Metropolitan Dairy

On my way to work last week.

When the F train comes the pigeons on the platform take flight and cross to the other side of the station. They always do this. It would make much more sense if they just stayed put, but something about the train terrifies them. They fly out in front of it to safety.

This morning on my way up the escalator to the platform two women with parched faces were in front of me, and one of them was complaining loudly about a man, all a stream:


I was consumed with annoyance. I wanted a dirty platform pigeon to fly into the woman's mouth, pfup. I would watch her flail as she tried to pluck the pigeon from her jaws. Spinning wildly she would fall onto the tracks.

Then my fantasy became a moral puzzle. I would be obligated to help her. And I wondered, am I the sort who would reach down and rescue a parched-looking woman (with a pigeon in her mouth) from certain death by an oncoming G or F train? Or would I stand with my arms at my side, locked in confusion, as the train ran her over?

The stories of subway fallers are a staple of New York City journalism. There are few each year. The fallers are innocents. They are, the stories imply, us—regular souls standing on the platform. They trip or are pushed. Their fall into the valley of the tracks is witnessed by a frozen mass of spectators who remain still except for some gasping and fluttering of hands. The spectator's minds are caught in an infinite loop. Sometimes a hero emerges from the crowd. He reaches down with a swift gesture, grabs the victim and pulls her to safety. Then he vanishes into the crowd right as it comes unfrozen.

I would pay money into a karmic hedge fund if I knew that, given the opportunity to pull someone from the tracks, I would take that opportunity without pause. But I have no way of knowing. Where do you learn to take immediate action? The Army, maybe. My high-school friend W who joined the U.N., who has witnessed mass graves and flown into a Liberian forest in a helicopter to meet with militiamen—she would know what to do. I know what to do when a web server crashes, and how to fix broken prose. I am very good at solving problems with the computer language XSLT.

I tuned back into the two woman. The one who was complaining was now quiet. Her friend said: “What I like to say is, 'I'm not a crack head. I'm a crack user'.”




Ftrain.com is the website of Paul Ford and his pseudonyms. It is showing its age. I'm rewriting the code but it's taking some time.


There is a Facebook group.


You will regret following me on Twitter here.


Enter your email address:

A TinyLetter Email Newsletter

About the author: I've been running this website from 1997. For a living I write stories and essays, program computers, edit things, and help people launch online publications. (LinkedIn). I wrote a novel. I was an editor at Harper's Magazine for five years; then I was a Contributing Editor; now I am a free agent. I was also on NPR's All Things Considered for a while. I still write for The Morning News, and some other places.

If you have any questions for me, I am very accessible by email. You can email me at ford@ftrain.com and ask me things and I will try to answer. Especially if you want to clarify something or write something critical. I am glad to clarify things so that you can disagree more effectively.


Syndicate: RSS1.0, RSS2.0
Links: RSS1.0, RSS2.0


© 1974-2011 Paul Ford


@20, by Paul Ford. Not any kind of eulogy, thanks. And no header image, either. (October 15)

Recent Offsite Work: Code and Prose. As a hobby I write. (January 14)

Rotary Dial. (August 21)

10 Timeframes. (June 20)

Facebook and Instagram: When Your Favorite App Sells Out. (April 10)

Why I Am Leaving the People of the Red Valley. (April 7)

Welcome to the Company. (September 21)

“Facebook and the Epiphanator: An End to Endings?”. Forgot to tell you about this. (July 20)

“The Age of Mechanical Reproduction”. An essay for TheMorningNews.org. (July 11)

Woods+. People call me a lot and say: What is this new thing? You're a nerd. Explain it immediately. (July 10)

Reading Tonight. Reading! (May 25)

Recorded Entertainment #2, by Paul Ford. (May 18)

Recorded Entertainment #1, by Paul Ford. (May 17)

Nanolaw with Daughter. Why privacy mattered. (May 16)

0h30m w/Photoshop, by Paul Ford. It's immediately clear to me now that I'm writing again that I need to come up with some new forms in order to have fun here—so that I can get a rhythm and know what I'm doing. One thing that works for me are time limits; pencils up, pencils down. So: Fridays, write for 30 minutes; edit for 20 minutes max; and go whip up some images if necessary, like the big crappy hand below that's all meaningful and evocative because it's retro and zoomed-in. Post it, and leave it alone. Can I do that every Friday? Yes! Will I? Maybe! But I crave that simple continuity. For today, for absolutely no reason other than that it came unbidden into my brain, the subject will be Photoshop. (Do we have a process? We have a process. It is 11:39 and...) (May 13)

That Shaggy Feeling. Soon, orphans. (May 12)

Antilunchism, by Paul Ford. Snack trams. (May 11)

Tickler File Forever, by Paul Ford. I'll have no one to blame but future me. (May 10)

Time's Inverted Index, by Paul Ford. (1) When robots write history we can get in trouble with our past selves. (2) Search-generated, "false" chrestomathies and the historical fallacy. (May 9)

Bantha Tracks. (May 5)

Tables of Contents