I Couldn’t Make This Up If I Tried

The man sitting next to me on the subway this afternoon was watching porn on his phone.

Did you catch that? He was watching porn. On his phone. Right next to me in the train car.

I met him already seated on that particular bench. The only other spots available were cut in half by male passengers’ man-spread, so I took the one between him and a woman. He glanced in the direction of my arm several times after I sat down, and I thought that perhaps it was because he felt I’d brushed his arm with my own. I hadn’t actually brushed any part of him at all and was a bit irritated that he kept looking at me. After several of these glances I looked down at our arms and saw his phone in his lap. As my brain pieced together the images on the screen, I was horrified, completely disgusted, and in shock. I wondered whether this was perhaps a viral video of old (two girls one cup?) that he stumbled upon, not knowing its graphic content. But no, I saw enough in those brief seconds to learn that it could not have been that infamous film; it was some other generic one he had elected to watch as though he were in his home.

Describing New York as diverse, or a melting pot, is trite, and hardly does the demographics and atmosphere of the city justice. There are all kinds of people here, and with most of us taking public transportation we’re bound to run into concepts and behaviours that are, at the very least, foreign to us. This was how I initially explained the actions of this man, who could have been my father – or young grandfather! – to myself. I chalked it up to his lifestyle and values being different than my own. As such, I could move to another seat on the train, and “to each his own, but that is seriously inappropriate” was as far as I could go in terms of judgement.

However, and much to my surprise, I soon started to feel sorry for this stranger. What kind of life must he have, how bad must his addiction to pornography be, that he could not take a subway ride without accessing some erotic [1] content on his phone? I cannot imagine being so entrapped. Or, could it really be that he does what he pleases without regard to social norms? That explanation doesn’t seem quite right though, because he stopped watching soon after I noticed what he was doing. He must have realised that I finally understood the reason for all his nervous glances in my direction. Either way, his decision to watch on the train in the first place is bewildering – is there anything you can’t see in NY? – and incredibly sad or incredibly brazen.

After the woman sitting on the other end of our bench disembarked, another man came and sat beside me. Soon, I found his sleeping head falling onto my shoulder, then his whole body leaning into my own, his weight pushing me into the man on my right. (Prompting still more glances.) Public transportation has an uncanny ability to make our private moments public. Whether people choose to carry out otherwise intimate activities in full view of strangers, like the man on my right, or cannot help themselves as they fall into them, like the man on my left, we give and receive glimpses into one another’s lives that many of the people we interact with regularly never see.

But really though. Porn??


[1] Does porn even count as erotic? For me that word has genuine sensual and emotional connotations which I don’t associate with the creation of pornography at all.


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