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Monday, September 17, 2012

Hey, I Like a Good Rule as Much as the Next Guy


Like the bulk of us early-morning commuters, he gets on at the same place every day. He boards the bus, arms outstretched: one hand showing his ID, the other dropping coins into the meter. Based on the showing of said ID and the use of just a couple of coins, daily, I am under the impression that his ticket has been subsidized.

He is solidly middle-aged. Not fat, but not thin. He carries an umbrella. He reads over the top of his glasses, the lines in his face insinuating a life of disappointment.

He sits in the same seat every day, the forward-most, aisle-facing seat. If someone is already sitting there, he stands in front of them, clinging to a strap hanging from the ceiling. There can be 40 or more open seats available, but he will not sit in one of them.

Those are not his seats.

His seat is the first seat. The one in the front.

I run into him downtown one day, blocks away from our normal route. The streets are busy, but the sidewalks are wide and clear. The sky seems higher than usual, the color a thin, light blue. Caught in the delicate time between fashion boots and winter boots, it is the kind of day that makes noticing just how beautiful it is, easy.

I smile at him in recognition. “Lovely day, isn’t it?”

He doesn’t answer. Instead, his face twisting with hatred and righteousness, he shoots past me, rushes toward a young man on a bike.

“There’s no riding your bike on the sidewalk! It’s against the law! There’s no riding on the sidewalk!”

The guy on the bike swerves to avoid him. “Hey!” he says. “Look out!”

“There are rules!”

The guy on the bike speeds away, looking back just once in a mixture of fright and anger.

Front of the Bus Man turns to me in anger. “I should kick him! I should jam my umbrella into his wheels so that he falls on his face and breaks his teeth in the street!”

I wince. “That seems a little harsh,” I say.

“Oh, really?” he says. “So you think anarchy is the answer, is that it? You want martial law? You think you can handle that?”

And with that, he thrusts his chest towards me, a mock-charging gesture that sends me backward several steps.

I walk away, go up the bus line a couple blocks. People like this, I don’t want to know.


There are people that we see often enough to know them on sight: the woman whose cotton-candy-colored hair never varies in its retention of two-three inches of black roots; the two immigrant women with their shiny blue-black ponytails and Hello Kitty backpacks; and the man who won’t sit anywhere but that one, magical seat.

But just because we know what they look like doesn’t mean we know them.

40 comments:

Candy's daily Dandy said...

Your attention to detail brings me right on that sidewalk with you.

"Caught in the delicate time between fashion boots and winter boots, it is the kind of day that makes noticing just how beautiful it is, easy." This made me smile.

Shelly said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mybabyjohn/Delores said...

Poor dear old soul...so confused...so lost in his own mind. You can't get to know folks like that. They can't let you in. There's no room.

Shelly said...

Too many typos in my last comment.
That's why I so often love to look at the regular individuals in a crowd. I may know their habits, how they walk, what they like to wear, but I don't really know them. What makes them tick? What makes them angry? (I guess we know what made Mr. Middle Aged angry.) What do they like to eat for their birthday meal...

It just makes me realize how very little I DO know in this life. Sometimes ignorance is bliss-

BamaTrav said...

Next time he's standing instead of sitting, walk past and shank his pink ass.

Kate Mohler said...

I was waiting for your conclusion. That's exactly right! I enjoyed this post. :-) I like riding the bus with you.

esbboston said...

I am surprised how often my wife and I miscommunicate even after nearly thirty years two-gether, where your response is, "How could you reaLLy think I was thinking that?!?!?"

Sextant said...

It sounds as though your commuter buddy has a bit of OCD, mixed in with authority issues. Its a shame he lives in a liberal western democracy. There are so many wonderful countries where he could thrive knowing that all infractions of the rules will be punished to the maximum penalties of the law.

Tragic in a way, blue skies, wonderful weather, a lovely lady smiles and says hi, and he wants to beat the hell out of somebody.

We are all given many small gifts every day, a kindness, a smile, a cool eccentricity, a breeze blowing through our hair, a lovely flower, laughter across the street, a singing bird, a pretty woman, a handsome man, or just simply a sparkle in someone's eye. It costs nothing. All you have to do is notice. And if you notice, you will probably return the favor in kind. Its very inexpensive, a smile, a kindness, a friendly gesture, or a kind word. For those you love a simple hug, pat, or kiss is worth more than gold. Small gifts that make life worth living and cost absolutely nothing.

Keep smiling Pearl, you will make someone's day a little bit better. Keep an open heart and always notice the gifts that come your way.

fishducky said...

mybabyjohn/Delores said it all for me!

CarrieBoo said...

I remember being in Toronto, having just moved from England, and meeting other people from England and feeling somehow united in our English-ness. But alas, even far away from home, a scruffy northern lass like me does not get on with a snooty southern lass like the one I moved in with. It's funny how our brain's make connections from familiarity.

Magical seat guy was a proper charmer, eh. Crikey.

Ms Sparrow said...

Beautifully said, Pearl!

joeh said...

Hmmm. RIding on the sidewalk is a misdemeanor.

