Thursday, June 08, 2006

United Colors of the E Train

I was coming back from the Samuel French Short Play Festival on Monday night, where I saw the brilliantly creative Suzanne Dottino’s play, The Burning, (Suzanne’s also the co-Editor In Chief of the KGB Bar Lit magazine) when I had one of those very cool New York moments.

It started, as many of these things do, in a smelly E train. It was around 9 pm and an incredibly diverse crowd of people got in the car with me at 50th Street and 8th Avenue. We were all of different ages and different shades of skin tone (though one guess who was at the most extreme end of the color chart?) Anyway, I pull out my copy of the New Yorker--only doing so so I can pretend to look at it while staring at people, and my attention is immediately drawn to the two high school age girls sitting across from me.

They’re talking about a dress and one says to the other, “I really want to get it, it was so pretty but I don’t know how it would look with my skin.” The speaker looked Hispanic and her skin was a very light brown tone. Her friend, a dark skinned black girl, replied, “Well what color is it?” The first girl says, “Shoot, I can’t think of the name.” She then looks up and catches me gawking.

“Miss,” she says, pointing to my pants, “What color is that?”
“Khaki?” I reply.
“No, that’s not the name. What’s another color name like that, but lighter?”
“Cream? Ecru?” I offer.
“Beige? Tan? Buff? Sand? Oatmeal?”
“No,” she says, “None of those.”

The rest of the people in the car slowly start looking up from what they’re reading or the conversations they’re having and turn their attention to us. A hush actually falls over the train as they wait to see if I can come up with the name for this girl. I feel like a contestant on a J-Crew sponsored game show.

“Uh,” I say, starting to choke but trying to picture my box of 120 Crayolas (you know the one: the box that called pink “skin”) “Fawn? Biscuit?”
The girl shakes her head, “Whiter than that.”
“Mushroom? Milk? Toast? Milquetoast?” Clearly I’m getting desperate.
“You know it,” she says, and suddenly my confidence is bolstered. I will not let this girl down… until I realize she’s no longer talking to me. She’s now looking at the very dreadlocked woman sitting to my right. “You’re smiling,” the girl says, “I can see you know it.”
The woman nods.
“That’s it!” the girl claps as do several other riders. “Ivory!”

Everyone breathes a collective sigh of relief. The bespectacled man sitting a few seats down on the bench says, “Thank God, now I can sleep tonight!” People are smiling, genuinely happy that we all came together to solve this conundrum.

I must admit, even though I wasn’t able to offer the right answer myself—for which I flagellated myself later--I walked off that train feeling pretty good. It was a moment of community among city dwellers. It was a group of people with nothing in common sitting together and helping each other out. It was New York to me -- exactly what I miss when I find myself outside this City. And it was also pretty freaking ironic that the whitest chick on that subway couldn’t come up with the word “Ivory.”

NOTE: This is a post by Robin, although it says Renée below. Renée is just doing a courtesy for Robin who is currently jet-setting laptopless.


Anonymous Emma said...

Hilarious! It makes me miss NYC. I once went on a job interview at J. Crew and they flipped through their "magazine" in front of me and asked me to tell them which literary novel each page of descriptions called up for me. I totally sold my soul and got the job offer by suggesting, in turn, "Catcher in the Rye"... "Great Gatsby"..."On the Road." I haven't been able to face that catalog since.

June 14, 2006 1:26 PM  
Blogger Robin said...

Hey, F. Scott Fitzgerald was an advertising copywriter well BEFORE he sold his soul and moved to LA to become a screenwriter, so I'd say you're simply living the writerly dream!

June 19, 2006 9:22 AM  

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