NYC subway, 1986. The background wall---graffiti tags layered atop other tags and ads for Calvin Klein underwear, the 1987 Lincoln Town, and vacations to Florida. The letters of the tags look like they were scrawled in blood with fingers, the words as their wholes looking like shotgun blasts of long dried up guts. Some of the tags spell out simple words---“Hell”, “Rape”, “Kill”---while most of the tags are indecipherable.
An African American Transit OFFICER stands in the subway car, holding onto one of the ceiling rails for balance. He is visibly tired, coming to the end of a long 12-hour shift. His speech is calm, and heavy with authority and experience.
A young YUPPIE of the WASP variety enters the train, eyes down at a newspaper. He’s listening to something silent through a pair of headphones, attached to a hidden CD player. His clothes are pressed and clean, his hair is slicked back. He is truly dressed to kill.
He takes a seat against the tagged-up wall, not taking his eyes off the paper. The Officer looks at him, then looks away, disinterested.
Then the Yuppie puts his headphones around his neck, still looking at the newspaper.
YUPPIE: That fucking figures. (looking at Officer) You see this?
OFFICER: Excuse me?
YUPPIE: I said you seen this? The paper?
OFFICER: Haven’t gotten the chance…
YUPPIE: You know what it says?
OFFICER: Don’t know, haven’t read it…
YUPPIE, reading verbatim: “The space shuttle Challenger exploded in a ball of fire shortly after it left the launching pad today, and all seven astronauts on board were lost.”
OFFICER: …(tired, disinterested)
YUPPIE: “The worst accident in the history of the American space program, it was witnessed by thousands of spectators who watched in wonder, then horror, as the ship blew apart high in the air.”
YUPPIE: “Flaming debris rained down on the Atlantic Ocean for an hour after the explosion, which occurred just around 11:39 am. It kept rescue teams from reaching the area where the craft would have fallen into the sea, about 18 miles off shore.”
OFFICER, still tired: You said it figures?
YUPPIE: Well doesn’t it? You know these weren’t all just regular astronauts---they got a teacher there too. A high school teacher from New Hampshire, so that makes it this publicity thing. (mimicking) A non-astronaut going up into space? Oh, what a wonderful opportunity! We need to get her to the stars, pronto! (Not mimicking) Now they have go-fever, they don’t bother to check the-the whatever, the things they check before launch, and so…it blew up. You know…that’s it, they’re gone.
YUPPIE: Just blew up.
OFFICER, sighing tiredly: Mm-hmm.
YUPPIE: So who are these fucking rocket scientists? Their job is to get it right, and they couldn’t even do getting it right right, so who the fuck are they? I have to do my job right. You know? And I don’t get people killed. How much you think a rocket scientist makes?
OFFICER: …I’d guess six figures.
YUPPIE: Six figures to kill some six, seven astronauts?
OFFICER: I don’t know.
YUPPIE: And what about this teacher?
OFFICER: What about her?
YUPPIE: What’s so special about her? Sit in a rocket ship and blow up? You don’t need a degree from Yale to do that.
OFFICER, a little confused: What are you saying?
YUPPIE: I’m saying she’s a nobody. But she’s probably gonna get the Medal of Honor or something. It’s horse shit!
OFFICER: I suggest you calm down, sir.
YUPPIE: I could take a lithium.
OFFICER: I wouldn’t joke about that.
YUPPIE: (pause, smiling slightly) Yeah, you’re right. (another pause) No, see, look, I’m fine, see?
YUPPIE: I’m fine.
OFFICER: That’s good.
YUPPIE: My head’s screwed tight, my feet are planted firmly here. I have coordinates. I’m here, I’m now. See? You can calculate me. New York. I am whole. And I’m no Levittown shit, B&T asshole---I live here. Up on 59th, by the Queensboro? That’s where I stay. Grand view you wouldn’t believe. It’s what the world needs for it to make sense.
OFFICER: …Needs what to make sense?
