Saturday, June 2, 2012

Porn on the Subway


Three black boys were sitting on the subway watching porn on their phones when I walked in. The car was mostly silent except for the porn noise from the phone and their laughter and commentary.

THAT'S HOW ALL MY BITCHES DO ME!


SHE MAKES HER BOOTY CLAP, HAHAHAHA!!!

The loud color commentary continued as I sat down. The participants were probably no older than 13 and 14th and watching videos on two cell phones. One had saggy jeans to reveal dingy, stained four-leaf clover boxers. The one kid without a cell phone was obese, with rolls of fat falling down his sides. It was one of those 'I'm embarrassed for my race and for human kind in general' moments that happens on the subway.

A few adults stared at the floor. It would be within my chivalrous code to remind them that they're on the subway, shouting back at them, and getting the people on my side. It was also something I've never encountered. I could also just move to another car, ignore them. Instead I decided to sit and observe.

The way the boys were talking was to draw attention to themselves or without care or regard to other people's audio-privacy in a public space. They shouted, screamed at camera, commentary on the male porn actor's squirming faces, and repeatedly called their 'girlfriends' bitches who they got to act like porn stars.

When I drew my eyes up and focus on them, they seem to get quieter. I know what I look like when I want to: I'm a big, African-American male with muscles who is often mistaken for a cop or security guard. I can -when I want to- shift my presence and facial expression to look like a stern authority figure or their Dad (or what they would think their Dad might look like). The boys pretended not to notice me but I can feel the glances out of the side of their eyes. I soften my look to be less accusatory or enraged. I just want to look at this and see. This was a time for equanimity practice.

I have been on subways where guys are watching cell porn. Mostly they're doing it by themselves, or in a corner. I catch the reflection of flesh on their glasses or in the windows of the subway. I politely distance myself from their experience. The watchers are always by themselves and are not talking, whooping, laughing, or offering commentary. And still they are watching porn in a public space: New York City's most public space. We all pretend to ignore each other, old women hedge away from these watchers. I wonder what was the impetus for cell porn on a subway?

There are other private things to do that people enact on the subway. For instance, eating food, especially smelly food. Last week I ate dinner on the subway. I was coming back from the gym and extremely hungry. I popped open my raw vegetables and marinated mushrooms and began eating them. I had weighed the options in my head. The meal wasn't that smelly, it wouldn't be that much of an imposition on people's senses, I was sitting in a corner. My body language shifted as I curved my back and hid the plastic box. I wasn't smacking, licking my lips and saying 'DAMN, THESE ARE SOME TASTY DELIGHTS IM EATING, MUTHAFUCKA!'

Two French gay tourists were sitting near me. They looked out of the side of their eyes. I felt bad but then I rationalized 'it's only vegetables and some lentils.' I judged that they felt this was fair too as they resumed their conversation.

Women reading erotic literature on the subway is another thing my roommate cited. I had never thought about it but she said reading erotica is a very private thing for women. And to do so on the subway robs the experience of its erotic thrill. It has to be a little less enjoyable when reading erotica or watching porn in public with others and you can't achieve the material's intended purpose in public: which is to get off. It's both gross and confusing.

I have seen people work out on the subway, break up relationships, do push-ups and pilates, file through their mail, urinate in a bottle, sleep, passionately make-out, reveal personal gynecological details in loud conversation. I suppose there has been a breakdown in what is not supposed to be done in public spaces. I guess it was inevitable when I walked in at the Union Square stop one day and caught the dancing reflection of porn in a man's glasses. He was seated in the corner of the subway. There was an empty seat across from him. I sat down and noticed that his glasses were lit up with the fleshy reflections of breasts and bush. I did a double take. And the reflections were images from a movie he was watching on his phone. I furrowed my eyebrows at him and then quickly looked away. I felt embarrassed and imposed upon.  The watcher's eyes shot up for a second to look at me and then -noticing that I had looked away- slipped back down into his porn. He held the phone even tighter and closer to his body. In a few other instances, I have caught solitary watchers crouched over their phones in guilt.

Yesterday was the first time when a group of kids loudly celebrated their accomplishments of porn watching on the subway. There was no protocol for how to chastise or react. Could the conductor be called, should parents be notified, should social services be called? Two of the kids got off a few stops into my ride. The only one left was the boy in dirty boxers. Now that he was by himself, he became very quiet and quickly switched off the porn and put in his headphones. He was now listening to music. Oddly enough he had the courtesy to put in headphones so as not to disturb other passengers. So was the porn watching just a communal buddy act they did together? A dare? A bonding moment?

I watched his behavior as he switched to music listening. He crouched over his phone and his head bent down. He would not look up for the rest of the ride. Did he have some sense of shame over the previous incident or was he oblivious and just wanted to listen to his music. At that moment I wish I had a boombox so that I could sit next to him and begin blasting my favorite dharma lectures. I would, of course, offer a loud color commentary to interrupt his music-listening:

DAY-UM, THIS IS SOME DEEP BUDDHIST STUFF!!!

AWWW MAN, DALAI LAMA KICKING OL' SCHOOL!

How would he react? Would he shoot me a look, get up and leave? Perhaps he would take off his headphones and say in his finest British accent, "excuse me dear sir, but I'm trying to listen to my music.'

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This was great! I laughed and felt my attention held all the way through. Going through touchy subjects like race and sexuality while providing just the right amount of detail if your inner thought process.

My favorite part was the list of private acts you have seen performed on the subway, culminating with the artfully phrased
"I guess it was inevitable when I walked in at the Union Square stop one day and caught the dancing reflection of porn in a man's glasses."
And then bringing up the theme of the breakdown of what's public and what's private.

Please check out a short poem I wrote on the subject, if you will:
http://galleryofwriting.org/writing/800393