I hadn't had sex for two years when I discovered how to fuck a crowded subway car.
The last time was with this girl Demetria. I rolled off her and it was as if the blood in my veins turned to frozen slush. She tried to rest her head against my shoulder but I stiffened up and I saw the truth. I knew what sex was. Intimacy. And I didn't want it.
The fuckspree of my youth had left me sickened, jittery, and morose regarding all human contact. Every time I went home with somebody, it was as if I were following a script. We'd flirt, I would compare them unfavorably to girls I had already slept with, I would decide to fuck them anyway just to be nice, and then I would make sure to establish permanent emotional distance as soon as I came back from the bathroom. I could cut them off for good with merely a sharp phrase or the slant of my shoulders. I may have been a naïve immigrant, but the City was my emotional abattoir.
“I want you, but I don't love you! I want to be part of you forever, but I never want to see you again!”
After Demetria, something in me snapped and I lost my nerve. At first I kept looking for other conquests, but each awkward failure was like another layer of plaster drying around my stiff and frozen frame. Finally, to protect myself, I shut everything down for good.
I quit playing drums with the band, but I didn't want to become some kind of social isolate or misanthrope and make everyone worry about me. Instead, I simply established a routine that narrowed all my sexual options down to nothing. My life became cold, solitary, and silent, filled up with chummy acquaintances but completely lacking romance. I wanted it that way. I no longer went to bars on weekends. Instead, I went out by myself to parks and the theater, always carrying a novel with me to read as a wall to end any unwelcome conversations before they had a chance to blossom into opportunity.
Luckily, women could sense there was something wrong with me and they scattered from my reach as if I were a shark cutting through a school of fish. I had no clique or cohort they could identify. There are no politics here in the City; people merely advocate for their favorite vices. Mine had once been lust, but now I had no group, affiliation, or party.
Surprisingly, even though I started to feel numb inside, I was less lonely. I looked at all the other people on the streets -- all the twisted faces reflecting broken dreams and worn-out lives -- and I felt anonymous sympathy from them that I'd never felt before. I was still young, but I was no longer trying to stand out. I moved with people instead of against them, and I may have been a pusillanimous fuck-shocked wretch, but I wasn't dangerous anymore to men or to women. I was neither threat nor competition. All the dough in my dick had hardened into crusty bread: too hard for anyone to chew, not worth shaping into a fun roll, the stale shit you mark down, mark down, mark down and then throw away.
The band was sure I would come back, but eventually they stopped calling me. I took a job at a combination grocery and hardware store called “Goldy's.” My responsibilities were simple: every day for an hour I restocked the shelves and then for six more hours I worked the register. For another hour I restocked the shelves again and then I went home. I made my own lunch every day and ate it in the break room by myself, reading a novel, trying to keep my mind empty so that I could stay on script and not freak out a customer by saying something too colorful or dynamic.
Here was my script:
“Hi, how are you doing?”
“Is there anything else I can get for you?”
“Have a truly excellent afternoon.”
Then a big smile. The big smile got me awards for customer service and ensured that I kept getting my twenty-five cent raise every six months. That big smile was my signature, even though I hated every single one of my fellow employees, my regular customers, and my managers. I hated them so much that I ran the script on them too whenever they tried to talk to me, except I replaced the middle part with a question about the weekend.
“Hi, how are you doing?”
“Did you have a good weekend?” or “Do you have any interesting plans for the weekend?”
“Have a truly excellent afternoon.”
Slowly, I lost my ability to be aroused by, intimate with, or even interested in other human beings. It was as if I were allergic. I moved from work to home like a captured beetle pacing in a matchbox, unable to understand what was wrong with me, convinced I was suffering from some sort of spiritual crisis. Was this how people were elected to the priesthood? Did all their sexual energy disappear in a puff of revelation like a dry fart? Would I become fat, jolly, and drunk, losing my soul to God, becoming a lackadaisical avatar of divine castration?
But God was not interesting to me either. I prayed, but I did not pray for change or for revelation. I prayed for acceptance, which is the same thing as giving up.
And then, on a hot and sticky Monday in late July after two years of casual celibacy, the miracle happened.
I normally take the orange line to work and back. But on this particular Monday, the orange trains were all running local due to construction, and so after work I walked three blocks and went underground to the purple train. This was out of the ordinary for me. For one thing, the closest purple train stop was a mile from my apartment, and for another, by the time I got onto the purple train at rush hour from work, it was already so crowded that I was always pushed to the wall. Forget about getting a seat or reading my book. But I was exhausted from a long day of wishing people a truly excellent afternoon and all I wanted was to sit in my apartment in the dark and listen to atonal jazz. I didn't want to wait for the orange train to hit every local stop like a nosy security guard, creeping along slower than a horse and buggy. So I decided to risk it. I figured a brisk walk home from the purple stop wouldn't kill me and it might even help me build up an appetite for dinner, which was something else I was beginning to lose.
