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Notations on an Observation

Sunday January 30 2022


The A Train // 3:30pm

Soundtrack: the new Mother Mother album Inside

Though it is Sunday, it is the first day back to reality after a ‘Bomb Cyclone’ hit the Northeast Corridor, leaving up to 12 inches of snow in Brooklyn. This morning, the streets had been plowed and much of the sidewalk cleared through. The sky is crystal clear and the sun beams down on the remaining white snow that brightens up the city. New Yorkers are out and about, bundled up in coats, hats, scarves, and gloves.

I’ve been looking forward to a solo escape to MoMA since the weather decided to threaten, and ultimately cancel, a group day trip to Dia Beacon this past Saturday. Now I am headed up to MoMA, on the first leg of the trip aboard the A Express train. The plan is to depart from Nostrand Ave. and travel as far North as I can get to transfer to the Queens-bound E train. The E train will drop me off just across the street from MoMA on 53rd street.

I am on the A train, standing. We are making local stops through Brooklyn. I see that the new Mother Mother album is available on Spotify and give it a listen. The first songs in the new album are really moving.

I realize that my destination for this observation should have been a complete public space (Wow it would have been excellent to do this at Prospect Park this weekend) and that the MoMA is gate-kept by vaccine regulations and a monetary fee for entry to the galleries. Let the record show that the only true public space in this city are the sidewalks and streets. Not even the subway is entirely public: a fare is required for entry.

Yet I do believe that the subway presents a true cross section of New York. I’ve decided to include the train trip as a prelude for this reason. Here in this metal tube thrusting underneath the city are hundreds of people doing the same thing together in different ways. We are all traveling to a destination, and we all spend this time differently.


Pure Love - Mother Mother

Now I am sitting down and I can take notes.

How many different ways can a person travel on the subway? Some lean, some sit, some stand, some lay. Some stare deeply into a screen. Some bop to their own soundtrack.


Stay Behind - Mother Mother

Of all the bundled up people in this half of the subway car, there is one person who stands out. He is unmasked and his gaze does not waver. His stance is wide, he is surfing the subway and adamant to avoid contact with any surfaces. His hands are gloved and his arms are in a steadying position.

Several passengers alight the car, opening up a range of seats in an ‘L’ configuration where three seats are against the train wall and 2 are facing the front of the car. The subway surfer examines them and uses his gloved hand to brush a seat clean against the train wall. He notices a front-facing seat and brushes it as well while examining it closely. He thinks. He is undecided as to whether he wants to claim this seat. He tries it. He doesn’t like it. He stands up and continues to surf.


A disabled person approaches and asks me to spare a dollar. I hear this through my soundtrack. He is skinny, with dark skin and a beautiful unmasked face, and is wearing a white tank top for a head covering. He’s wearing a tattered long sleeve waffle shirt and black pants.

I apologize, noting that I don’t have any cash on me. (I spent it all on breakfast this morning) He points to my head and asks me something that I couldn’t hear. I pause the music, and he is unraveling the shirt from his head. “Is your head cold?” He asks. “Oh no, I’m okay,” I respond. He holds the shirt in his hand and walks away. After soliciting other riders, in the middle of the train car he performs a small act that looks like he’s punching butterflies around his head.

I wonder if he will be okay, and wished I could have helped him.


Act I

The Museum of Modern Art // 4:10pm // 20 minute observation


Picnic - Haruomi Hosono

Introduction to the Snow - Miracle Musical

I’m Gonna Die - Young Jean Lee

Imagination - B.B. and Q Band

Sportsman - Haruomi Hosono

Lush - Four Tet

Location: A chair in the museum lobby within the new West Wing, seated between the ticketing center and the entrance to the museum shop. I have a view of the sidewalk through a full glass wall, of the entrance, of the stairs and elevator that lead down to the shop, of the space beyond the main entrance in the background, of the ticketing station, and there are seats around me for visitors.


Time flies when you have an awesome soundtrack to listen to. Unfortunately, my soundtrack was the boldest character in this performance. It crafted an explosive story of life and death and framed the actors to appear apathetic. Like life, they moved in cycles, up and down and in and out. The security guard operates in a robotic fashion, and new arrivals respond in an equally robotic fashion.

The arc of the soundtrack is: You’re at a picnic on a warm sunny afternoon, there is an instrumental prelude, and then you expect to die. Then you find yourself in a heaven, or is it all your imagination? There is some semblance of excitement again that resembles your former reality, but you end up in a strange in-between place that calms you.

Throughout the performance, I plugged the actors into this story arc, trying to fit them into the world that I’ve crafted. The actors have no presence except to operate in coincidental cycles. Visitor groups are entirely minding their own business, and I notice all the solo visitors walk with a certain confidence.




Act II

The Museum of Modern Art // 4:35pm // 15 minute observation


This performance was much more boring, and not entirely without a soundtrack. The soundtrack of the space included youthful pop music playing from the museum shop below and to my right, and a deep and sometimes high pitched groan from a piece of art somewhere beyond in the museum lobby.

The actors’ thoughts fill the scene. They are BIG, they are small, they are quiet, they are soft, and they are sleepy. They think about what to eat, where to go, what time it is. They rest in this space and re-center themselves.

I begin counting visitors to pass the time: 3 friends discussing, 2 friends leave, 1 person ascends the shop stair, 1 person ascends the shop stair, 2 people descend the shop stair… and on and on. Their presence and their actions take root in my mind. They are my highest priority. But nothing happens.

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