By now, many of you have already seen (or heard about) the picture of a man desperately trying to hoist himself out of the way of an oncoming New York subway train. His last few seconds were captured by a freelance photographer and splashed – of course – onto the front page of The New York Post with the headline “DOOMED”.
I’m not going to display it on my blog, but you can see the newspaper cover here. The photographer and the Post itself have been doubling down defending the picture, but I don’t know why the Post would bother – after all, they’ve been classless, racist, and beneath contempt for decades.
Perhaps discussing what is essentially a pre-snuff film is not helping things, but the picture does ask the immediate question: why didn’t the photographer help the guy up? R. Umar Abbasi said he was wearing too much gear, was too far away, wasn’t strong enough, and instead used his flash bulbs to warn the oncoming train. If you look at the picture, it seems like he was awfully close, but lenses and angles can be deceptive.
22 seconds passed between the time 58-year-old Ki-Suck Han was pushed onto the tracks and the train hit him. That is a fucking eternity in the heat of an adrenalized moment. If you were there, with the crazy homeless fucker still marauding about, and the train coming ever closer, what would you have done?
This incident strikes a chord with me for several reasons. The man was hit by the Q train, which was my train, on the southbound platform where Tessa and I stood every week on the way home from pre-marriage kickin’-the-tires couples therapy. I know that platform intimately, and used to watch the rats dodge the rodenticide boxes along the tracks.
The photograph freezes that moment in time when you can swoop in and save that poor man. It allows you the luxury of armchair quarterbacking those 22 seconds as you see fit, and it also recalls other moments in New York when you might have made a life-or-death decision.
Tessa swears that if I’d been working in the World Trade Center on 9/11, I would have ignored the intercom warnings to stay put, and gotten the fuck out of there. As it was, I’d worked across the street from the WTC until a few weeks before the attack, and was weirdly familiar with that environment as well.
the view out my office window, the day of the ticker-tape parade for the Yankees (blech) Nov 6, 2000
If I’d been in the 2nd tower, I’d like to think I’d have bolted during those 17 minutes before the 2nd plane hit. If there had been some massive explosion in the other tower, with debris and shit everywhere, and if I’d been up pretty high, the chances of me following the directions of a guy on an intercom would have been decidedly low.
I actually worked on the highest floor in the main part of the Woolworth Building, which afforded an “almost halfway up” view of the WTC towers a block away that was almost nauseatingly vertiginous. We were high enough up to feel somewhat celestial, but the towers were massively higher still. You cannot imagine how vulnerable it felt when you pressed your head against the window.
There is no way I would have stayed at my desk. Then again, there’s no way I would have been at my desk, because I would have been at least fifteen minutes late to work.
But this is all conjecture, an alternate reality where you get to bend space and time, and control all variables. We all want to think we would have made perfect decisions, because it gives us control over a fickle universe. It’s a childish response, without nuance, to suggest you would have done everything just right.
And this picture of a ill-omened man clawing to life at the edge of a subway platform brings up the same response. But man oh fucking man, it plays in my head right now, us standing on that same Q platform like we did every Tuesday, and like hell if I don’t see Tessa punching the crazy homeless fucker in the jaw while I hoist the man out of the trench just in goddamn time.