I wake up at 7am on my futon bed that I acquired from Craigslist while leeching Wi-Fi from a neighbor. I stand beside my radio that I bought from Circuit City back in 2002 and begin doing morning calisthenics by 7:05. The air is calm and stale and musty and I listen to my nose attempt to breathe through the congestion from the cold that I have contracted from someone at work.
Halfway into my morning workout, I notice my back wet from perspiration and feel a full, alert stage of consciousness. It is 7:30 and I enter the shower and turn the faucet on to feel a shocking, skin-numbing sensation smack my entire body and I jump out and almost slip on the tiles of the bathroom floor. I regain my composure and run my hand through the water, this time making sure that it is warm enough for me. I feel satisfied at the temperature of the water and enter to take my shower. The water hits me at little less than 6 miles an hour but it is soothing on my tired back. Images of breakfast float through my mind. A maxim once uttered by Thorstein Veblen ejaculates into my thoughts: “Whatever is, is wrong.” The clock on the wall ticks past 7:35.
I eat my breakfast with metal chopsticks and think nothing of the weight and the soft clinking of metal on porcelain as I eat the remainder of my rice with lukewarm jjigae, and tofu with some soy sauce. The television rambles on about a hit and run in Brownsville but I eat my breakfast as if I am unconcerned with the news. I clean up after myself and the television tells me it is a nice day outside and laughs. An advertisement about New York Fashion Week promotes the event and I am reminded about ornate clothing serving no purpose in life. My dishes drown in a mixture of soy sauce, soap, and cold water. I wipe my nose on my sleeve and cough into my elbow. Homeopathy is a lack of faith in science.
My mother calls my cell phone and I pick up after two rings. She asks me if I am eating healthy and if I need any money. I tell her that I am starving myself and that I am swimming in money. She tells me to act my age and reminds me that I should call her more often because I have ignored to uphold filial duties. She does not explicitly say that, and instead implies it through her tone of voice and her questions. She asks me if I have a girlfriend and if my girlfriend is the reason why I do not call her. I tell her that I am single and that I am looking for the perfect woman for my parents. She warns me that my dad expects my future girlfriend to be Korean, or he will not talk to me. I express concern for my dad and she becomes irritated because they are in a fight. I tell her I have to go run errands and she tells me she loves me and to take care of myself. I hang up.
Queens Boulevard is eerily empty at this hour. I start towards the 7 train and I am engulfed in the light of the still-rising morning sun. It is exactly 239 steps to the station.
Smells of brewed coffee hang around 40th Street. I gaze through the glass door of a café and note the absence of patrons. The idea of holding the classic blue coffee cup leads me into the café and I am overwhelmed by the smell of grease and smoke. A man stands behind the counter dreaming of another life. My presence, along with the jingle of the wind chimes against the door, distracts him and brings him out back into reality. Sleepy-eyed, he watches me walk towards the counter and I fumble for my wallet. I ask for a cup of coffee and he nods. I hand him two dollars and he hands me a full cup. I grasp the cup and head out the door. The man returns to his dream, assuming, and correctly so, that I do not want change.
I climb up the stairs for the platform of the elevated 7 train and swipe my Metrocard. The platform is empty. There is no wind. I pretend I can see Citi Field from where I am. I really can’t, but it’s good to exercise the imagination. I imagine Citi Field to have 4,000 light bulbs, 122 tons of concrete, 140 tons of steel, and 820 pounds of leather. I carefully sip my coffee, but I end up with a burnt tongue. I have half a mind to text my mother to tell her that no matter what I do, I always manage to burn my tongue on coffee. Off to my left, a slight wind picks up, and from beyond the walls, a rumbling alerts me to the arrival of the train. The coffee feels hot on my fingers.
I travel along Queens Blvd. at what I estimate at approximately 22 miles an hour. The lights above hum faintly as I sip my coffee in small increments. A woman sits two seats to my right. She wears an auburn coat, dark, tight jeans, and long boots. I think of things to say to her. Coffee fills my throat with phlegm and I cough to dislodge it. She looks towards the sound and I turn to her and smile. She smiles back and looks back out the window, away from me, her gentle smile all but disappearing from her face. A scowl appears on her face and there is wetness in her eyes. I begin to feel genuine concern for the woman. I take another sip of coffee and I ask her, in a voice that is a bit too loud for the inside of the train, if I can sit next to her. Wide-eyed, she looks around and shakes her head. The train comes to a halt at Queensboro Plaza. Two men and two women enter the car. One of the women wears a thin pencil skirt, her legs highlighted by dark lacey stockings. I feel a slight, yet anticipated lump in my throat, as I decide that she is indeed, an attractive woman. Definitely out of my league. The woman from before gets up and changes her seat to sit farther away from the new passengers and myself. I feel dislodged from generosity and her immediate rejection has embarrassed me. I sit in silence and decide to not look her way for the duration of the train ride. I take another sip of my coffee. I realize I will have to urinate by the time I am in Grand Central.
Court Square Station flashes by out the window. I can feel the train come to a stop. The doors slide open and passengers enter the car. Some wear expensive coats and leather shoes. My shoes are made of canvas and my feet are bundled up with two layers of socks. The new passengers walk to fill empty spaces. The train seems full, but there is enough room for one to stand and walk towards the door without bumping into anyone. I start to tap my feet for the sensation building up in my bladder makes me feel anxious. A woman I have never seen before looks at me inquisitively. I pretend not to notice. The train enters darkness as it enters Hunters Point Avenue. I cannot stop tapping my feet. I play Telemann’s Viola Concerto in G major in my head in sync with my tapping. The woman looks at my feet and glares at me. I close my eyes when I notice her glaring at me. My feet are a metronome.
I calculate the train to be at least 90 feet underground, with roughly 30 feet of concrete and cast iron, and 60 feet of water above the speeding train – information, which I had learned from an early 20th Century architecture symposium regarding a blueprint of the New York City subway. It was held in a building somewhere on the NYU campus, where a handful of men and women stood at the front of this classroom and talked at length about the history of the subway. I feel the train change direction and remember there is a slight incline midway through the East River, heading into the solid bedrock beneath the towering skyscrapers of the island, and I am just about ready to scream in frustration.
Profile: Michael Koh