Poetry News

"The Commuter's Lament" in Subway Tunnel Is Vandalized for Optimists

By Harriet Staff


The Observer's Gallerist NY points us to a "charmingly depressing" poem that was supposed to be left up only for a year, as public art, in the tunnel connecting Port Authority to the Times Square subway station. However, since its installation in 1991 until a few days ago, the poem has remained up. Titled "The Commuter's Lament/A Close Shave," and written by Norman Colp, it reads: “Overslept, so tired, if late, get fired. Why bother? Why the pain? Just go home, do it again.” And now:

Now two smiling college students with their whole lives ahead of them have gone and ruined everybody’s fun.

Explaining himself to the Daily News, Josh Botwinick, one of the happy vandals said: “Every time I passed it, I thought, ‘Wow, that’s a really depressing poem to have in the heart of New York City.’ I took the same poem and just made it more optimistic.”

Mr. Botwinick, along with Margot Reinstein, changed “Overslept” to “Overexcited” and “So Tired” to “Energized.” “Why the pain” is now “Much to gain.”

Colp’s widow, Marsha Stern-Colp, who sounds like a pretty awesome lady, had this to say to the Daily News: “Why be optimistic in these times? Be realistic—life sucks. You get through it the best you can.”

And really, who could possibly be optimistic in a dank tunnel connecting Port Authority to Times Square? There’s a real end-of-days vibe down there.

MTA officials say the work will be “quickly restored,” hopefully crushing a few dreams of overenthusiastic optimists everywhere.

The original image is below, though according to Colp in 2006 (he died a year later):

The work [was] incomplete, for the last panel (a 24"x36" B/W image of a slept-in bed) was removed for the station renovation last year. I do not have any info from Arts for Transit when it will be reinstalled. Also missing are wall labels at the beginning and end of the sequence which identifies the work as THE COMMUTER'S LAMENT or A CLOSE SHAVE. The second part of the title also refers to Burma Shave, a men's product (1930's to 60's approx) which was well known for series of signs, like my homage.


Originally Published: December 2nd, 2011