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Eyes On The A Train MAG
The subway roared into Washington Square Station, approaching the platform like a hungry steel beast. By some odd quirk of fate, I happened to be the only person standing on the platform. I moved my sweaty palm around in the pocket of my leather trench coat, jangling my keys and spare change anxiously with my fingers. The train doors squealed open, and a multitude of travelers exited the car, all wearing an expression of strained intensity common to all New Yorkers.
I was playing a rather dangerous game that day: I wanted to see with how many people I could make direct eye contact. I don't recommend this to anyone who wants to stay alive more than three seconds on the streets of New York; several minutes before, I was nearly knocked over by the raging reply of one of my victims, his fists clenched like two crushing vices and his irises burning like wildfire. But you have to take risks sometimes. So as the riders disembarked, I screwed my vision on exactly twelve pairs of eyes, all types and colors: beady black ones, big brown ones, deep aquamarine ones. As expected, none of them returned the favor. However, I was deeply offended by the thirteenth traveler: a bearded twenty-something with a closely shaven head. He was wearing sunglasses.
"Hey," I commented as he passed, brushing my coat with his elbow. "That's cheating." He took absolutely no notice whatsoever of my intrusion and disappeared behind a pole.
My trench coat made swishing sounds as I entered the Uptown A Train. There were only three people on this particular car, all widely spaced to avoid contact. One caught my attention immediately; he was looking through the lens of a video camera. I took the seat adjacent to him and watched with wonder as he focused on a gray-haired woman on the opposite side. The woman looked away while clutching her purse close to her lap. The camera man soon tired of this wary subject and turned the lens, jamming the shutter within inches of my face.
I covered my face like a criminal before the onslaught of the press. "I didn't do it!" I pleaded in a high-pitched voice that bore a remarkable resemblance to Woody Allen's squawk. "No pictures!" I cracked a wide grin across my flushed cheeks as I lowered my hands.
The train shook violently for a moment, as did the camera. "At least someone in this city has a sense of humor left," said the stranger in a grave baritone. Keeping the camera eye locked on my face, he stretched out his arm, grabbed my hand and shook it. "Congratulations, sir," he commended earnestly. "You are the first person to acknowledge my presence today. You should be proud." His other eye, which was gray and probing, scanned me, studying every fold and crevice in my all-consuming trench coat. The driver announced a stop over the intercom; nobody got off, but five people boarded, all nondescript and listless. Doors slamming shut once again, the subway rocketed back into bumpy motion.
The camera man wore a ragged, woolen overcoat two sizes too big for his small frame with a fuzzy, gray turtleneck sweater. His long blond hair was in a state of complete disarray, little clumps and strings sticking out in all directions like a piece of modern sculpture. I couldn't get a clear view of his face, but what I did see wasn't pretty: oily skin, yellow teeth, a couple of scars. But his gray eye made up for this: clear as a sheet of glass, with the blackest pupil imaginable. He never took either eye, lens or pupil, off me during the whole trip.
"Are you making a documentary?" I asked after the door had closed.
"You could say that," he replied. "How's it coming?"
"It isn't." He took a deep breath and adjusted the zoom. "It was a stupid idea, anyway."
I reflected for a moment on what he had said. "I wouldn't call it stupid. Risky, yes,maybe even a little psychotic. But definitely not stupid."
He seemed to cheer up a bit from the compliment, flashing his yellow teeth in the sickening light of the subway. "Yeah, thanks, man. It's just that this is a lot different from what I had expected. I have twenty hours of tape of people ignoring me."
"Maybe you should try Washington Square Park. Or Central Park, or the Village," I offered. "You might find people more congenial there."
"I have. I've gone to every park in Manhattan. I've run laps up and down Fifth with this thing on my shoulder," he said while patting, rather roughly, the video camera. "I've done everything and still no one takes notice."
"Well, you still have four more boroughs," I reassured him. "And Jersey."
"Why should they be any different? Do people change suddenly after you cross a bridge?" He took a deep breath, savoring the stagnant subway air.
"You know, I don't have a color television. I watch all of these tapes on a little nine-inch job from around 1960. There's no color to distort anything, nothing to dull the contrast between black and white. I wish that I could see everything in black and white - all the time. It makes everything seem much simpler." He turned off the camera and placed it in his lap. I could finally see both his piercing gray eyes sparkle in unison.
The driver announced yet another stop over the static-ridden intercom. The camera man unseated himself, holding himself steady by gripping one of the hanging handles. "I guess I'll get off here," he said. "Thanks for listening."
"No problem," I replied as he disappeared onto the platform, cradling his third eye in his overcoat.
As the train shot off into the dark tunnels, I tried to imagine seeing the world as the gray-eyed stranger yearned to - in black and white. I focused my eyes on the crimson stocking cap of a nearby passenger. It slowly faded to dark gray, virtually indistinguishable from the business suit of the man sitting next to him. A grainy halo enveloped the edges, blurring where the hat ended and the wall began. I looked at what was once a patterned sweater. Glancing at the back of my hands, I noticed my veins were no longer visible beyond my colorless flesh. Looking into the eyes of the strangers, I realized that something was missing from my dangerous game.
The camera man can hide behind his video equipment, endlessly rewinding and fast forwarding in glorious black and white, but, personally, I have an eye for color. 1