So there I am. Sitting on the subway minding my own business. And then a dude in a skirt sits across from me.
I write on the subway, see. It’s great, actually. No one bothers you, there’s no internet, and the motion of the train is extremely meditative.
When I write, I always make sure to go to the end of the train, the very tip. Very few people bother to make the trek over there. So, there’s less people, and you’re guaranteed one of the coveted end spots that only fit two people. Sit annoyingly enough and no one will sit next to you. Beautiful.
But here’s the thing. Everyone in the last car of the train has a reason for being there. Most normal people don’t feel the need to walk all the way to the end. But it’s people like me, people that want to be left alone, the loners, weirdos, homeless guys, and drunks that bother to go to the end. We don’t want to be standing with a bunch of people looking at us. We need our privacy.
So me and the weirdos have a pact. Neither of us says anything. I write, they sleep, eat, talk to themselves, whatever.
For some reason, today, though, when the guy with the skirt sat down, it was hard for me to concentrate. I think it was cause he wasn’t your typical guy in a skirt, if there ever was such a thing.
He had these black boots on, those dark kinds I used to see goths walk around with on Belmont Ave in Chicago. Butt kicking boots.
And his skirt was shabby. It wasn’t a nice skirt, like you might expect. It was kind of grungy, this off white, that had probably been made more off white because he had bought it was from a thrift store.
What I liked most about him was that he would put his fingers in his ears every time the train would make any noise. As if he would go deaf from the noise. It was interesting. Had he never been on a subway before, I wondered? But then again, if he went to the end of the cars he probably has some experience with the subway. So does he do this every time?
It’s hard to notice all these things when you’re trying to be respectful and not stare. The guy was, after all, one of my pact brothers. He let me write, I let him wear a skirt.
But I kept looking up. I couldn’t help it!
I could tell he noticed. He would kind of shuffle his feet and look up at the ceiling every time I glanced up. I felt bad about it.
When I finally decided to get off the train to head back in the direction of Crown Heights, I breathed a sigh of relief. No more psychotic obsessions over how to be polite to men in skirts. Good.
For some reason, though, my mind still went back to him. I wondered what his story was. To be honest, in the New York subway, it’s not that weird to be a guy with a skirt. I’m sure some of them even get on the middle cars. No, you had to be on another level if you want to join me in the end car.
The truth is that he seemed distinctly uncomfortable being out in his skirt, as if he couldn’t wait to be out of sight. As if he couldn’t wait to hide.
But it’s funny, in a weird way I kind of identified with him.
A Jew, a religious one, knows a bit what it’s like to be a dude with a skirt. Jews, depending on their affiliation, always wear at least one thing that’s distinctly different from the culture around them. The kippah. The tzitzis. The black hat. The peyot. The beard. The black jacket and pants. The tiechel. The sheitel.
Among other reasons, we wear these items in order to distinguish ourselves from the crowd.
I grew up most of my life doing the opposite of that. I wore a t shirt and jeans every day from elementary school through college, for the most part. I wasn’t a fan of separating myself from the crowd. I was down with the crowd. The crowd was safe.
And so now, with my beard, my kippah, my tzitzis hanging low, it’s so tempting to try and hide it all. Put a (non-black) hat on. Tuck the tzitzis in. Pretend like I’m a hipster (shudder) so my beard seems normal.
But then I’d be at the end of the train. In the last car, with my fingers in my ears. Hiding.
Recently, I’ve been on the job search. There’s no time where a man is more likely to hide himself, hide his skirt, than when he is trying to feed his family.
My tzitzis disappeared into my jeans. I tried wearing a hat.
All of these aren’t necessarily bad things to do. The question is why we do them. Why are we hiding? I was convinced, personally, that people knowing about my writing, myself, who I am, that they would run away scared.
What we don’t realize when we act like this is that we’re actually hiding our strengths. We’re not being ourselves, and then we become colorless and empty. Ironically, by not wearing black and white, some people lose their color.
I hope the poor guy in the skirt finds his way to the middle of the train. Hopefully one day the Jews will also.