Head down, eyes focused, as is her habit, on the text in her lap, she doesn't see how the fracas starts. Three teenage boys pushing, wrestling, talking too loud, probably, shouting out to each other, though she didn't actually hear them—only knows how the volume rises to ear piercing the moment three or more kids hop on a car together. Blocking the train doors, that seems to be the main point, though whether it was on the way in or someone's way out, she isn't sure. Nor does she know if it was done on purpose.
It is true that we can think more clearly if our hair is not on fire or our fingernails being forcibly extracted.
Three teenage boys, all tall, one wearing braces, and then, in front of them, a man in a tan gabardine trench coat. They are black, the boys—or no, maybe one's Hispanic, Dominican, if she had to guess, the one with braces, though she isn't paying that much attention yet.
Like a discreet waiter, the body is at its best when we do not notice it.
When she does look up from her magazine, she can see their faces, or two faces anyway. At first she only perceives them in bits, between the phrases of her reading material: round smooth cheeks, But this also means that we forget to think about the body, a close-cropped head over a puffy silver jacket, and so overlook the fact that we think in the way we do, generally speaking, and another, long, not yet lean, with dark curly hair, because of the kind of bodies we have.
She can't see the man's face, because the boys stand in a circle up against the train door, and he stands opposite them. Nor can she see the third boy clearly—she gets an impression of skinniness and a shadow of beard—because, caught in the corner between the door and the pole, he's blocked by the man from the side. [End Page 21]
It is the body that lies at the root of what we know as objectivity. A white man, the man in the tan gabardine trench. Blond, going gray, tall, but not as tall as they are, the boys. Their heads loom up behind him and around him, rangy urban seedlings, against the smudged metal and scratched glass of the train door. This might seem odd, since many philosophers have tended to see objectivity and the body as opposites, not allies. He wears a worn canvas tote bag from the Bodleian Library slung over his shoulder. A souvenir—and a bit of braggadocio, she thinks—from Oxford University. Latin words, inked in a florid but precise calligraphy, cover the fabric, a reprint of some illuminated manuscript. Virgil, maybe. The body for them can only serve to undermine truth, distorting our judgments with its noisy hankerings. It's the Uptown 1/9, the IRT, already past 42nd Street, so he's a professor, she guesses, heading up to Columbia, or maybe he teaches at NYU, and is on his way home to the Upper West Side. Its passions and prejudices get in the way of our seeing things as they really are.
She occupies the corner seat, diagonally across from the group by the door. She, along with a good portion of the other passengers in the metropolitan area, always angles for a spot at the end of a row, next to the pole, to ensure she's only pressed up against one person, not squeezed between two, if the train fills up. To endure the cramped space, she must have something to read, but she usually glances up when the doors open, just to give the new riders a quick once-over. Before moving to New York, she lived for a long stretch in the Midwest, and even after seven years in the city, the mad mélange of faces on the subway gives her a thrill. Trinidadian nannies shepherding towheaded toddlers; homeboys in their sagging pants; the occasional glossy Bergdorf girl; men, white and black, with dreadlocks. The...