I waited underground on the train platform with the other dayjobbers, staring straight ahead and bouncing up and down on the balls of my feet. The train was late. Everyone on the platform was irritated and panicky. The platform was full of people craning their necks into the tunnel, checking the time on their cell phones, clucking, whining, and crinkling their shopping bags.
Finally, the train roared into the station. We had all given up on it and so it took us by surprise, making us all step backwards since we were all crowded together over the line.
The train stopped and we could see that it was already full. And this stop wasn't a hub or a transfer, so the train only lost a few travelers when the doors opened. They threaded out through the wall of people as if they were slipping through the bars in a jail cell.
“There's another train right behind!” shouted the conductor. “Move back! There's another train coming!”
I had been waiting for a long time and I wasn't about to keep waiting. Luckily, one of the train doors opened right in front of me. I squeezed onto the train and several others pushed in after me, sealing me in. The doors opened and shut five or six times, pinching off passengers from the other doors like blots of frosting from a squeeze tube. We were as tightly packed as I'd ever been on a train, and I was surrounded on all sides by six different people: a pretty young woman with deep stress lines on her forehead that cracked her pearly white make-up, a short old woman with cross tattoos who was missing most of her teeth, two male Italian tourists who were tall and hairy and who each wore sunglasses and gold chains, a tense black guy trying to read “The New Yorker” by pasting it to the ceiling of the train with one hand, and a Korean woman holding her baby daughter in her arms.
I wasn't sure which way I should stand. To whom should I turn my back? At whom should I point my cock? I was trying to solve this etiquette problem when the train took off and we were all jostled forward, solving my problem for me. The old woman readjusted herself so that she was right underneath me with her ass grinding against my thigh and the black guy shifted over a few inches to let the young woman perch under my arm. The black guy didn't stop reading “The New Yorker.” He just sighed and turned the page. I could smell the cologne from the Italian tourists who hovered over my shoulders. The Korean woman and her baby were at my elbow.
We were all standing, but our little scrum was pressed up against two old men who were sitting down. One of the old men was huddled inside a trenchcoat and he shivered in the subway's ice cold air conditioning, looking straight ahead through bloodshot eyes and the fiery red veins of his face. His two massive hands rested like pallets of brick on an ebony cane with a gold handle. Thick, pulpy creases shaped his face into a permanent leer and we gave him room to move, even though it meant we had to push harder against each other.
The other old man had his hand on his friend's shoulder and was sleeping, smacking his lips and moving his jaw as the train rocked him back and forth.
I marveled at how fast the train went, even though it was carrying four times the usual load. Maybe they had to go fast when the train was full on account of the momentum. If the train crashed now, there would be more meat than metal in the wreckage.
The toothless, tattooed old woman ground her ass into my thigh with lurid severity and I knew she was enjoying it. She looked over her shoulder and smirked when I tried to step backward, spreading her feet a little and really slotting my thigh deep into her junk. She was a leaner; one of those people who take advantage of crowded subway cars to grope handsome strangers. I looked over at the pretty young woman for sympathy, but she was staring off into space, worrying about something other than how I was being molested.
The Italian tourists were trying to flirt with her. One of the tourists said something to the other one in Italian and they both laughed.
I was looking the other way when I heard several people gasp and shout. I whipped my head around to see what was going on, grateful for the distraction from the old woman's perversity.
Suddenly, the little Korean girl began to scream and I saw what had happened. The old man in the trenchcoat had fallen out of his chair and was having some kind of shaking fit. He had thrown his cane when he fell, and the steel knob had swung out and hit the little girl in the side of the head.
Her mother turned her away from the old man and everyone began to talk and shout at once.
The black guy and I helped the old man back into his chair, and by this time, his friend had awakened. The old man in the trenchcoat was pissed that we had touched him, and he was moaning at us with wide, goggling eyes. He looked around for his cane, embarrassed and enraged, appealing to the crowd for sympathy. But the little Korean girl was still screaming, and the crowd glared at the old man, hating him for making a child suffer.
His friend grabbed the old man and turned him away from the malevolent stares of the packed train car. His friend began to move his fingers in wild motions while mouthing words. He was signing. Now we understood. The old man in the trenchcoat was deaf. The deaf old man watched his friend sign for a few moments, and then lay back against the plastic bench, covering himself in the flaps of his jacket, hiding his face away.
As the train roared onward, the little girl's screams gradually mutated into gasping sobs. A deaf old man was equal to a screaming little girl when it came to sympathy, and so the crowd's righteous anger was forced to dissipate into nervousness and unease. But the anger had already been stirred up. It had to go someplace.
And here was the miracle.
In the ensuing silence, I realized that I had become massively aroused.
I realized that I had an erection that strained against my pantsleg, pooching open my zipper and dribbling a single tear of pre-come down my leg.