Sticking an umbrella into his spokes and having him fall and break his teeth is called assult and battery.

But then anarchy isn't bad if you make the rules.

If you run out of passangers, will you run out of posts?

I hope not!

Mitchell is Moving said...

Such a well-told story. And so disappointing. I'll just assume there is an obvious disability there, but it sure is unsettling.

Geo. said...

Beautiful vignette, Pearl. Vivid images and no summations. I'm left to wonder if Bus-Rule Man is sensitive to some dynamic that escapes me. If he slacks off, will my state have earthquakes? Should I carry an umbrella? Keep this up and you get a T.S.Eliot poem.

R. Jacob said...

I dare say old girl, that lad deserves a thrashing!
( not that you are old )!
;-)

ray

Dawn @Lighten Up! said...

So sad, to reach out to a stranger and get a reaction like this.
So wonderful to reach out to a stranger, get a smile and a "how you doin', honey?" They can call me 'honey' or 'dear,' I don't care. Only the kindness matters.

Indigo Roth said...

Another lovely character study, Miss Pearl! Sounds a bit bonkers to me. You know, professionally speaking. Roth

Eva Gallant said...

I love your descriptions: the lines in his face insinuating a life of disappointment.
That is so telling! And what you say about knowing what people look like doesn't mean you know them is so true.

Elsie said...

Is it wrong to say I feel sad for him? I had to wonder why he felt such hatred towards everyone. Your story was so well told, I felt like I was there with you.

Suldog said...

Extremely true, Pearl. It's always nice to make the nice gesture, as you did, but we should never forget that the answer to said gesture may not be the one we expect.

Joanne Noragon said...

Poor old fellow, and little chance of turning back now.

vanilla said...

Character study by Pearl; and you do find your characters. Do we ever get to really know anyone?

Sioux said...

That's not road rage, that's sidewalk rage. Yikes!

bill lisleman said...

great post and wisdom -
It reminds of a video clip (don't recall the name) I found (emailed to me?) that had a frustrated guy going through his day and in the middle he is given these "special" glasses. When he wears the glasses little word bubbles appear over everyone and it tells him what is going on in their lives. Things like "lost job" "broke up with.." "kid sick" etc.
It was very hokey. Produced by a church. But the message was clear. Very much the same one as you ended with in this post.

jenny_o said...

This is why your mother warned you never to talk to strangers. Some are stranger than others :)

To be serious for a moment, I am full of wonder at how you keep on trying when you get a reaction like that. I'm afraid it would give me such a fright it would be awhile until I was feeling confident enough to speak to anyone again. Kudos to you and your unfailing optimism.

Lynn said...

People like that just make me sigh.

Starting Over, Accepting Changes - Maybe said...

I might consider riding on an earlier or later bus. That man had definite problems.

Stephen Hayes said...

It takes a lot of bitter ingredients to make a soup like that.

Gigi said...

This poor guy. It sounds like he has known a lifetime of disappointments and has not been taught to look for the good in life. It also sounds like he may be a bit off.

But there you are, plugging away, trying to bring sunshine into another human's life.

Just goes to show how very differently people view life.

Lin said...

And that is the reason we are best not making friends with the oddballs on public transportation. There are just some things we should keep at arms length.

Bodacious Boomer said...

At first I thought the guy sounded like Sheldon Cooper from the Big Bang Theory;but Sheldon is never mean, just peculiar.

Cloudia said...

you are O Henry and Paul Harvey!

Very amazing street-portrait, Pearl




Wishing You a happy,
crazy-free week,
with Aloha from Honolulu
Comfort Spiral
=^..^=

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Raymond Alexander Kukkee said...

Beautifully written, Pearl--wonderful insight into the characteristics of individuals lost in their own worlds.

www.incomingbytes.blogspot.com

Rose L said...

One time I said hi to a nice enough looking young man. He started chatting with me and seemed very intelligent. Then out of nowhere he said, "You know they are among us." I gave him a questioning look. "Aliens...they are among us but look like us so we do not know." I wondered if he was doing this to pull my leg. Then he started citing incidents he felt were caused by the aliens and how he has heard them. I said I had to go meet a friend and wished him luck in finding the aliens and booked it out of there.

The Elephant's Child said...

Such a scarey man. Such a sad man. And a man to avoid whenever possible.

the walking man said...

Tat mock charging gesture might just catch someone a real slap down from a Glock here.

NotesFromAbroad said...

My husband would look at me and say, I keep telling you not to talk to strangers ..

I am sorry this happened, kind of kills that openness you feel towards others. We have no idea how many "time bombs" are walking around these days, looking like ordinary folks, just ready for the right thing to make them go off.

Stay safe, love you.

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

so THAT'S what happened to my former colleague in the English Department, the guy who wanted a policy for EVERYTHING.

Pat said...

There is always a small part of me that thinks what if his frail elderly mother had been knocked over on the pavement by a cyclist. She sustained a fractured femur,got double pneumonia and died.

Then again if he was surly to our Pearly just kick him in the goolies.

Pat Tillett said...

Granny always said that the world was full of unhappy people. If we want to be happy ourselves, we have to avoid them...