YUPPIE: I went to an Ivy League school! Does that not make sense to you?---
OFFICER: ---Keep your voice down, sir.---
YUPPIE: ---This world simply cannot exist without me. I’m one of the few who can speak the cryptic language of equity. 8-Ks, IPOs, GNPs, OTC, debentures, account payables, finances and refinances, the ebb and flow of the capitalist market. A constant state of flux. The only language that transcends all borders, all cultures, speaks to everyone on planet Earth yet I am one of the very few intellectually capable enough to translate it. I’m not stroking my ego, that’s just, you know…the way it is. I wasn’t born any other way.
OFFICER: Sir, settle down.
YUPPIE: Sorry, sorry, I’m simply trying to say that it’s what…needs to be, or else it just doesn’t make sense.
OFFICER, flatly: Sorry.
YUPPIE: But I wasn’t born here.
YUPPIE: I’m just an East Coast body with a Midwestern heart. A cold, Lansing heart. I had hard parents. My father worked in a bullet factory in Michigan, my mother raised eight children. There’s nothing “old money” about me. I moved here. Isn’t that the American story? Or whatever? Doesn’t that make sense?
OFFICER: I’m sure to somebody, it does.
YUPPIE, after a pause: How much do you make?
OFFICER: Not enough, that’s for sure.
YUPPIE: Not enough?
OFFICER: Well...I don’t know, I’m not gonna give numbers, but I don’t think I’d complain if I had a little more.
YUPPIE, after a pause: I understand that. (another pause) Do you feel you were born to do what you do?
OFFICER: Arrest kids who tag up the subway and pee in the corners? Hard to say. Not a whole lot of certainty there.
YUPPIE: Maybe that’s what makes us different. I don’t know...Well, I sorta do and I sorta don’t, but you know what I’m getting at.
OFFICER: I’m afraid I don’t.
YUPPIE: You and I, our…colors, we’re different.
OFFICER, tilting his gaze, reacting: Is that where you’re going right now?
YUPPIE: Oh, c’mon. I’m Mr. Generation X, that’s not what I’m talking about. White, black, yellow, red---
OFFICER: Hey now---
YUPPIE: ---We’re all taking the same elevator to the top floor. Know what I’m saying? Capitalism, democracy---the great equalizers. Everybody’s a cog now. You’re a cog, I’m a cog. Like, there’s a system in place, and we’re all part of it. I don’t care what color the gears are---as long as they’re running part of the machine. (pause) But look at our colors. The white and blues. That’s the spectrum that makes me photosensitive.
OFFICER: Is this a class thing, ‘cause I’m not following.
YUPPIE: It’s an everything thing.
OFFICER: You think this is some caste system thing?
YUPPIE: Maybe it is. I won’t pretend to know it for a fact.
OFFICER: You seem to know a lot of things.
YUPPIE: I know I was born to be what I am.
OFFICER: Good for you, then.
There’s a silence. When not being spoken to, the Officer doesn’t pay too much attention to the Yuppie.
YUPPIE, with a hint of defeat: But...there exists in me this primal longing, you know? This bestial feeling. Like sometimes I want to go up to the Adirondacks…and I don’t know, become this thing up there, and pray on little animals, like bite the heads off of squirrels or something. Payment in blood---now that’s a blue collar job. I’m a predator, dammit! I’m big time! The earth came out of an explosion, all this synergy rupturing across space and time, and this is what it is? Jesus, I feel like I should be killing things with my bare hands!
OFFICER: I seriously hope you are joking.
YUPPIE: I don’t know!...I feel…raw. Do you feel that? Like you’re stuck somewhere?
OFFICER: Oh, we’re all stuck somewhere, sir.
YUPPIE, after a pause: You suppose those scientists down at NASA kinda liked watching that rocket explode?
OFFICER: …No. I don’t.
YUPPIE: I think one of them might have cracked a smile. Maybe there’s one who's feeling what I’m feeling, just wanted to…
OFFICER: …Wanted to what?
OFFICER: ---Kill someone?
YUPPIE: Not exactly. Maybe just…cause some damage. Why do you think people like hitting piñatas?
OFFICER: Should I gauge you as a threat, sir?
YUPPIE: Threat? To whom?
OFFICER: Me. Anybody. Yourself.
