Oct 31, 2010 | New York, NY
Oct 31, 2010

Last night on the jam-packed subway there were all these young revelers in Halloween costumes, rubbing up bodies against one another, and leaning into strangers to defend against the swaying train.

A pretty young black-haired girl with a spider painted on her check touched the foam pectoral of a guy dressed as a muscleman. They didn't know each other, but she wanted to feel the foam. "Nice," she said to the guy.

"You know that means now I get to touch you," he said to the girl, who smiled, and stuck out her chest for him to touch, which he did, gently pressing his hand through her dress onto her left breast. They both smiled, and then she got off at Grand Central, but he stayed on the train, off to some downtown bar with his buddies, where they would probably try to engineer the kind of night that would end with each of them touching other pairs of breasts.

The mood was euphoric. Strangers were talking and touching, finally liberated by their costumes to do all the things they'd wanted to do all year, but which manners and fear had forced them to keep under wraps.

Trapped in our own private prisons, we get one day of parole each year, and that day is Halloween, if we choose to take it.

Sitting next to the railing on the crowded train was an old woman holding a bottle of Vitamin Water. She was spinning the bottle in her hand and staring wide-eyed at the label, muttering to herself. She was in a different space than all of the revelers, maybe in a different universe. I could see she was writhing in the kind of silent pain so deep that every few seconds your face twitches, and you moan or you groan to yourself, and nobody notices or maybe they notice but they pretend they don't notice, because they know that kind of pain can be contagious and they don't want to risk exposure by contact.

I thought about doctors who see flu patients because they know the healing they do is worth more than the sickness they risk, but how you won't find that kind of logic riding the subway.

On Halloween we leave our own private prisons to talk and to touch, but still we don't leave them to help, because that would be risking too much.