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“If You See Something, Say Something”
Paranoia Rides the IRT

by Mickey Z.
September 15, 2004

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“Thanks for a nation of finks...”

                                   -- William S. Burroughs, A Thanksgiving Prayer (1988)

There’s a new sign plastered all over the NYC subway:


It goes on to read: “If you see a suspicious package or activity on the platform or train, don’t keep it to the Terrorism Hotline at 1-888-NYC-Safe.”

IF I see suspicious activity on the platform or train? What do they mean “if”? This is the goddamned New York City subway: The subterranean tunnels of transportation voted most likely to host a felony. As Lou Reed droned, “You got a black .38 and a gravity knife; you still have to ride the train.”

However, being that the world has changed forever after 9/11, I knew I had to change my attitude, buckle down, and do my part. After all, if I saw something without saying something, the terrorists would win, wouldn’t they?

Eyes darting around like a seasoned securer of the homeland, I settled upon my first “something”: a run-of-the-mill straphanger “looking” for the train. This is chronic suspicious activity. Time and time again, commuters lean way over to see if the train is coming. What purpose could this possibly serve? Whether one looks or not, the train will arrive when it arrives. Leaning over to watch does nothing at all except increase the risk that some frustrated individual will choose you to blame for their plight and unceremoniously shove you onto the tracks, earning you the dubious honor of appearing on the front page of tomorrow’s New York Post.

One minute, you’re a sweaty commuter looking for a train, the next you’re: BLOOD ON THE TRACKS.

I decided not to “say something.” With terror lurking behind every subway column, the authorities shouldn’t be bothered with such foolishness.

“And the all-night girls...they whisper of escapades out on the D train.”

                                                -- "Visions Of Johanna,” Bob Dylan

Thump...thump...thump. The ominous sound caused my heart to leap and my mind to race: What devious act of evil was afoot and how could I be of service? What would Ashcroft do?

The source of the thumping was two black girls, maybe 13 years old, bouncing a basketball off the subway wall.

Thankfully, a strapping white cop came along and admonished them to stop throwing the ball around. The girls frowned and watched him walk away.

One of the girls took the ball and gave it one more toss against the wall...her intransigence undoubtedly inspiring evildoers everywhere.

Channeling Jagger, “when the train came in the station,” I most certainly “looked her in the eye.” I needed to make sure she knew she was being watched as I whispered to myself: 1-888-NYC-Safe...1-888-NYC-Safe...1-888-NYC-Safe.

"The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls.”

                                  -- "The Sound of Silence,” Paul Simon

Huddled in a corner seat was a woman of at least 60. She was filthy, wearing tattered clothes, and emaciated. In her hand was a coffee cup...adorned with images of ancient Greek architecture. The woman shook the cup so the few coins inside might rattle a bit. In a tiny voice, she asked: “Spare a quarter?”

No one seemed to notice this woman. Hundreds of fellow humans were looking past her as if she did not exist. Surely this qualified as “suspicious activity.” I was seconds away from alerting a Transit cop when I heard a drone-like female voice booming over the subway loudspeaker: “Ladies and Gentlemen, pan-handling is against the law. Please do not give to law-breakers. Please give instead to charities that support those in need. Thank you.”

That’s when I understood that the only thing suspicious about this activity was the frail woman’s brazen illegality. Doesn’t she know we’re at war?

Mickey Z. is the author of two brand new books: The Seven Deadly Spins: Exposing the Lies Behind War Propaganda (Common Courage Press) and A Gigantic Mistake: Articles and Essays for Your Intellectual Self-Defense (Library Empyreal/Wildside Press). For more information, please visit:

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