chapter 12: capitalistic dispatch
there is a neatly dressed man, standing by the doors, bopping to that off-beat in between the train’s rocking oscillations and the fake-four-on-the-floor from that corny so-called “EDM” in his earphones. he does not stare, he does not bump others, he does not read texts; per CTA’s unwritten, but very much established code of ethi-quette, he’s a model citizen, at least. had he ever the chance, he would certainly chase you down and give you your wallet and as we know that would make him a saint where public life is concerned in the States (we love to bastardize the word “hero” in describing mundane acts of courtesy). he is, where i and all the other quasi-conscious cattle (we are politically identified as humans, but we have not evolved from the beast; public transport is both evidence for and against this supposition), where we, the transitioning mass in the technologically assisted stampede, are concerned, he is a decent man.
as for me, the day has yet to consume me — brutal is the morning, it feels like i’m being cooked, plated, fork-stabbed, knife-sliced, i’m being gnawed off by it’s incisors and ultimately chewed up in today’s mouth. i can only pray that it will swallow me — the evening will receive me with a surplus of acidic, enzymatic cocktail… i will drink this to ease my nerves, let it transform me wholly and take me to a different place. at bed time, after convulsing my way through the bowels of abandoned sobriety, when it is time to move toward rest, i’ll dive into the toilet like an alabama adolescent at a watering hole, on the third tuesday after school lets out (my public school friends are for sure let out by then too so that they can join me). this day, this machine, this existence (this neo-mercantilist, post-colonial, hyper-technological plantation capitalism) has yet to destroy me, it has yet to demand, in the form of menial tasks, that i supply my entire being and body for its sustenance, that i provide my person for its pleasure — no, as for now, it has only summoned me to a place of wrath to check emails, sip coffee, and munch my highly underrated yet appropriately priced dunkin’ donuts bagel. i could check these post-modern telegrams, these emails from my home, on my phone, but we have not yet given up on the value of facial expressions in the processes of laborious monotony; of course, the value of everything else has been long lost, of course everything but commodities and barrels of crude oil. so myself and my neatly dressed, well-mannered man are here on the train; he’s minding his manners, and i’m minding his business; we are maxing and relaxing.
my only complaints: too little sleep, the lack of WiFi in the tunneled portions of the train ride, and the post-9/11 cameras installed overhead, which, to date, have not deterred anything of importance to me but my quest to collect free copies of the transit system maps on Chicago’s every line. myself and this nobly-intentioned, neatly-dressed, and nicely-mannered man are “in the same boat” (i wonder if 500 years from now “on the same train” will be a figure-of-speech) — we are both perfectly still while in uncomfortably shaky motion, carried to our destiny by a loco-motion so rocky i have to sarcastically wonder in my head (I may have said it out loud, the lady next to me chuckled) whether this train was being driven by freddy kreuger or heath ledger’s joker (giving double, transnational linguistic meaning to the “loco” in “locomotion”), at any rate we are both headed in the same direction: to our graves… in a drawn out, uneventful fashion. his reality isn’t so different from mine, even if his demeanor is seasoned to a polite perfection and even if his preferred genre of music has little chance of changing the world (as if his profession is likely preparing the world for any sweeping transcendent age of aquarius). the fact that he said “hi” to the fake k9 unit officer on the train platform this morning, when i’ve only ever dreamed of showing them my longest finger, tells me that he takes this kindness act seriously, and i don’t think he even knows it’s an act; awareness is on its way, for the both of us.
on its way, this vessel, packed like a can of sardines, marked in my mind by what feel like octagonal wheels, oddly victorian-style sliding double doors, delays due to construction, and daunting destinations, this transportation chain-gang rumbles to an inappropriately abrupt halt — not one soul on the train cries out internally or externally that familiar childishly excited exclamation of arrival, “we’re here!” no, but every soul does cry internally, and each of us externally and eternally stoic cattle waits for those doors, which always close too soon and take forever to open, to break like the gates at the kentucky derby, we brace ready like usain bolt in the staring blocks of the olympiad. there the neatly dressed man, minding his business, politely staring out the window, resting his eyes on his smart phone, tries to gather himself, get skinnier than he already is, sucks in his non-existent gut, turns his paper thin frame side ways so that those most close to him can pass; he is a fool. the mouth of this train car is preparing to vomit out victims and cough up culprits of global capitalistic enterprise, only for this bile to then drip up the escalator, to ground level of the thompson center or out onto the lake street strip that looks so dirty, i assume chicago borrowed this piece of land from manhattan. his small gesture of courtesy, his micro-heroic maneuver, his attempt to make way for the woman to his left and the man to his right, innocently ignore the rolling, bubbling, rumbling tide that assembles around either of the two equidistant victorian-style ejection outlets on this here box car. he’s in over his head, but his headphones and his politely narrowed focus don’t let him in on this very soon to be opened secret.
