Girls, Girls, Girls

Anyone who knows teenage girls knows that one of them may, at times, be a challenge. A group of 30, however, is an unstoppable force of nature.

The F train starts out so crowded in Queens that, by the time we hit midtown, I’m grateful for a chance to sit down and stretch out and read as the train deposits its cargo of workers along its southward path. But all that ended abruptly this morning when what I assume was a school group entered at 34th or 23rd Street. Before the doors opened, I could hear a loud roar out in the echoing subway platform. The doors slid open, and a deluge of sound and teenage girls burst forth into the train, filling it instantly.

An amalgam of scented hair product vapors was released into the air, their mild toxins mixing invisibly but undeniably. And I was suddenly scrunched up again, making myself as small as possible and sitting bolt upright — but not against business suits and khakis anymore. This time I was avoiding contact — at all costs — with body-hugging velour track suits (They can wear those things at school?), small-waisted jean jackets, steering-wheel sized hoop earrings, rhinestone-studded belts and teased, crimped hair.

It was an assault on every human sensation, most notably the ears. Together, as if it were a personal goal, they achieved a tremendous volume. Each of their voices augmented the other, and the train car was an impenetrable cacophony.

With each balance-throwing rock of the train carraige, there was a sudden shift of teenage bodies and a rush of giggles. There was a conversation about a boy here, someone’s outfit there, and bursts of laughter all around. Some of them clicked their long fingernails against their cellphone keypads and bleeped.

And they never stopped moving. It was like being trapped in an animated diagram of what happens to mashed potato molecules when microwaves hit them.

I had no choice but to sit and stare and observe. I began to see them as creatures acting as a collective. The actions of a single ant don’t amount to much, but the actions of a colony are really count. It seemed to be these girls’ primary function to make noise (Were they making words or just noise?) and to raise the temperature of the car with their constant motion.

There were two young women in front of me, both in head-to-toe velour; one in pink, one in beige. All curves were revealed. I had no idea girls their age were shaped that way. It was impossible not to look. No matter where my eyes landed on them, I felt dirty. I felt as if I should explain to them: I’m really not interested; you’re just standing so close…

When a woman escaped at West 4th Street, a seat opened up next to me, and the velour twins became human once again. One sat down in the empty seat and, taking her friend’s hand, she drew her near and pulled her down so she was sitting on her lap. It seemed the most unremarkable thing to them. They continued their conversation without interruption. No where else to go, so why not sit on my lap, eh? They were 14. They were friends. They were, simply, girls. And I was no longer annoyed.

You’d never catch teenage boys doing this. Not the straight ones, anyway. And not on the F train. I wondered which one was heavier. Is this one always on top, or do they switch sometimes? Are they sisters? girlfriends? Then I realized that each probably weighed 90 pounds soaking wet, and it was probably much like holding a large purse or backpack on one’s lap.

We hit Broadway/Lafayette, and the doors parted, and I swear we all had to catch our breath from the vacuum created by the mass exit. The squawking did not stop so much as simply shift from one space to another. The doors closed, and again I heard the high rumble of the girls’ voices. Dust settled. The eddies of swirling newspapers and empty coffee cups died down. The train lurched forward. And we were soon in relative silence.

The other passengers were left dazed and bewildered. There were maybe a dozen people left on the train — all happy, I’m sure, to be left with a place to sit and room to breathe. We resumed staring forward. The sudden quietude was eerie. Lonely. Cold.


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the untallied hours

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