11/11/2005

JFK-Chinatown/Downtown Xing-JFK/super-size it!

07:54 - arrived at JFK
07:58 - departed JFK
08:11 - arrived at Downtown Xing
08:16 - departed Downtown Xing
08:17 - arrived at Chinatown

Total commute: 23 minutes
MBTA estimated total trip time: 8 minutes
discrepancy: +15 minutes
Total time in transit: 14 minutes
Total wait: 9 minutes

09:36 - arrived/departed Downtown Xing
09:45 - arrived JFK

Total commute: 9 minutes
MBTA estimated total trip time: 8 minutes
discrepancy: +1 minute
Total time in transit: 9 minutes
Total wait: 0 minutes

First of all, the eight-minute estimate for the first trip here, from JFK to Chinatown: utterly, appallingly unrealistic, to say the least. Second, in general, it would be quicker to walk from Downtown Crossing to Chinatown than to transfer from the red to the orange line and take the train. But there's weather to consider, you know?

Thirdly, Has anyone noticed that people's asses are getting bigger and bigger? It's been in the news a lot lately, and even just casual observation will prove it. What is the T going to do about it, is what I want to know. I suggest Mr. Grabauskas take a little junket, and have a look at other subway systems around the globe.

Take the old Russian trains they use in the Budapest Underground: they don't have little individualized seat-things (of course--being of communist-era construction); instead, there are long and quite comfortable-enough padded bench-like things, so that one's space is not prescribed (or proscribed, as is very often the case), and those with wide haunches can peaceably co-exist with those of narrower dimensions. (Disclosure: I do not have a fat arse myself. It's meaty, but the fact is I'm totally height-weight proportionate.) The benches don't call attention to the increasing number of greedy individuals taking up ever more portions of our shrinking public spaces. Which is probably a good thing, as greed causes resentment, and brazen inequalities lead to social unrest. And as winter approaches and people bulk up for the colder months, more commuters will be forced to stand during their commutes, as it will take fewer bulked-up commuters to fill the existing seats. So the problem will only get worse.

There are additional constraints on the T's trains (particularly red and orange line trains), as there are vertical bars every three seats that further hem the seated commuter in. These are felt to be necessary for standing commuters, but there are other solutions, such as straps, which are common enough and have proved themselves effective in other transit systems.

I believe part of the problem is the idea that even in shared spaces we must seize and claim a clearly demarcated space, so that, even if only temporarily, we can still point to that space as "mine". But public transit is possibly the most egoless form of transit there is, making this concession to the ego perfectly farcical. It's insulting in a way, when you think about it. Patronizing, you know?

Now, it may be frustrating for skinny folks, but plus-size commuters are the ones who should be pushing for benches. There is a standard or norm implicit in the current individual seat system, and it is actually probably about a half-cheek to a full-cheek short of the current societal norm. I am speaking here of value-neutral facts, not what is healthy or aesthetically pleasing, mind you. As our population grows wider, will we continue to deny the reality of individual sprawl, to everyone's discomfort? Or will we forge ahead with value-neutral seating which has the additional benefit of encouraging that sense of "ours" instead of "mine" for which the T exists?

* * *

A note: the escalator in the inbound side of the Chinatown station is out of order, and will be through the 26th, according to signage at the site.

* * *

On my way back from the gym I rode a very efficient, nearly deserted train. There was a blatino kid at one end, with his headphones on, bobbing his head up and down to the beat, like they do. Often they are rapping along, striking their poses and so on, looking very... what? Well, first and foremost, very serious. And righteous in their way. But somehow a little desperate, too. This kid was just bobbing his head, though, in that way--kind of up and down and back and forth. At one point I saw him from the corner of my eye, forgetting to bob his head, and resuming when he saw me from the corner of his eye observing him.

I had many, many more occasions to observe these kids when I lived on the Orange Line at Stony Brook, passing through Roxbury Crossing and Jackson Square. The boys dress in baggy clothes, the crotch of their jeans about at their knees. The girls, by contrast, are usually in something skin-tight, flesh spilling out everywhere. It makes you wonder what it means.

You could say it's just what's cool, and attribute it to an evil meme, but I think there's something to the way we dress. Ever since people bid adieu to their hairier Neanderthal cousins and donned animal skins, clothing has had social significance. I mean, the best hunter would probably have the pimpinest furs, wouldn't you think? And his gatherer bitch would be decked out in the blingingest animal teeth, with the biggest bone through her nose. In modern times, even if those who wear a certain style of clothes can't articulate what it means, it speaks to them, and speaks through them to the rest of us. It means something.

Take the modern businessman, whose life of daily drudgery may have the effect of making him feel somehow somewhat emasculated (despite all the talk of Wall Street warriors eating red meat and reading SunTzu). Some urban anthropologists have suggested that the power tie may be a stand-in for the ancient phallocarp, favored by warriors (like the one pictured here) in Papua, New Guinea. The phallocarp is basically a penis sheath, whose size, like the cod-pieces so often mentioned by Rabelais, suggest they are much more than just a fig-leaf. As one of my favorite evolutionary biologists, Jared Diamond, has written:

"Other facts confirm the role of a large penis as a threat or status display toward other men. Recall all the phallic art created by men for men, and the widespread obsession of men with their penis size. Evolution of the human penis was effectively limited by the length of the female vagina: a man's penis would damage a woman if it were significantly larger. However, I can guess what the penis would look like if this practical constraint were removed and if men could design it themselves. It would resemble the penis sheaths (phallocarps) used as male attire in some areas of New Guinea where I do fieldwork. Phallocarps vary in length (up to two feet), diameter (up to 4 inches), shape (curved or straight), color (yellow or red), and decoration (e.g., a tuft of fur at the end). Embarrassed male anthropologists interpret the phallocarp as something used for modesty or concealment, to which my wife had a succinct answer on seeing a phallocarp: 'The most immodest display of modesty I've ever seen!'"

As for the necktie as modern phallocarp: I find it an intriguing hypothesis, and wholly convincing, myself. Give me a big red necktie over a little pink bowtie any day. Size matters.

But back to the baggy jeans and overstuffed jerseys so popular among urban kids--it seems like a kind of body armor to me, personally. It's the boys I'm talking about here. The layers of grossly oversized clothes have the effect of sort of puffing them up, don't they? To me, it fairly screams "low s-o!" But then I like tight tees and hip-huggers, myself, and am a huge fan of flesh, so it could just be sour grapes on my part. I do find the low-rider jeans a bit vexing, at any rate. They seem so utterly impractical. I don't understand them. I don't understand making such a concession as for comfort and convenience, to a style that seems so overtly silly.

Any insight, particularly from the source, would be greatly appreciated.

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