Suspended Disbelief

One thing I love/hate about living in Manhattan, and New York generally, is that one begins to forget how often she must suspend her disbelief in order to survive.

For instance: I was on the 5 train when it turned into a 2.

If you ride the New York subways, things like this happen all the time.   You will get on a subway train, and it will magically and without warning turn into something else.  A local will turn into an express.  A 5 train — which for most of the length of the island of Manhattan runs on the East Side — will suddenly turn into a 2 train, which for most of the city runs on the West Side. 

In reality, one train turning into another train is simply not possible.  Like characters in some absurd play or movie, we disappear down the stairwells into the belly of the beast, and our C’s turn into E’s and we take it.  Then we get off, and we turn around, and we wait on the opposite platform with nary a groan, because there is nothing we can do about it.

I travel a lot, as you all know, and I take public transport in other cities,  and this sort of stuff doesn’t generally happen — their trains are notmagical. One does not get on the London Tube, for example, and have a Jubilee Line train become a Central Line train.  At least, as far as I know or have experienced.  But in New York, we think nothing of our trains becoming other things — suddenly and without warning — because they always have.  They might as well become stagecoaches drawn by six white horses.  We’d probably swallow that just as easily.

But I suppose I am a woman who struggles with suspending her disbelief.

For instance:  I was watching Happy Feet 2 on the plane to Hong Kong (because I love penguins), and I was really annoyed that the penguins had a mishmosh of accents.  For starters — they would most definitely not have American accents.  And why did the one have a British accent?  The Robin Williams one properly had a South American accent.  But did the others pick up theirs from nearby Antarctic research stations?  But if they were all members of the same colony, then they wouldn’t have a variety of manners of speaking!  Andfor the love of all that is good, why did the old, grizzled one have a Scottish accent?

This bothered me for the entire movie.

That said, I have no problem forcing others to suspend their disbelief.

I spent Boxing Day and the week after together at my best friend’s mother’s house in Melbourne, Australia.  And, speaking of penguins, when Das asked me what I wanted to do, I told her that I wanted to see the Little Blue Penguins on Phillip Island.

So we drove the hour and a half or so from her house to Phillip Island, and it was good.  And when we arrived, it was packed.  So I began to scheme: How could we get as close as possible to the penguins?

Because I am very used to travelling in non-English speaking countries at Christmas, and because I am fluent in the Universal Language of Charades, I thought that if we pretended not to speak English we might pantomime our way to the best seats in the house.  But that didn’t really make sense.  This required more thinking.

I know this all sounds horrible, but you need to understand how I feel about penguins.  This is a Kristen Bell-sloth situation here.  I was close enough to touch a parade of tiny penguins and their babies, and no one was going to stand in my way.  No one.

Somehow in the course of this scheming, I decided that Das should pretend she was deaf, because in my desperation, that made sense.  As if being deaf entitled her to a better view.

But…but…they’re going to know I don’t speak sign language!  she protested.

No they won’t, I replied harshly, Australian sign language is different than American sign language.

So we started out small and approached a family who was hogging a bench close to the front.  Das began gesticulating wildly trying to get them to make room for the two of us.  They Were Not Having Any Of It.

Das and I stood in the aisle of the bleachers, shaken but undeterred.  Finally, tenacious Das approached a Park Ranger, and either spoke to him in our agreed-upon sign language, or lied through her teeth, because the next thing I knew, we were sitting in the primo seats on the sand, next to the cordonned-off area through which the Little Blue Penguins marched from the sea to their homes. 

I was out of my mind ecstatic. 

So which one of them is Robin Williams?  And when does Morgan Freeman start narrating?  I said.

That doesn’t happen, Dither.

But wait.  When does Robin Williams come out?

This went on for hours.  The penguins were as amazing as I had built them up in my own head to be.  I was on such a high afterwards, I was even convinced to take a picture with the creep in the giant penguin suit by the exit — and if you know me, you know I am The Least Likely Person On The Planet to do something like that in earnest.

(Not cute.)

But I suppose the point of this whole disjointed story is: at times we must suspend our disbelief in order to get what we want.  In New York, we suspend it to get from place to place and in order to survive.  A 5 train becomes a 2 train; a C train becomes an E train.  They called it “The 1 and the 9” but the 9 train never actually existed. 

And likewise, sometimes, when watching movies or even live action shows, we have to suspend our disbelief about the characters — or maybe even ourselves — in order to truly enjoy what’s happening around us.


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    • Oh how I wish! They don’t let spectators use cameras once the penguins start to march, so I’ve only got the pictures of the nesting penguins who didn’t go back down to the sea to feed. 😦 I think it might’ve been the first time in my life I was too enthralled to break a rule. Imagine that!

  1. Better than a 5 train becomes a 2 train than a direct flight from Shanghai to JFK all of a sudden stops in Japan, Alaska, Vancouver, Wisconsin, Cleavland, Newark

  2. Das pretends to be deaf, I lie to people and tell them that I don’t own a cellphone. The key to lying convincingly is choosing something just ridiculous enough that people will not question it.

    Reading this tale was a day-maker for me. Everyone has Their Own Personal Sloth and when reality lives up to the dream, there is literally nothing that is more perfect.

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