As I searched through the massive zine collection at the Salt Lake City Public Library I
was intent to pick a zine that I had not read before for this review. Now this isn’t hard
because the collection has around 2500 zines within it, but on the other hand I didn’t
want to pick up something that I knew I would heavily dislike. This is a difficult
balancing act when you’re also determined to pick up something in that serendipitous
kind of way. But on the other hand not wanting to over think it all, I flipped thru the
boxes relying on sight and instinct.
It was the cover of Watch the Closing Doors #19 that instantly drew my attention. It
features three men sitting in a subway station dressed as Santa Claus most likely waiting
for a train. This absurd image is a delightful reminder that when you take any form of
public transit, whether it is be by bus, subway, etc, you have no idea what you may
encounter. It is that sense of lackadaisical whimsy, which sets the tone for this zine. On
the subway sometimes all it takes is one exceptional encounter to either ruin or enlighten
your day. Traveling in a car can be such an isolating experience while the bus or subway
contains all of humanity.
In short stories, pictures, some historical context and diary entry, zine editor and writer
Fred Argoff discusses the New York public transit system. His personal experience adds
credibility as he describes his travels from all over the boroughs. It’s immense fun to
here him describe the complexities of public transit travel and some of the crazy
encounters that he has had. In one-page vignettes he gives bite-sized anecdotes, which I
very much enjoyed. Often zine writers suffer from the rambles when they are their own
editors. Argoff manages to tell succinct stories with wonderful thrift that reminded me of
the work of Tobias Wolfe. In “Express Bus Excitement” I was impressed with how
Argoff mixed humor with some satirical commentary on the sin of entitlement. However
Argoff is never judgmental or mean, which is refreshing considering the easy targets
presented in “Polka Time!” and “Subway Spelling”.
Unfortunately Argoff loses his universality as he delves into the specifics of the NYC
subway system. This zine suffers due to his “insider” status. Without a map or diagram it
is well nigh impossible for anyone outside of New York City to be able to keep track of
the different trains and their destinations. Thankfully he includes some pictures, but like
with most Xeroxed black-white zines they don’t duplicate well. Some are far too dark to
provide any illumination or understanding as to why they are included at all. The detail
that Argoff meticulously focuses on becomes less and less relevant as one realizes that it
is most likely that most of these subway lines and trains have either been shut down or
replaced as this zine was created in the year 2000. This lack of relevance could be
defended as a portrait of a time, but I would have preferred a little more human interest
and little less talk about different subway car models.
Regardless, as an ardent user of public transportation I am often drawn to this type of
zine. I enjoy this genre because of it’s potential to focus on the human condition. Argoff
provides such excitement about the mundane route that he takes to get from A to B every
day. His disappointment is palpable when he describes an amazing route proposal that is
shut down due to budget cuts. From their very inception, zines were meant to be a place
where anyone can produce a work, which focuses on any subject that they love. Argoff
clearly loves to discuss public transportation. It is a joy to find someone focusing on
something so positive in a world that can be so horribly awful.
Watch the Closing Doors by Fred Argoff can be found and checked out in the Zine
Collection on Level 2 in the Salt Lake City Public Library.