Gary Shteyngart: CONFESSIONS OF A WATCH GEEK

Gary Shteyngart in The New Yorker:

ScreenHunter_2627 Mar. 15 16.05At the start of 2016, I had a bad feeling. Time was not working right. Some weeks were as snappy as days, others were as elastic as months, and the months felt as if they were either bleeding into one another three at a time—Jabruarch—or segmenting into Gregorian-calendar city-states. Feb. Rue. Airy. Something was wrong with the world.

One day in February, I took a ride on the subway. This was a rare occurrence. Since turning forty, I’d started to suffer from a heightened sense of claustrophobia. A few years ago, I was stuck for an hour in an elevator with a man who weighed about three hundred and fifty pounds and his two grocery carts crammed with bags of Tostitos and bottles of Canada Dry, an experience both frightening and lonely. The elevator had simply given up. What if a subway train also refused to move? I began walking seventy blocks at a time or splurging on taxis. But on this day I had taken the N train. Somewhere between Forty-ninth Street and Forty-second Street, a signal failed and we ground to a halt. For forty minutes, we stood still. An old man yelled at the conductor at full volume in English and Spanish. Time and space began to collapse around me. The orange seats began to march toward each other. I was no longer breathing with any regularity. This is not going to end well. None of this will end well. We will never leave here. We will always be underground. This, right here, is the rest of my life. I walked over to the conductor’s silver cabin. He was calmly explaining to the incensed passenger the scope of his duties as an M.T.A. employee. “Sir,” I said to him, “I feel like I’m dying.”

“City Hall, City Hall, we got a sick passenger,” he said into the radio. “I repeat, a sick passenger. Can you send a rescue train?”

A rescue train. My whole life I have been waiting for one. Sensing the excitement of someone suffering more than they were, the other passengers moved to my end of the car to offer advice, crowding in on me and making me panic all the more. One man was particularly insistent. “I’m a retired firefighter,” he said. “I’ve been doing this twenty years, folks. Seen it all. This man here is hyperventilating. That’s what he’s doing. Twenty years a firefighter, now retired.”

“I’m going to take an Ativan now,” I said, fishing a pill out of my breast pocket.

“Do not do that,” the retired firefighter said. “It will only make you hyperventilate more. Trust me, I know what I’m doing.”

More here.

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