A ghost’s simple request in the complicated city

One of the most tragic things about modern technology and the cheap ubiquity of camera capabilities built into every handheld electronic device is that you can no longer say “I snapped a photo.” Sure, you can still say it, but it sounds vaguely inaccurate and phony. When you press the “shutter” button on your phone or an Ipod’s camera button, it will sometimes make the artificial shutter release sound, but it’s all a put-on. It’s like Disneyland or Hollywood where everything is fake and their essence is jacked from another place, another time. I’m sorry, I just can’t bring myself to say “I snapped a photo with my Ipod Touch on Monday morning while on my way to work.” I didn’t “snap” the photo. I basically triggered a silent digital capture which was given realistic life by Apple’s shutter sound-mimicking programming.

Ah well, it sounded good. What was it that made me use my precious commuting time to take a photo on a Red Line car when I really just wanted to stare emptily out the windows at the subterranean walls which flew by on this prolonged Monday morning? Why it was because someone had etched a message on the back of the seat in front of me, a random anonymous message, an MTA rider’s message in a bottle to all who sat in the rear seat of this aisle where I was now.

Such a sad, plaintive plea! Such a forlorn modern day smoke signal from a faceless Red Line rider. The simple etching is timeless, featureless, ownerless…it might have been scratched in 10 years ago, or yesterday. The person might be alive and sitting in this very car, or dead. It is true anonymity, this message. Some people write on public property to proclaim gang or group affiliation, some to proclaim a political viewpoint. But this poor person wrote on MTA property to proclaim a longing and a loneliness, a bitter emptiness, and there is nowhere the acute solitude of a lonely soul is more vivid than in the subway train deeply buried in the bowels of Los Angeles.

Sit here with me.

Notice the message is not “sit next to me.” It was not “please sit by me.” No. “Sit here with me.” Such a human longing, a hunger for companionship. In those words there is the bottomless craving for fellow humanity to share one’s physical and emotional space here in the big impersonal city. Sorry buddy, this is 2012. We’ve all scraped this sentiment into the frayed countertops of our souls. We write the note but no one sees and no one cares. You are alone. I doubt anyone ever came and sat with you. It’s not what people do. People share a seat, they chat, they laugh, and they run. Life always calls. Everything is frantic and rushed and important. Sit here with me is asking for someone to set aside time. People are not free with their time anymore. You’ll be waiting a while. It is a luxury to be with anybody for long. I hope you found somebody to sit with you, if even for a day.

This already makes you the luckiest person in the world.