YUPPIE: You? No, ‘course not. I’m not, like, a danger. (pause) You see I’m good.
OFFICER: Just watch your words.
YUPPIE: We’re just talking.
OFFICER: Are we?
The subway comes screeching to a halt. Both characters mimic the off-balance inertia of the train stopping.
A dusty old PASSENGER steps on with his own newspaper and takes a seat, not paying attention to either the Yuppie nor Officer. It’s the same issue newspaper as the Yuppie’s.
YUPPIE, to the Officer: And him?
OFFICER: And him what?
YUPPIE: How much you think that guy makes?
OFFICER: Probably not enough either.
The Yuppie notices that the Passenger’s newspaper is the same as his own.
YUPPIE, to the Officer: Maybe he isn’t quite so different after all. (to the Passenger) Excuse me.
PASSENGER, looking up: Hmm?
YUPPIE: You read about the rocket ship?
PASSENGER: Yeah, I did. Kinda fucked.
YUPPIE: Kinda fucked, yeah, I’m glad we’re on the same frequency.
The Passenger is a little weirded out, so he looks down at his newspaper. The Yuppie leans forward and stares straight at him.
PASSENGER, noticing: What are you looking at, boss?
YUPPIE: I’m looking dead center at you, pal.
PASSENGER: Fuck you, SAAB. (looking back down) Why don’t you go home and do some yoga?
OFFICER, to the Yuppie: Sir, just turn away.
YUPPIE: How much do you make?
PASSENGER: Enough not to be a metrosexual cornflake.
YUPPIE: I said how much do you make.
PASSENGER: Fuck off.
YUPPIE: I bet you voted for Mondale, didn’t you? Why are you here?
PASSENGER, accusingly: Who are you?
YUPPIE: WHO ARE YOU!?!
The subway starts slowing down again. Mimic inertia. The Passenger folds his newspaper, stands, and walks out of the subway car.
PASSENGER, walking out: Have fun sucking Madison Avenue’s dick, you shit.
The Yuppie is floored. The Officer isn’t really phased at all.
YUPPIE: He can’t do that!
OFFICER: You were provoking him.
YUPPIE, ignoring him: That doesn’t make sense!
OFFICER: A lot of things don’t make sense, sir.
YUPPIE: God, at-at-at least I’m not blowing up teachers! That guy has a fucking problem. Who is...who is he to say that shit to me? I’m going to work! I’m helping the world turn! The fuck is he doing? Is that what he, like, does all morning? All day, all night? Wonder how much he makes spewing that crap. He’s the kind who jams the machine. What do you think?
OFFICER, getting tired of it: About what?
YUPPIE: Do you think everybody’s here for something? Like a job, to do something? To be a gear or jam it up?
OFFICER after a pause, thinking: I deal with a lot of lost souls down here. A lot of them seem to come down here to escape the light, like they’re vampires or something. The undead making their final moves in Hell. And most of ‘em are just kids. Lot of em from the Bronx. They’re either jumping in front of trains or slinging rock. I can’t really help the ones who jump, but that’s not the good lot of them. The rest I see skulking in the bathrooms, behind pillars, slinging it to more lost souls. Sometimes they even go into the tunnels to do it. Risk getting run over. They try to play me ‘cause they think we’re “brothas” or something. Like we’re one in the same. I just want to get home, get some rest before the next shift. That’s who I am. But there was this one young man, just a kid, like the rest of them, who was slinging over on the platform at 110th and he was given’ me the whole, “Aw, you know, man, I’m just a hustla, you know, gotta do what you gotta do these days,” and I knew what he was talking about, but I still had to arrest him. He didn’t put up much of a fight, I think he understood me too. (snickers a little bit) While I was handcuffing him and about to call it in…There was a young woman standing nearby, and she called out, “Fucking crackhead, get a job,” and the kid just looked at her and said, “Bitch, I got a job---I sell crack.”
A hard silence falls. The Yuppie begins to chuckle, the Officer chuckles with him.
YUPPIE, after laughing: But what do you think?
A different kind of silence falls.
OFFICER: I don’t know, sir.