I'm standing on the crowded Lexington Avenue subway platform, waiting for either the N or W Train to take me off the island of Manhattan. A drone-like female voice booms over the loudspeaker: "Ladies and Gentlemen, pan-handling is against the law. Please do not give to law-breakers. Please give instead to charities that support those in need. Thank you."
I look around to check for reactions but I get nothing. Poker faces. One might be excused for thinking the people on the platform did not even hear the announcement (those wearing iPod earphones surely haven't). We are being asked-check that-we're being told to not only view desperate humans as law-breakers but also to ignore them. No one flinches.
Let's rewind back to, say, 1973. If some sci-fi flick injected that exact pre-recorded spiel into a futuristic subway scene, we'd all have chuckled at the representation of such a callous-and highly unlikely-future.
The W Train arrives and we are soon in the tunnel under the East River (which is really an estuary but...) on our way to Queens. That's when we get our next lesson in freedom in the form of announcement #2: "Passengers are advised that their backpacks and other large containers are subject to random search by the police."
Again: no response. The words "subject to random" were just enforced upon the weary commuters in this tin can to hell but I'm left to wonder if I imagined it...because the decree doesn't even warrant a raised eyebrow.
The W Train grinds to a halt and we're treated to announcement #3: "Due to a sick passenger at Queensboro Plaza, we are being held momentarily. We will proceed as soon as possible. We're sorry for the delay and we appreciate our patience."
This broadcast is heard loud and clear. Immediately, everyone on the train sighs, sneers, and makes graphic gestures of rage. One guy not too far away from me yells out, "f*ck!" Extraordinary, huh? This man doesn't have a single ounce of sympathy for another human being that is sick. All that matters to this misguided miscreant is that he is being inconvenienced.
In no time, the W Train begins to move. We can see the sky as we emerge from tunnel. Almost everyone around me pulls out a cell phone to check messages. Wouldn't want to miss anything, would we?
Mickey Z. can be found on the Web at http://www.mickeyz.net.