The ripple effects are subtle, yet morbid once you key into them. At 40th Avenue and 29th Street I saw and waved hello to someone who lives in my building as he was walking the other direction. I smiled some, thinking that the relative unlikelihood of seeing this person so far from the building (6 long blocks) merited acknowledgement, however slight.
Then I thought of it: He was walking to Queens Plaza for the subway on account of the jumper, whose body parts and organs are presently being scraped off the pavement around the 30th Avenue station. Shuttle buses were, as I had noticed earlier, running along 31st Street, which is unusual for a weekday but did not quite register with me on first blush as having anything to do with the jumper.
I read about it online, where comments that followed the news conformed to the usual resignation. “If you are hurting why don’t you ask for help?” “Selfish asshole.” If this had been another Bourdain or Kate Spade or Robin Williams this jumper would be given hero treatment, and great sympathy. I remember the “If he was hurting” type of comments at my dad’s funeral, where well-intentioned but deeply irritating (to me) people suggested that had my dad simply reached out to his friends for someone to talk to he’d still have been with us. Nonsense, but it’s not intended to be as irritating as I know it to be, and on that account I don’t say anything or hold it against those who said it. Someone who is at the point of taking their own life is well beyond the point of being talked out of it, and I believe that my dad’s instincts were the same as those of others — keep the secret like it belongs to a brotherhood of one.
Today’s comments regarding the jumper included seemingly shocked mentions that these incidents are rarely reported by the media, which is true. If even half the incidents of this type made headlines the public would think there is a suicide epidemic. Wait, what? Obviously it depends how you define “epidemic”. On account of a small number of carbon monoxide deaths every apartment in NYC is required to have a CO2 alarm. Suicides outnumber CO2 deaths by outsize numbers, but nothing is done to take its warning signs seriously, and to be realistic I don’t expect that to happen because it’s a bit of an apples to oranges comparison, but one I return to in hope that I will arrive at a more adroit analogy.
A lot of bad shit goes unreported by the media, and suicide is just one type of event. You’re more likely to hear about an Internet kiosk blasting Mr. Softee than to hear about suicides in the mainstream local media.
The last jumper I remember was a few years ago, at the Broadway station. Then, too, I remember the subtle but eerie ripple effect of a packed subway train stalled over 34th Avenue for what seemed like an hour or even longer. I happened to be in correspondence with a reporter at the New York Times regarding (what else?) payphones, when he was forced to postpone writing that piece to report on the jumper. A somewhat eerie coincidence, I guess, but obviously nothing more than that. But it had me thinking about the machinations of suicide, the actual physical act and moment of no return. Is there left a shred of sanity in that moment? Is there panic? Is there a half-second return to childhood? The gruesome details of the act and, in the cases of the subway jumpers, the gory spectacle, these are things I used to be able to put out of my mind. But I cannot even stand the sight of Anthony Bourdain anymore, even if his acts more or less aligned with my philosophical dilemma about suicide being the ultimate act of doing with your body as you please, because it’s your goddam body. That sounds similar to the abortion argument, but that discussion (whether one favors or opposes) revolves largely around when life begins and what risk a pregnancy might pose to the mother, or what kind of challenges the child might have to live with if born with severe handicaps — among infinite other issues in the abortion debate. With suicide there’s no discussion about life having begun, but whose authority is it to decide when, exactly, it should end.
I don’t fucking know, and I’m getting confused thinking about it no, here at the suddenly noisy coffee shop.
But I did learn something about Robin Williams: he had been diagnosed with Parkinsons Disease. If that helps make any sense of his action then I am glad to know it. Toxicology reports on Bourdain revealed nothing to suggest he was under any influences when he did his thing.
Iiiiiii, gotta get outta here.