Wartime in Williamsburg

by

04/30/2003

Bedford Avenue brooklyn, 11211

Neighborhood: Brooklyn, Williamsburg

One American flag pin is not enough for the woman across the aisle from me on the L train to Brooklyn. She wears one on her lapel, one on her coat, one on the front of her Le Sportsac bag. All are bejeweled.

Her eyes are closed; her head falls to the side. She has blonde hair, blonder highlights. She holds a cell phone in her hand.

To my right, a young man who might hail from the Middle East bends forward so that his head almost reaches his knees. He crosses his arms against his chest, as if he wants to fold into himself, to disappear. His hair is curly, his eyelashes long enough to break my heart.

He digs his fingernails into his palms as the two men across from him discuss the war in resigned tones. They wear shag haircuts in an advanced stage of growth, dirty jeans and Pumas. 

“Yeah, I totally don’t support it,” the bearded one says, fingering a hole in his jeans. “But I’m no fan of Saddam.”

His friend nods, catches my eye, smiles. He pulls at his hair and eyes my breasts. I look at the floor.

The woman to my left talks to her friend about the boots she just bought in SoHo. “They’re just so ’80s, you know? And I can wear them with the one stud earring and the one dangly? To that party on Saturday?” 

Her hair is black, asymmetrical, with a couple of blue highlights.  A pretty wisp flips toward her cheek on the side closest to me.

I think about the pack of cigarettes in my bag, the bottle of whiskey at home. Lately I’ve been drinking too much, and gorging on coffee and pretzels and alternative war news. And I seem to have started smoking again, just in time for the bar-and-restaurant smoking ban.

The boy next to me unfolds himself and summons the energy to rise. He exits the train. The American flag woman follows him through the doors, opening her cell phone. 

I exit at the next stop. The girl with the boots is right in front of me, talking about her hair now. “So I went to this guy at Bumble & Bumble?  And I think he made the highlights too bright.”

As I wait behind her for the traffic light to change, I look out toward the lights of the Williamsburg Bridge–to the place where the towers used to rise behind it–and think of that Laurie Anderson song, “Night in Baghdad,” about the way the U.S. media covered the first American war on Iraq: 

And oh it’s so beautiful

It’s like the Fourth of July

     It’s like a Christmas tree

It’s like fireflies on a summer night…

I light a cigarette and cross the street. On a pole at the Northwest corner of the Graham-Metropolitan intersection, a Peace Williamsburg sign notes the date of an upcoming peace rally. “Vintage clothing is not subversive,” the sign says.

The Bumble & Bumble girl flounces past the pole, down the street in the direction of a bar called Daddy’s. She touches the back of her friend’s hair. “You should go asymmetrical, too,” she says.  “I really think it would work for you.”

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