Horrified, I put my hand in my pocket and tried to rearrange my business. But as I reached, my hand brushed the old woman's arm and she smiled at me again, leaning hard against me, rubbing her bony ass against my erection and slipping my cock inside her jutting tailbone. Now we were joined. I shut my eyes and tried to focus, but rainclouds of lust sotted my agitated brain like a perfume-soaked handkerchief pressed against my nose. She wanted me to follow her home. But I knew that I would lose all my desire the moment I stepped out of this crowded subway car.
I leaned back against the old woman and put my hand on her hip, shifting her ass into a more comfortable position. What was it that had turned me on? The vulnerability of the old man? The screams of the small child? The crushing flesh of so many tired, angry people? The intimacy? Oh god – the intimacy?
The old woman moved against me and I tried not to panic. The train stopped and the doors opened. But instead of anybody getting out, more people got on and we were pushed closer together. Now what the old woman and I were doing was invisible. Everything below the neckline was a dense shroud of slacks and skirts. The subway car was a sea of eyes trying not to make contact, each set gazing at a different middle distance in order maintain dignity, individuality, and poise.
As the train journeyed onward, the old woman did amazing, clever things to the head of my cock that made the whole shaft ache and buck. On the last stop before we pierced the surface and went aboveground, a trio of mariachi musicians got onto the train, each one entering through a different door. They looked at one another over the heads of the squooshed throng. Then they each took a deep breathe and began to sing and play.
As blaring mariachi music swelled the car, the old woman's gyrations against my cock become more intense and more focused. She wasn't trying to entice me to follow her home anymore. Now she was trying to get me off right here in the car.
I tried to focus on philosophy to keep myself sane.
The skyscrapers on the surface above us were all massive phallic objects, built as priapic symbols of power, striving to inseminate the heavens with all the little sperm who wandered to and fro within. Each construction worker, stockbroker, drug lord, and secretary competed against their avaricious equals, showcasing a mindless, cutthroat hunger for success. To rise! But the subway was something else. A tube, a tunnel, a womb, a grasping muscle, a vagina. Here underground, in a sleek subway car constructed like a skyscraper turned on its side, the City was fucking itself, every day, every night, restlessly, constantly, and without love. The City fucked itself and all its citizens, building up a wild froth of passion that generated new ideas, new tortures, new culture, and new money. But the froth churned underground, impotent, never shooting up into the sky through the tops of the erect buildings.
If the City ever succeeded in getting off, people would shoot from the skyscrapers like fireworks to impregnate the clouds. But they never did. And here I was underground too, dry-humping a toothless recluse twice my age as a participated in the City's perpetual mechanical masturbation. I was just being a good citizen.
The old woman looked over her shoulder at me, but I looked away. I caught the eye of the deaf old man in the trenchcoat instead, and then I caught the eye of the pretty woman with the cracked make-up. She was looking right at me and smiling. I leaned harder against the old woman and pretended that I was actually deep inside the young one. The skin around my balls tightened, prickling like goosebumps, and my anus began to pulse like a ringing telephone, or like the accordion of the mariachi musician beside me.
The Italian tourists at my shoulders began to make lewd gestures at the pretty young woman and she grew annoyed and turned away. I caught the eye of the black guy reading “The New Yorker.” He looked at me, sighed, and turned another page.
The little Korean girl had stopped crying and was staring, entranced, at the tall mariachi musician with the stand-up bass. He winked at her. The old woman grabbed one of the Italian tourists by the arm and buried her sunburned face in his bicep. The deaf old man began to cry, silently, tears streaming down his cheeks like rain sneaking along the window of a passenger jet. His friend, oblivious, massaged his temples, trying to read “The New Yorker” under the black guy's arm.
I was going to come. I reached out and put my hand on the cold glass of the subway car to feel something strong. The pretty young woman smiled at me again and then picked up her bag, readying herself to get off at the next stop. The old woman began to grate against me with short, hard, expert strokes and I shut my eyes, trying to smell everyone and everything. The sweat. The perfume. The fear. The rage. The madness. The pain.
I leaned my head back as I came. The subway shot out of the darkness into the brutal sunlight and the old woman cackled and grabbed the other Italian tourist for support. He brushed her off with an irritated snort. My boxers were soaked, but I managed to keep semen from shooting out of the hem of my pants. I felt lazy. Satisfied. Goofy. No one had seen a thing.
The subway made its first stop aboveground. Half the people got out, including both women next to me. The old woman was damned decent: she just looked over her shoulder and waved the tips of her fingers. A seat opened up across from the deaf old man and I took it, hiding my stained pants with my novel.
The deaf old man stared at me and I stared back. He was still weeping.
“I want you, but I don't love you,” I mouthed to him. “I want to be part of you forever, but I never want to see you again.”
I got off at my stop, shuffling away with my back bent. My belly was sticky enough to curl my shirt. The hairs of my navel were matted into a gooey sheet that was starting to itch.
I thought I was ready to leave the City forever. I thought I had finally had enough. But I realized that the trains got crowded twice a day on weekdays, before work and after. It wouldn't take much experimentation to find the trains that were the most jam-packed; the most clotted and intimate; the most erotic and generous.
All I had to do was lean.