with a jarring, anything-but-victorian, and anything-but-stylish-or-subtle jiggle that i hear so many times i can hardly remember it, the gun sounds and the race-clock begins its bursting bound to zero. the mild-mannered man, looks all of the fool that he is right now, still there looking down at his shoes, sucking in his missing girth, halfing his chest in a crunch to narrow his already inconspicuous shoulder breadth, waiting for the few around him to pass around him with difficulty lessened by his small physiological show of spacial charity. the mass of cattle stand starring, still in pre-race brace like a bunch of baffled and blood-boiling red-bulls.
the voice of a very reasonable god comes down, speaking up for the angry army awaiting, roaring through his pitifully pseudo-popular, quasi posh tunes, “you think you only need to move A LITTLE? are you NEW here? THIS IS CLARK AND LAKE — EVERYONE is getting off at CLARK AND LAKE… MOVE!” Before he can be surprise, long before this can set in, and forget about him having time to become saddened, he is moved, and not emotionally. blasted back by the flow of muddy waters from this underground, netherworld geyser like a 1950s teenaged negro swept up in the force of a firehouse like the wednesday night visitation of the holy spirit to a tarrying, yearning soul; his arms flail, hips swing in ways that his pseudo-athletic flexibility can barely accommodate, his feet scatter so quickly they multiply and he’s dancing to a music much to fast, like the mixture between a seizure and a pentecostal cakewalk, a c.o.g.i.c. version of the curly shuffle, but he is anything but “delivert!”
he is leveled, laid out as if a fiery televangelist laid hands on him and now he has learned. your manners, your neat clothing, your polite, yet resolute refusal to stare and/or read people’s texts don’t matter at clark and lake; at clark and lake, you’re just in the way. damn the fact that i’m sure he’s got troubles, his own mountainous molehills, his own inner-turmoil, and forget the likelihood that he, just like everyone else, is trying his best; his problem? being a “human” and expecting a bunch of cattle to be that too.
poor fellow, you’ll learn. if you don’t, then you really are a hero after all. for now, whatever you are, hero or hobbling victim of mass transit and persisting stampede instincts, what happened this morning was tragic and i write this in your honor.
chapter 4: etiquettes of elitism
I don’t know why I came in with these diamonds on my chains, but I do know lots of things have to do with great looks and wealth. Wealth and great looks are invariably keys to total success. But what are great looks and wealth really?
I was on the train the other day, and a lady was talking really loudly. She was white and very blonde. I assume she finds herself very attractive. I was glad she was white; the same way a crime was reported on the evening news and when the suspect was white my mother would let out a relieved praise to her God. I was happy that she was not being viewed as consistent with a black stereotype. The white people on the train did not know what to do with this ‘anomaly’. They called a quorum.
Slowly, they gathered. There was a circular formation in their gathering, albeit non-physical. Whispered wise-cracks, gestured jokes, mouthed misgivings; they got their point across, and for the most part, she made their point for them. I mean, she was obnoxious and generally “inconsiderate” of the others on the train. And she was only inconsiderate, of course, if she had ever considered shared space as automatically set to silence as a default. Perhaps she was not raised to think this the case. The train itself is loud (a physical testament to how loud she was). Perhaps she has hearing troubles. Who knows? I do know that were she much less attractive and/or a woman of color, there would be no quorum. There would either be too much fear to shush her or an immediate shushing with no collective consultation needed.
It makes me think about the idea of social capital and public space/public goods all together.
I’ve often seen folks who treat their $2.25 fare like a plane ticket, as if they demand silence on top of stillness, and they themselves see fit to police this silent stillness; customers and consumers with high expectations like heavy-handed leaders demanding subordination to their ideas of public space and compliance to the codes of conduct that they feel reify these ideas. Undoubtedly, these people are always white (in my experience). Often I think to myself, “why does the fact that you paid a couple bucks to ride a train that is bumpy and shaky and generally unsettling mean that you get to tell others how to behave on a train– they paid $2.25 too.” I mean at the very least, sure, your fair gets you a vote in how the car’s passengers conduct themselves with respect to your now shared space, but at best that entitles you to a debate, not a decree. Dictatorship costs much more than $2.25.
