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  • This is the only picture I managed to take yesterday when I was stuck with hundreds of people in a subway train for close to two hours, without power -- hence without A/C -- since the power was cut off to allow rescuers to look for the man who had jumped off from a platform between two cars, and to protect his life in case it was still intact -- but this proved to be a wrong assumption as I sadly read today. But the train turned into a laboratory of social interactions, of people who on normal days barely look at each other, each with a distinct goal: to meet a lover, to teach an art class, to visit a museum, to buy fish in a fish market, to check the progress of an experiment, to bring the baby to grandma who can hardly wait from one weekend to the next, to meet with the drummer and the trumpeter of the band for a rehearsal, to get a picture framed -- suddenly, with one stroke, those goals had become obsolete, and worse, there was no communication with the people they were supposed to meet. Instead they came to talk to strangers randomly assigned to them by fate, about eminently practical concerns, such as which way they were supposed to walk: to the front or to the back? Because every MTA official who came along had different ideas, probably since the intercom was so difficult to understand. In the end they walked every which way, depending on how hot the cars were at any given moment. Or they talked about the accident itself, about a man who had been seen running around erratically, then opening the connecting door, to run to the next car or, in fact, choosing this impossible place to jump off the train. Or, as happened to me, an old short man with mustache talking to me about my German accent, and whether I could pronounce “the” as “the” (which I had done perfectly several times by that time in our conversation), since his own German father had never managed to get beyond the “se”, for a reason he thought hard to explain, and about concentration camps in Russia, China, and Poland, and that he wasn’t sure what he would have done himself under Hitler. The intensity of his convictions was only matched by his profound lack of precise information, and I took pains to put some other people between us – mothers with baby carriages, and several teenagers out for some fun – to get the man out of earshot.

    Afterwards, the two hours, tragic as they have been forced on us, I have to perversely say, seemed well spent: as a rehearsal for the future times when our life will suddenly slip completely out of our control: a heart attack, a stroke, the sudden demise of a loved one, when all the goals of the moment turn trite, in a flash.
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