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Correct Opinions

And the Winner of Hell Gate’s 2024 March Madness of Hot Takes Is…

You'll never look at someone clipping their nails on the subway the same way.

(Flickr / Olivier Palta)

While there were many worthy contenders in Hell Gate's 2024 March Madness of Hot Takes Bracket, only one can be crowned champion. This take was so blisteringly hot, so patently absurd, so perfectly engineered to prompt hilarious discussion and vehement disagreement, it defeated all the others by the sheer might of its baffling assuredness that yes, clipping your nails on the subway is acceptable, while other behaviors (eating a granola bar?) are not.

Here are Hell Gate's Esther Wang and Nick Pinto to explain the logic behind Hell Gate's 2024 Hot Take Winner, the 15-seed, Cinderella story: "Clipping your nails on the subway is fine but eating on the subway is not." Does this make you mad? Have you spewed your coffee across your keyboard? Please read on. And if you disagree, please take it to the comments.

As every New Yorker knows, there is a social compact we all sign once we step through the subway turnstile, one full of unofficial but widely understood rules:

  1. Let people off the train first. 
  2. Wear headphones if you're listening to music or watching a video.
  3. Give up your seat to anyone who needs it more than you (but you're allowed to feel a little annoyed by the situation). 
  4. If you see someone crying on the train, let them cry in peace
  5. Do not masturbate, ever.
  6. But discreetly peeing at the end of the platform, if you really have to go and there aren't a lot of people around, sure, that's OK, we've all been there.
  7. Eating on the train is a big no-no. 

For decades, these seven rules have governed polite, respectful behavior in the MTA system. Today, we add an eighth rule, the winner of Hell Gate's March Madness of New York City Hot Takes—clipping your nails on the subway is fine but eating on the subway (see rule number seven) is not.

Let us explain. What undergirds all these rules is one unifying principle: that one must weigh one's own potential discomfort with that of the greater good when riding the rails—and the greater good must always prevail over your pesky concerns. Concerned by the tears running down someone's face? They probably really need to cry and don't want to be bothered, so just look away. Uncomfortable with the thought of someone dropping trou while you're waiting for a C train that will never come? Imagine the extreme bladder discomfort of that person. Put yourself in their shoes—no one wants a UTI.

Eating your lunch on the train, while it may comfort you, inconveniences everyone else on the train, who may be disturbed by the scents emanating from your meal. To those sitting next to you, why give them the mental duress of wondering if a stray french fry, covered in ketchup, will fall on their lap? 

But nail clipping, an activity that can be done discreetly—totally fine. You probably wouldn't even notice if someone whipped out a pair of nail clippers. Sure, maybe you hear an intermittent clicking sound. In this vastly cacophonous noise-polluted city, on a rumbling underground train, you're gonna complain about some light clicking?

Food, to varying degrees, generates odors. Half of your taste experience of food is actually your sense of smell! (I read that somewhere, it is known.) When you eat food on the subway, little particles of aerosolized fried chicken or lasagna or whatever are seeping into our clothes and penetrating our mucous membranes. This is a violation.

Nail clipping, in contrast, is an odorless process. Where food produces tiny smell particles you'd need a HEPA filter to strain out of the air, the particles created by nail clipping are comparatively large and easily managed. Fingernails are around 2.5 on the Mohs hardness scale. (Softer than calcite, to be sure, but harder than gypsum.) They will not seep into your clothes, or smear, or stain. In the event a little bit of fingernail clipping skitters onto your shoe, you can put on your brave big-kid face, brush it off, and continue with your day, with not so much as a semi-permanent mark.

New York is a crowded city and we all do some things in public that those in places with more personal space and cultures more steeped in the repressive and perverse Victorian cult of privacy (I'm talking about you, suburbs) would never do except behind multiple locked doors. By living here, we have all chosen a different, more communal and interconnected path. The next time you find yourself troubled by subway nail clipping, ask yourself why someone engaging in a light amount of personal maintenance upsets you so deeply. Then get over it and go back to WORDLE. 

(Photo credit: Flickr / Olivier Palta)

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