Once, a kid, who was black and I assumed, because of his clothes and how he was put together, that he was not of a middle class or well-to-do economic background, got on the train with a portable speaker, playing popular contemporary rap music. I think he was playing “Handsome and Wealthy” by Migos. He went to the nook in the front and bopped his head to his music. It was plenty loud. Everyone could hear the music. Most people looked to see where it was coming from and then settled back into their thoughts, once their curiosity was satisfied. However, there was a group of white men, whose conversation revealed that at least 2 of them were queer and gave way to this young, speaker-carrying fellow’s musical entry. Quietly staring, they gave him looks of disapproval to which he was not privy. He was, in fact, minding his business. They, having been loudly conversing the entire time up to that point, muttered disdain for this young man’s music between one another and then one of them said what George Zimmerman always thought growing up, “What’s wrong with him? His music is so obnoxious. I just wish I was a police officer right now”. At that point, I was far more preferential to his music, than I was to their loud conversation and I was not even sure which was louder. I wondered to myself “is that kid queer? It’s very possible. At any rate, they would never be advocating for him, not with that attitude.” Why do you need to be a cop to interact with him? You could be the nice person on the CTA who explains why it’s potentially negative to play music so loudly on a train or the fair-minded person who recognizes that they were just engaged in a loud conversation and decline to be a hypocrite entirely.
If a group of people dressed like me, were standing up like them, talking about the things they did the night before, loud enough for someone sitting where I was sitting to hear, would they still wish they were police? At any rate, I wondered to myself, as the lyrics of that song suggest, why have I had such great odds in life, why am I treated like an exception to certain unspoken rules; is it in fact, because “a nigga handsome and wealthy?” Doubtful, but those two variables cannot hurt a spread, I assure you.
Just the other day, I saw a young lady sitting in her seat, clutching her book bag. She was biting her lip and bouncing her legs up and down on her toes, rocking back and forth a little. Needless to say, she was nervous as hell. Whatever she was about to do, wherever she was about to go, scared her. Or maybe it was just what was on her mind that unnerved her so, perhaps she was thinking about a tough situation with her family or someone she cared about. She was latina, I assume, because of her pheno-typical appearance and because it was the northern half of Chicago’s blue line. But she was undeniably nervous and shaking like a leaf. The woman next to her, had short silver hair and looked like she had made it in life, had been through some things and had a relative measure of success. I assumed this woman next to her, a white woman, had been nervous in that way before in life, shaking perhaps, bouncing her legs up and down on her toes. I thought maybe she had once been her and that maybe she saw this.
The white woman began to stare at her. I thought, “maybe she has some advice for her, some comfort, some reassurance or at least some good luck”. But then I realized, she was glaring, not just staring. The girl did not see her looking at first; she kept on shaking. The white woman looked around for her quorum. There was not one to be called. She tried to go on reading her book. The shaking continued and at times intensified. She glared some more. Her glare grew nastier and nastier. It became mean. Then, she stopped her reading very indignantly and glared finally with a look of total misunderstanding and disdain as if to ask “what the fuck is wrong with you?”. Instead of asking that intensely disconnected but far more caring than a glare question, she began to shake her own legs and her own upper torso at a speed and force higher than that of the girl’s sincere physical emotional expression. She mocked her with a sense of absolute disgust until the girl could see her. Then she looked at the girl eyes bulging as if to say “how do you like that?” The girl, seeing her out of the corner of her eye, became more nervous, grabbed her bag closer, and shook harder. No advice. No comfort. No luck. Just meanness. The white witch went back to her reading with a look of resolute nuisance. She would look up to glare every so often, but nothing changed until we arrived at Clark & Lake. This made me really sad. What a shitty way to start my day, watching someone else pass up an opportunity to be a good person and instead elect to be calloused and selfishly mean.
I remember getting onto the train one morning when it was incredibly packed. I occupied the car’s last inch. I had to contort to stand clear of the closing doors. A white woman around my age (recent enough college grad) came sprinting to the door. She looked at me and I back at her. I gave her a look as if to say “sorry… I can’t move anymore”, when she declared back to me with a stubborn indifference to the notion of impossibility, “sorry I have an interview, I have to get on this train”. Then she moved me and everyone else, and we understood. A lady next to me wished her luck. Everyone looked at her as if they wanted her to get the job. Everyone could relate to her. No one was mean or calloused for her adding to the discomfort of the ride. No one glared at her. Everyone wished her luck. No fair.
