the humidity to make it to and from work.

My man stood near me. I could feel the temperature emanating from him. He was tall and slim. Long but not lanky. No floppy limbs dangling like marionette arms and marionette legs from clumsy strings. His arms, his legs, his feet and hands were wedged in place not by bulgy muscles but by…something I couldn’t figure out. The mystery of how his body kept itself together made me want him more. I wanted to tinker with the parts.

We rode and rode until we got off at Bryant Park. Except we couldn’t get off because a woman was blocking the door. “Excuse me,” I said, and my man, right behind me, repeated when she failed to move, “Excooz me.” At last, a voice! Polish, perhaps. Never accent-fetishist, but knowing this bit of him through two words made my mouth water.

Outside the train door, he walked right and I took the lonely exit left.