Monday, January 26, 2009


If Donna Haraway's  assertion that the use of vitamins, running shoes and silicon enhancements has already transformed humanity into cyborgs, then we are ankle-deep in the margins of our machine/human binary every time we lace up to go for a jog. Though it may be true the cybernetic future has been with us for some time, it is only when we are sitting inside a machine that our organic content feels properly diluted by the surrounding mechanics to admit we may be part machine ourselves.  The cybernetic threshold for most pedestrians in the city appears to be mass transit, taxi cabs or that rarest of things the privately owned car.   

In Manhattan, a number of mythological beasts roll the streets.  There's the businessman/razor scooter hybrid.  The swift snarky slickster breezing towards the financial district on a child's toy-- if he were a centaur-type he would be half hamster half man. Another man-on wheels, this time with in-line skates, who regularly zips through pedestrian traffic with an attache case and a manic watchthefuckout look in his eyes. Seven feet tall with his skates, wheels come with a built in sense of superiority. The endless people dragging roller bags in their wakes...

I never feel more vulnerable then when I'm waiting at the crosswalk with a thick wall of people at my back, standing  in front of a running stream of cars. I'll take a lead off from the curb tentatively craning to watch for on-coming traffic around the double-parked delivery truck and can feel the other pedestrians moving up closer behind me.  Is this a leadership position?  Am I suddenly the one chosen to mark our naked progress across the street where men and women subsumed to the maniacal fluidity of their two ton vehicles refuse to stop. A guy in sweatpants and a baseball cap has already shot off halfway across the street, pausing for a moment of gentility to allow a Ford Taurus its passage before carrying onward.  Nothing will slow him.  He actually stops on the yellow dotted line and sucks in his gut to accommodate an accordion bus in one lane and a taxi in the other then moves on unimpeded, proving to the rest of us just how urgent his own business is.

I wait for the sign to turn to the glowing albino pedestrian and no sooner do I step out than a bumper swoops in, inches from my Kerrigan knees.  The driver having already calculated that if he floored it on the light he could avoid the on-coming traffic and just fit into the brief neat gap between pedestrians in the crosswalk.  I employ my standard judge of depth and send a sharp kick straight into his rear fender, catching his eyes and letting him know that if he turns within my kicking distance he will get kicked.  For a second he thinks he may have run over my foot, the panic registered before rolling over to hate, but I've finished crossing. He's lost me.  Jerkoff. Only slightly better than the cab that turns right into you and stops inches away, slowly creeping while you walk.  For that second, your life depended on perhaps the flimsiest system of empathy known to man: the New York City cab driver.  

The cab driver is the closest we might know to a fully integrated cybernetic centaur.  Half human/ half car, with a blue tooth in the ear and the radio tuner stuck between the Salsa and god talk stations. The cab driver creates his or her own musk-- unique and solitary scent that only lingers in old cabs: the true union of body and upholstery.  The new cabs, outfitted with TVs repeat the same news on a loop.  The cabbie sits behind glass. The TV takes away that last shred of humanity: the insane ability to editorialize on the slightest indication of interest, the crazy palpating conversation with which most cabbies grope their passengers. They drive now, further attended by the GPS, day and night, racking in cash or credit conversing only with the street or the loved ones left overseas. 

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