Anyway, back to my story about the quorum. White lady talking loud, other passengers joking to each other out of express disapproval of her vocal volume. They gathered to both talk about how obnoxious she is and I suspect plan recourse. However, the circle broke for about two seconds and thus emerged a woman with short silver hair, like the mean woman, but looked much nicer, much more composed, motherly and not mean. The circle pealed back and she sat there at the center of it all, she looked the woman dead in her face, lifted a finger to pursed lips and gestured like an original gangster “shhhh”. The woman stopped talking. Shocked by the display of audacity, composure, and cool performativity. Mom just shushed her. She never liked mom. She started talking again a little louder and much faster. She gave zero fucks and wanted to show it. The quorum then gave up and went on talking, laughing, being generally positive and mocking her, as they should. She was clearly shamed and so by and large I found their quorum to be successful. Her defiance was clearly emotional and temporary. Next time, she’d probably chill out on the loudness.
But I thought, is this what its all about? Every single person in the quorum had a smart phone out. Every single one of them knows they are under running surveillance by the United States Government. When Snowden released the reports that the NSA and the US Government were violating the constitution and collecting data from 10 major companies, sifting through people’s emails, phone records, voices, web-history, and collecting this data without warrants, over 50% of people responding to surveys (allegedly) said they supported the security measures and said that they felt that it was keeping them safe. Regardless of the fact that safety is a tenuous trade off for freedom (because unfree people are never truly safe from the very entity that encroaches on their freedoms), this was supposed to create a massive uproar in the public. The media milked it (as they should have) to little avail. There weren’t protests involving the “average” American and their was little indignation in the streets. I thought “you’re mad cuz this woman is talking loud but where was the quorum when we found out the Government was spying on us, every second of everyday?” Then I realized, the reason for quorum about the loud lady was the very reason there is no quorum about the government spying– it’s about comfort, quiet, and a diligent maintenance of status quo. “We will let the government spy on us for quiet and secure train rides; we certainly are going to let you fuck that up because you never learned social etiquette”.
Then it really dawned on me: nothing in my life has come to me because “a nigga handsome and wealthy”, even though I would like to think it doesn’t hurt. My life is a navigation of a world of tunnels and train cars and awkward situations, catching people reading other people’s texts at length over their shoulder and listening to people rant about Rahm, or telling solicitors that I have no cash (if I ran into some gamblers, you best believe I would find some cash). My life is what it is because the world is committed to quiet train rides and because I have yet to fuck that up; I’m compliant, so the machine keeps moving me along. You can’t shake, only the train car can do that and do so violently as hell. You can’t ask for money, only the CTA and Ventra companies can do that. You can’t gamble on the CTA, unless you’re one of the private stock holders literally gambling on the financial future of the CTA.
I mean really, do you ever wonder why soliciting and gambling are prohibited on the CTA train(s)? Is it “cuz a nigga cook like a professor?” Likely. But it’s more than likely for the same reason there are more 25% more train stops in white areas than in black and brown areas, areas that make up more than 60% of city land space; it’s the same reason the red line runs in the middle of the highway. Hell, it’s the same reason Ava DuVernay’s Selma got dissed by the Academy. It’s cuz this shit ain’t for “us”. Their mayors, their aldermen, their trains, their academies, their awards; they will never let you forget.
But at the end of the day, my people of color, whether you’re quiet or loud, beatbox carrying or not, betting types or holiness folks, do you. As Paul Mooney once said “it’s too late in the day for the bullshit”. When you’re nervous, shake. When you have spending cash, lose it in a game of craps on the train. Or save it. Or invest it. When you need money for a noble cause, including but not limited to feeding your kids or taking a basketball team to DC, ask for money. I know you may be lying. I don’t care. I pay too much for burgers at hipster joints in Wicker Park and Logan Square, why not give you two bucks to do whatever. Whatever you are, do you. Because, white people on the CTA have taught me something the past couple years: once you pay your $2.25, it’s your world, and you can live it how you like it and where you see fit, you can demand of others that they live it how you like it too. They may complain, but you paid your $2.25. If you think the train should be a place where people gamble, and eat food, and ask for money, and play music… that’s just as valid as a place where people sit perfectly still, pile on like rats at 5 PM at Clark/Lake, sit in total silence until it’s time to talk loudly about what Becky did last weekend, or a place where people quorum about loud conversations. This is your world. Why? Why else? “Because a nigga handsome and wealthy”. That’s why.
That will always be why you either fail or succeed… because you are, at your very core, in the depths of your ancestral soul, handsome and wealthy and they hate it and they hate you for it and they can’t do a damn thing about it.