Evening fades into night. Rain spatters down on the windows of the bus cruising through the outskirts of town. Behind me, three young men mutter and laugh, their chatter punctuated with oneupsmanship and increasingly potent curses.

The “stop requested” light bleeps on. With minimal leave-taking, one of the swearing men alights from his seat and steps out into the rain. As he breezes past my seat, the flaccid leather hem of his coat brushes my calf.

Without moving my head, I glance out the window and take him in: a big slumping hulk of a boy, his rounded shoulders hunched under the too-tight black leather. Instead of floating around him in the windy night like the badass longcoat of an antihero, the coat droops off him, wet and ill-shaped.

One of his friends must be looking out the window, too, but he sees with younger eyes; he says “That’s an L.A. coat, man.”

His friend is unimpressed. “Huh?”

Gamely trying, the kid presses on. “A Los Angeles coat. Angel? You know? Angel?”

They ride the rest of the way in silence.

A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun

At the crowded downtown bus stop, I whipped off my hat to ruffle my hair and took off my sunglasses to get a better look at my watch. As I exposed my face and head, a toddler ten feet away swivelled around on his mother’s lap to face me. His stubby, chubby arm extended to point toward me, he threw back his head and howled, “Her! Her! Her! It’s heeeeeeerrrrrrrrr!” for an unsettling two or three minutes. His mother looked at me half-apologetically as I tried to edge away through the people clogging the sidewalk.

Clearly, my dark powers have began to manifest.

I can hardly wait to see what form of rough beast I am becoming. I just hope I don’t slouch.

An early candidate for Scariest Thing Overheard on the bus this morning:

“Well, my instructions were to roast it, and I did, but it filled the house with the most gawd-awful smell.” She paused, considering. “It smelled,” she went on in a matter-of-fact tone, “like human flesh.”

After a discreet few moments, I turned casually to get a look at this woman who recognizes the smell of human flesh roasting. Just don’t eat the brain, Ma’am, I longed to say.

The actual Scariest Thing Overheard on the bus this morning:

I had been sitting behind the couple for some time, trying not to breathe too deeply of their fruity, punishing perfume of old beer, sweat, and something that smelled like warm nickels. Then they turned to each other, mouths slack and loose, and wordlessly started kissing, their lips and tongues slapping wetly. The bus filled with a sound like thousands of tiny dead fish being dumped from a sack onto stone paving.

Wait, this isn’t the scary bit yet.

Baby? She spoke in the weary, coquettish voice of a spoiled toddler. He was utterly unresponsive. She spoke again, prodding him with a single swollen finger. Baby?


Are we trick or treatin’ this year?

Hmph? Oh, yeah, yeah, sure.

Oh, good. She grinned crookedly and hugged herself. l’ll have to find my clown costume with all the dolls sewed on.

Cold comfort

The ladies at the bus stop were having such a marvelous time that I couldn’t begrudge them their pleasure:

“Is she, is she, are those open-toed shoes? Why, her toes must be freezing!”
“Oh, freezing.
“Ooooh, look at that one, she ought to wrap that baby up. He must be freezing!”
“Oh, he must be freezing.”
“Oh, freezing.
“Mmm, and today it’s difficult to bring yourself to venture up to them and tell them different — ‘Oh, dear, don’t you think you should…?’ Why, I used to love it when I had little ones and someone would tell me how to do it. And, you know, it’s sort of a, what, an old wives’ tale, but it’s true: don’t you ever take your baby out of doors after sunset.”

Moments later, one of them told me to put on a sweater.

They were so happy.

How do they find me?

At first I thought he took the seat next to me just because the shuttle was filling up.

I failed to clue in when he seized upon the title of the text I was (ahem) trying to read, and spoke it aloud, as a conversation opener. I can imagine this ploy being successful with, say, Lady Chatterley’s Lover or Naughty Night Nurses, but it is notably less so when the text in question is a guide to archaeological laboratory methods.

Because it had not occurred to me that such a flailing manner could be an attempt at flirting, and also because I thought I might actually know him from somewhere, I did not implement my usual scorched-earth policy for overtures like this.

But the path to Geekville (and don’t get me wrong — I’m on the Chamber of Commerce) is steep and slippery. Via a convoluted but stunningly fast conversational path of constantly accelerating geekiness, he launched excitedly into a comparison of the leading characters in A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and seemed to think I was equally enthusiastic. The build-up to this engaging subject involved his identifying me as “a Douglas Adams girl”, and I am still startled at how much I resent the “girl” bit, much less the assumption that Adams’ least sophisticated writing is the sum total of his work. (Like I said, Chamber of Commerce.)

My witty riposte: “I am, Um, umm, um, no longer conversant with the text”?

This sounds harmless, and I would agree that it almost certainly was, except for the decidedly stalker-y tone that developed, or, more to the point, the tone that I noticed once I was paying attention. Within ninety seconds of sitting down, he asked if I took that shuttle every Tuesday and Thursday, and if not, when did I? Minutes later, he tried to get my email address. Not long into the ride, he announced confidently, “Well, at least you’re done for the day!”

Since it was early in the day and the shuttle runs between two campuses (campi?), that entirely correct statement suggests an inappropriate level of knowledge about my schedule. Taken in context with the many, many small remarks betraying familiarity with my habits and schedule, this encounter left me with what personal defense specialists technically define as “the creeps.”

Gosh, I’ve got to get back to my reading. And please stop touching my coat.

The irony: on the morning shuttle, I had cut short a conversation with a sweet and attractive classmate because I had to finish reading for my morning class. When you deny the gifts offered by fate, fate picks you up by the hair, dangles you before her face, and laughs and laughs.

Spalding Gray sighting?

As empathetic as I am, I didn’t dare to meet the eye of the man who, after much deliberation, sat down next to me on the nearly-empty bus, discoursing unintelligibly on major league baseball, the NBA, and the local purveyors of hard-core porn.

He was actually more Bob Newhart than Spalding Gray; judging by the long pauses and shifts in tones of voice, he was clearly engaged in a good-natured dialogue with person or persons unseen by the rest of us.