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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Tales From the Underground

Riding the subway can be a unique experience. It’s the one place where art and life collide and blur completely. Like the tours of London’s Bedlam, the first criminal psychiatric hospital of its kind, the underground offers many examples of the follies and foibles of human behavior. Whether it’s the graffiti discussing who did who or what number to call for a good time or the tuneless, screeching musician with a guitar inexplicably stuffed with change, life in transit always has something to offer.

Fortunately or unfortunately, most of us never notice. The morning commute is conducted in silence, the only sounds being burnt coffee gurgling down gullets and rustling pages of The Metro being folded and refolded. Most are engrossed in their own thoughts, focused on where they’re going and what they have to do. People wear headphones, talk on cell phones, and stare into space, with or without the line of drool trickling down from the corner of their mouth. So busy and wrapped up in their lives, they don’t take notice of the everyday oddities that haunt them.

One of the most wonderful things the subway helped me to understand is that mothers everywhere and anywhere have the timeless ability to make you feel shame at any age whether you belong to them or not. As I was on my way home, I sat a few seats over from what appeared to be a drunken, possibly homeless man. The smell was strong but that’s nothing new. Riding the subway is like summering next to a swamp; you get used to the smell. I, like any other rider, was listening to my CD player, doing my best to ignore the people around me. The volume wasn’t up loudly since I’m not an advocate of becoming hearing impaired. As a result, I could hear most of what went on around me which, annoyingly enough, included this stranger who had taken the courtesy of describing what exactly he would do to me, given the chance. Let me say this much, if I was upset every time I was accosted on the subway by a “harmless” psycho, I probably wouldn’t leave my house.

Anyhow, as he was detailing acts that would make a hooker blush a woman came onto the train with her two children. I continued to ignore him, pretending that I hadn’t heard him. She strolled right over to him and told him to “shut the hell up” and that her kids shouldn’t have to hear that “sh*t” before ripping in to him further. I briefly wondered if she would hit him. He turned red, looked down, and clammed up before getting off at the next stop.

If you ride the subway, then you never lack for a newspaper. There’s always something to read, whether it’s today’s Globe or last week’s Phoenix. That’s about the extent of the variety outside of the occasional magazine. On my way to a coffee shop from UMass Boston, I watched a man step into the train at South Station and proceed to spend most of the trip folding a red piece of paper into various complicated shapes. He finally finished right before his stop, Central Square, leaving a perfectly folded oragami crane on the seat behind him.

The subway can also provide a chance of finding true love or, at least, temporary satisfaction for lust. If they’re lucky enough, people are united in their quest for physical and/or emotional gratification whether they’re on their way to work or in a hurry to get to a game or club at the Fenway. The other week, I was on the D line going to Park Street and I hit the morning rush. Needless to say, I had my crossword puzzle in hand and was safely situated behind my headphones until my battery died. Being crammed in with about a hundred other people means privacy is limited to nonexistent. Since I had finished my crossword puzzle too, I took the time to stare at other people and listen in on their conversations. One thing I noticed was the man and woman standing diagonally across from me. They’d been exchanging covert glances, smiling at each other from Newton Centre until Brookline Village when they finally broke the ice. It turns out that they’d known each other from some previous class at Northeastern. They caught up on their respective lives until they got off together at Park Street, flirting back and forth. I’m not sure if they finally made a date but the odds are good that they made time for a more detailed reunion.

There’s an announcer at South Station whom, usually late at night, can be heard imitating the sportscasters in the choice emphasis upon certain syllables and drawing out times of trains and lines. On Halloween, instead of the usual automated female voice politely asking me not to leave packages and children unattended, an announcer asked all of Porter Square station, “Superman, please save me.” Since there were no further requests, I can only assume he was rescued.

About the Contributor
MiMi Yeh served as arts editor for The Mass Media the following years: 2001-2002; *2002-2003; 2003-2004 *Evan Sicuranza served as arts editor for Fall 2002 Disclaimer: Years served is based on online database and may not detail entire service.