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a peaceful protest

I was 16, and the thought of being forced to mention God as part of the pledge of allegiance was too hypocritical an act for me to play along with. Each day of high school began with this mundane recitation, as most people just stood with their hand jutting from a hip, the other dangling across their chest as they counted out the seconds until they could sit back down. They leaned against desks, and talked through it about what party and where it would be, if there would be a keg or a bonfire in the woods. I recited the words, omitting the "under God" part as a sort of half-baked protest. I was raised to flaunt my family's ramshackle atheism, as a choice of smug pride. We knew better, was the prevailing logic.

But one day, I could not stand and say any of it. It felt so rote, so hollow, so devoid of choice. There was no law that said I was required to say it. I knew this was my right, a form of free speech. My homeroom teacher was a legendary drinker, a trash-talking re…

closely watched trains



On a Sunday afternoon, we decide to take the metro to the film lab. The nearest station is being renovated, so we wander the tunnels beneath the street that lead us to a different entrance. Everything is new here, and they scan our bags.
"It's like we are in the airport or something." E gripes.

I decide to follow the flow of people down the nearest stairs only to understand that this is not the station it used to be. There are a string of stops listed I have never heard of, and trains that are shiny red beasts wheezing in and out of the platform in near silence. This could easily be some kind of recurring dream, when I have to walk on stage naked without knowing my lines now.

But then I understand this is the new line people told me about. I stare at the map until it all makes sense. We take the next train as it arrives, eyeing a giant gap between the car and the platform big enough for a dog or a child to fall through. The seats are soft and blue. Everything smells of fresh plastic. People speak in hushed voices. The station is crawling with police.

It will be eight stops until we get off.
"This is just weird, too weird." E announces,  over and over.

The neighborhoods flit by, nondescript streets where maybe nothing ever happens. No protests, no car crashes, no weddings, no funerals. There are old buildings in the distance, like giant bricks that people live in as they slowly crumble. There is construction, stations with names like Zorgi. Everything somehow looks harmless from the blue seats. Modern, without emotion, no gristle of Soviet design. There are recycling bins on the platforms, in shiny colors. But no one recycles here, and there is one place for all of the garbage to go. This is just some clever propaganda, a photo opportunity, the sheen of civilization.

Families with children in strollers ride for a few stops and get off, their jean jackets and sneakers saying USA and Nike, Hugo Boss and Reebok. They have those same faces, sullen and withdrawn like the people on the metro.

And then we do get to the station, where we will change back to the old network of trains. A smell whips up to greet us, like rotting cotton candy. It is familiar. We will be there soon.








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