Often I feel New York City is a very impersonal place. Other times I feel like New York City is one big tight knit community—especially when I am transporting furniture.
Moving furniture is a common enough thing to do in New York, considering people are always moving in and out of apartments. Yet the sight of two people carrying a couch/dresser/TV stand down the block is just novel enough that most otherwise self-absorbed New Yorkers will give it a glance.
A few weeks ago I needed a desk chair for my bedroom. It just so happened that my office was giving some old desk chairs away. I grabbed a faded white leather rolling desk chair from the storage closet. It had a few miles on it, but was really no worse for wear. Plus it swiveled.
At the end of the day I prepared to take this chair home with me. I would take it down in the elevator then roll it to the 6 train, ride the subway up to the Village, roll it to my apartment, drag it up the stairs, and deposit it in front of my bedroom desk. I have to admit, I was feeling pretty excited—partially because I was looking forward to having a new chair to sit in, and partially because rolling a desk chair through the city adds an element of fun to the evening commute.
At the end of the day I roll it onto the elevator and take a seat. Some coworkers step in and we all have a laugh. At the entrance to the building I ask the doorman if I can use the handicap exit to avoid bringing my new chair through the revolving door. He allows it.
The downtown asphalt is bumpy and, as I roll my chair along, I begin to worry I am going damaging it. “Hey nice chair, bro” a coworker shouts from Fulton Street. Once I’m halfway to the 6 train I decide to pick the chair up because it keeps getting caught in the grooves in the sidewalk and pulling me in directions I don’t want to go. When I get to the subway I carry the chair down the stairs. I use the emergency entrance to the subway, and nobody seems to mind when I don’t swipe my Metrocard.
Then I carry the chair down another set of stairs and onto the train. The doors close and we pull out of the station. Standing in the middle of the car, which is fairly empty, I decide why not just take a seat in my new chair? The few people in the subway car give me semi-interested looks.
The train stops at Canal Street and a bunch of people get on. A man (mid 40’s, dressed for work) sitting adjacent to me seems especially tickled that I am sitting in my own chair. I know this because he says “Hey, bring your own chair, huh?” To which I reply “Haha yeah.”
The train pulls out of the station. A few more moments pass and I watch this man look at me, then his phone, then back at me, then back at his phone. Finally, he says it: “Hey, mind if I take a picture.” To which I reply, “yeah sure.”
He stands up in front of me and takes a picture with his phone. A woman sitting next to him (30s, also dressed for work), seeing this spectacle, then asks if she too can take a picture. After they both take their pictures, I have a moment of thought. I watch the man send the picture to whoever with a little grin on his face. Then I turn to the man and ask if he will take a picture of me, and offer my phone in my hand.
He seems distraught. Then he’s like, “why don’t you take a picture of the photo on my phone?” There’s a moment of incredulous silence. I glance at the woman but now her body is turned completely away from me, as if to say “don’t even ask.” So the guy puts his phone in front of mine, and I do my best to take a clear shot, but the train jumps and the chair rolls a little bit and I sort of fuck it up.
At the next stop the guy gets off without saying a word. Now a lot more people get on, so I decide to stand up and pull my chair closer to me. Two women shimmy their way around the chair and I hear one say to the other “why is there a fucking chair here.”
I get off at the next stop and carry my chair up the stairs, then begin rolling it down the block. After a moment I think to myself: “Hey fuck that guy. I gave him a cool photo and he can’t even return the favor?” Once I get to my apartment I carry the chair up the stairs and into my bedroom, where I discover that it takes up too much space and probably won’t be a good fit long term. A couple of days later I bring it out to the curb. By the next morning it’s gone. Maybe the garbage men took it. Or maybe two drunk people rolled each other down the street in it, then ditched it somewhere. Maybe the wind blew it away.
I still think about that guy. He was lighthearted enough to take pleasure in seeing someone sitting in a desk chair on the subway. Yet he was selfish enough not to do the favor of snapping a picture. I felt really close to him for a moment, then really far away. I guess that’s New York, for ya.