Beside Themselves



400 bedford ave, Brooklyn, NY 11211

Neighborhood: Brooklyn, Williamsburg

Another morning at the Bedford L stop, reluctant professionals line the platform waiting, not saying much. Several dozen yards into the crowd, you hear screaming — a high-pitched, angry sound — against the tinny sound of recorded music. People closer to the commotion direct their attention towards the center of the platform, next to the bench; typically, this is where the subway musicians perform.

Today there is a different performance.

One gentleman in a blazer with a large yellow patch safety pinned to the back is on his hands and knees fidgeting with a stack of 45s. By appearance, he could be in the Strokes, or at least spend much of his time wishing he were. The Playskool turntable in front of him renders the song unintelligible, but his friend, the guy you notice twitching in his low slung hipster pants, is obviously moved. Between them a largely accomplished bottle of Maker’s Mark stands. It is distinctly out of place in the middle of your morning commute.

Both men are incomprehensibly shitfaced.

The twitcher, you notice, is arguing with a large gentleman seated on the bench. You recognize the large gentleman — a commuter like you — as someone often seen on Bedford or in the bars you frequent. He looks like a trucker in a slick, Index magazine, kind of way. He is berating both men.

“Get a fucking job.”

The twitching guy appears to be losing his footing on the morning. He responds with an incomprehensible flurry of curse words. He caps it off:

“I’ve been out here two hours, I’ve made 75 fucking cents. What are you gonna do? Go design websites for $75 an hour.”

You design websites. You don’t get $75 an hour.

Unlike most subway confrontations, this appears to be in good spirit. The sober guy continues to bust on the twitcher, who, in turn, continues his diatribe against the work world and the people that fill it.

The crowd watches in fixed relief that no one stands to get hurt here; no one will get smashed about the head with a bottle or pushed in front of the next train. The antipathy you witness this morning is, in fact, a foil for something the crowd shares with these performers: the simple sense of doing what you must to get through the day. That is your story, it’s almost theirs to.

Their story is that of not stopping. It is apparent to you that at the point when they could have passed out and started their journey to a vicious hangover they said, “No, we’re going to keep drinking.”

The point where they decided to dance for money at the Bedford L stop in the middle of the morning commute is less clear. Likely around sunrise one of them made the suggestion. After all, a small fortune can be made covering Hank Williams or singing Spanish love songs.

The entertainment they offer differs greatly from the typical busking. They provide a mainline to pathos, to a place you have been — at the end of a night spent on the wrong side of yourself — and, most significantly, to the potential for two white Williamsburg hipsters to get arrested for no good reason at 8:30 in the morning on a Thursday. This is drama. This is art.

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