I just won New York City

I’ve lived in the Big Apple more than twenty years. The universe has thrown me 9/11, Sandy, Irene, unrest both King and Floyd, Ebola, Mad Cow and a global pandemic — not to mention a decade as an actress who just missed Broadway and second decade as a writer overlooked by Random House. It couldn’t shake me. I still love this town. And tonight, after decades of struggling to shake me off, the City made me one of its own.

Friends: it happened on the subway.

It was a crowded C train, the kind without an empty seat…I had finagled the tiny bank of two-seaters at the end of the first car, slipping in when a Bible-obsessed woman ranted chapter and verse off the train at Chambers Street. I was solo. Everyone was masked. I pulled out a hardcover book and settled in for a blissful half hour of solitude amid the multitudes, sliding so deeply into the fictional world of sentences that I didn’t even notice the skinny Black guy who dropped into the seat beside mine at Canal. In time honored tradition, we shifted so our hips made minimal contact and each one pretended the other wasn’t there.

Until he pulled out an oversized phone and assaulted us all with the undeniable, inescapable, utterly non-ignorable guitar riff that announced an episode of Seinfeld.

Yes. The quintessential collection of the four most irritating white voices of 90s New York City — Seinfeld — was playing on the oversized cellphone of a young urban male who wasn’t wearing headphones. And I was trying to read.

I tried all the Karen memes: I rolled my eyes. I huffed. I looked searchingly at the other passengers to see if I was the only one who felt this was the most meta moment in all of NYC history. I stared at my book helplessly. I sighed again. On the little screen was the episode where Kramer has a red light shining into his apartment and can’t sleep. The subway passenger ignored me and watched his show, full volume.

So reader, I gave up. I closed my book and started to watch the show. You know the prickly feeling you get when you realize someone is looking at your screen without your permission? The guy twitched. His hands moved as if to turn the phone away from me. But then it was as if the ghost of his grandmother stilled him: he must have realized that he started this by playing the episode without earphones, and he stopped trying to hide and just let me watch. It was uncomfortable for both of us. Me, because I knew I was only watching because it was so irritating that he wasn’t even trying to keep his volume to himself. Him, because this lunatic White woman was watching his phone. And then Kramer poured tomato juice into his cereal and ate it thinking it was milk and both of us cracked up. We didn’t make eye contact but we laughed together. Two bodies, in contact, on a train, both laughing.

My fellow New Yorkers, magic happened. By this strange kaleidoscope of broken taboos, we became, if not friends, then allies. His twitching stopped and his hand relaxed. He placed the phone flat, inviting me to look. Without moving an inch, I accepted his offer and for the rest of the ride to 59th street we shared a New York Moment: strangers on a train, neither annoyed with the other, giving in to the absurdity of the situation, laughing at the antics of the idiot New Yorkers on the screen. Just humans. Together.

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M. M. De Voe

M. M. De Voe

Fictionista, collector of obscure awards, admirer of optimists in the face of dread. Author of Book&Baby, an acclaimed guide for writer-parents. mmdevoe.com