A Jerseyside Story About National Security and Americans’ Fear

A little while ago my wife and I, along with two valued friends, went by car to New York City. Please understand I love NYC. What happened in 1993 and on 9/11 were despicable acts for which the perpetrators must be caught and jailed for life; still, we saw something in the NJ subway system that disturbed us. Actually, two things:

1) One night on our way back to a Jerseyside hotel from an evening in the Village, we saw two guys on the platform who were so drunk they literally, honestly could not stand up. I’d like to have photographed them but I didn’t, figuring that a camera-flash might rouse them to enough consciousness they could grab me by my coat and yell “WHAT THE FUCK YOU TAKIN’ OUR PITCHERS FER?”

I didn’t want that. So I didn’t. But I remembered.

The next night, Lisa and I were in a similar station on the Jersey side, I think the same one, when we saw two transit cops hassling a young black man. Maybe the guy had been drinking. It sounded like that, but the cops were telling everybody else not to “eyeball” them.

Meanwhile, Lisa and I were sitting beside this seventy-something white woman wrapped in fur like a rich corpse; we were all sitting on a nearby bench, and I couldn’t help but be distracted by the argument, two cops versus one drunk guy, going on to my left beyond the barrier of maps. Lisa saw the warning signs: I started talking in more and more animated terms about what I couldn’t help hearing; she grabbed my hand and tried to shush me. I do not blame her.

But then there was a guy on the other side of the fur-wrapped lady who said “This is what happens when you’re black.” He was as well. Then I saw from behind me a camera flash. The object of the cops’ attention had tried to take a picture of them. Ergo my unwillingness to photograph the cops myself though I had a camera with me.

I know what I’d have liked to do: despite Lisa’s quite-rational objections, I should’ve stood up, walked over to the cops, introduced myself and photographed them along with the “suspect.” Lisa dissuaded me, saying if I was thrown in jail it would kill our chances of emigrating to Canada, so I didn’t. Instead the young man at our bench and I satisfied ourselves by goading the old woman, who finally said: “You know why you’re not allowed to take pictures in here!”

A statement, mind, not a question. I played along anyway.

“No ma’am, why not?”


We laughed like all hell.

“What? Osama’s never heard of schematics, the Internet? Dream on, Foxhound!”

America has as much to fear from people like her as anyone.


About johnwylam1957

I'm a poet and teacher now living in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
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