Ultimate Subway Attention Seeker (and The People of the Book)

7th September, 2010 Earlier, there was an African-American kid with a pink-orange dyed mohican (just that haircut alone would have qualified him as an attention-seeker) with a white domesticated rat, kissing it, loving it with his lips, letting it crawl half into his mouth (the rats that had been crawling under the tracks among the trash down on the lines of the F just before the train came into West 4th Street station flashed into my head. Their survival instinct keeps them from the third column of the electrified third rail). People were taking pictures with their phones, others laughed as they recoiled down the carriage to get away from him.

All that time, a man in a black suit and black skull cap was reading a Hebraic text. He's to my left, and is clean-shaven; so does that mean he's not Orthodox? He is, in every appearance except for the lack of a crazily exuberant beard. To my right in olive garb, a man who might be from the Horn of Africa is reading what could be the Qu ' aran: hardback, as ink-black as the Black Stone of Mecca, with gold calligraphy on the cover. Curious. As I write this from left to right, he and the Jewish man from Asia Minor are reading right to left. I am sitting in between. I wouldn't say, "equidistant." I just happen to be. And, as an agnostic / lapsed Catholic-by-tradition, do I qualify as belonging to the People of the Book? Does that claim cut any ice among the Believers, the separatist religious tribalists of this world of now, where the extremes dictate, and the "middle ground" of all traditions is reviled?

I -  don't - Think -  so.

An Asian woman in a grey vest and light purple shorts sits opposite me, looking anxious, holding a notebook in which she's been writing in Chinese script. The man from Africa is writing, in pencil, the most beautiful, light-touch glosses and annotations that look more like a breeze on the water than writing. Or a flowing Cubism, something that is pure representation with no images, as if herons or cranes were lightly printing the page. Now he's rubbing a cologne onto his hands, wrists and neck that smells something like Tea Tree oil, or some mysterious, refreshing smell. I enjoy observing the deliberate ascetic refinement with which he does everything. It belongs to a different world. It reminds me of the smell of the "Mosque" section of E.M. Forster's Passage to India. It could be the odour of tolerance.

I enjoy the way they read. There's such an air of peace and containment about it in the subterranean world.