Not too long ago, the New York City subway moved from a token system to a swipe card system. (Those of you who live in New York must forgive me, as you already know everything in this paragraph, but the rest of the story doesn’t make sense unless you know how the subway system works.) The kind of card I usually get is the unlimited ride card, which can be used any number of times during the period it covers (a day, a week, or a month); to avoid its being used to get more than one person onto the subway at a time, once you’ve swiped it through the card reader at the turnstile, it’s invalid for the next eighteen minutes. This is not a problem during the ordinary course of events; when things go wrong, however–when you accidentally go through the downtown subway entrance at a station where there’s no inside transfer to the uptown subway, say–you are at the mercy of the station attendants, who are more capricious in their whims than any Greek god ever was. If they choose to let you through, then you’re fine; if not, you have to 1) wait eighteen minutes while train after train goes by or 2) jump the turnstile and risk arrest.
I promise this is relevant.
One day a few years ago, after spending the day running errands, I went to take the subway back home. I swiped my card, but before I could go through the revolving gate on my way in, somebody else came through on his way out. I tried to enter, but no go. I swiped my card again, but got the dreaded “JUST USED” message. Since there was no station attendant at this entrance (and since this was one of the entrances at which there are gates instead of turnstiles, making illegal entry impossible), I had to go back up and find another entrance at which there was a station attendant. I did so, and explained what had just happened. She asked to see my card. I gave it to her; she checked it and barked, “You just used this.”
Trying to keep my rage in check, I said, “Yes, I explained to you that I–”
“You didn’t use it at this station. I can’t let you through.”
“But I did, I told you that I–”
“I’m not letting you through. Next customer, please.”
I had had it. My relationship with my then-boyfriend N.T. was at the height of its dysfunction, meaning that my emotions were running at a fever pitch all the time anyway. There was clearly no reasoning with this monster in human form, so I went for it.
I jumped the turnstile.
That is, I tried to jump the turnstile. In actuality, I didn’t jump quite high enough, and my feet caught on the bar, which sent me tumbling down in a heap on the other side.
Along with the gallon of paint I was carrying in each hand.
The integrity of the paint cans (blue in the left hand, purple in the right) was of course not enough to survive the fall; the lids came off and paint spilled out all over me.
Broken and defeated and bruised and covered in paint, I left the subway station, crossed the street into Central Park, cried for eighteen minutes, came back, got on the subway, and went home.