Oldest Man Alive

Here’s a transcript from an actual conversation I had the other day at the bus stop with a man I’m going to call “Oldest Man Alive” because, in short, it’s apt. I’d never seen Oldest Man Alive before — he’s no regular — and I feel fairly certain I will never see him again. However, I’m not sure if I’m glad or sorry about that latter fact, as this was certainly one of the most bizarrely interesting conversations I’ve had in a long time.

Scene: I’m standing at the bus stop in the afternoon waiting to go home. Oldest Man Alive begins walking very slowly towards me — kind of like a wind-up robot with no knees, tottering slowly and methodically from side to side, leg to leg. I’m not really looking at him — I’m just keeping one peripheral eye on him as he wobbles in my direction. He gets up very close to my right elbow and then speaks:

OMA: [in a barely detectable monotonous growl, speaking extremely quickly] Do you have a smoke? Do you have smoke? Do you have a smoke? Are you a student or a professor?

Me: Um, sorry. . . what?

OMA: You — you a student or a professor?

Me: [pulling headphones out of ears] Neither — I’m a librarian at the university.

OMA: No you aren’t. A university librarian. You. are. not. one. What do you know?

Me: Sorry?

OMA: What do you KNOW? What do you know — IN YOUR HEAD?

Me: What do I know? Uh, well. . . Just enough to be dangerous?

The girl sitting on the bus stop bench behind me laughs at my response. She’s been watching OMA peripherally as well, I can tell. In fact, at this point, I look up and notice that most of the women at the bus stop have at least one eye on OMA and probably have for the last several minutes, just as I was doing earlier myself. Interestingly enough, most of the men barely seem to notice him, and this fact makes me think for a second about the marked difference between women and men’s instinctive reactions to odd people on the bus. Before I can delve too deeply into this thought, however, the girl asks me “What library?” and I don’t have time to respond before OMA continues. . .

OMA: [harrumphs] I know everything, you know nothing. You don’t even know how much a pack of cigarettes costs.

Me: $4.19.

OMA: [startled] What?

Me: [pointing at sign on smoke shop across the street, shrugging] $4.19.

OMA: [starts to follow the direction of my finger but gives up quickly and returns his gaze to me] Librarian, give me enough to buy a pack of smokes.

Me: I’m sorry — I literally have no cash on me at all today.

OMA: [speaking so rapidly I can barely understand him] Then what’s in your wallet? What’s in your purse? WHAT’S IN YOUR WALLET?

Me: Just a bus pass and some cards.

OMA: You’re no librarian. You’re not. You’re a liar. Nobody has no cash.

Me: [opening wallet and showing him the utterly empty inside] You were saying?

Before OMA could come up with what I’m sure would’ve been a knee-slappingly witty retort to this, or perhaps just an extremely nonsensical and obfuscating one, a woman walks by us with a smoke dangling from her lip. I instantly become the human equivalent of chopped liver, and as he wobbles off to follow her, knee-less, wound-up, and doing the robot-totter from leg to leg, side to side, I can hear him saying, rapidfire again, “Do you have a smoke? Do you have a smoke? Do you have a smoke?”

About five minutes later, I got on the bus and when I looked out the window, he was standing in the bus shelter again, this time with a cigarette, victoriously puffing on it so hard and so fast I felt sure he was going to hyperventilate any minute. As he stood there gasping down that smoky air like he’d actually been drowning in all the clean atmosphere he’d been inhabiting just moments ago, I suddenly realized what he reminded me of — the nightmare-inducing (for me, anyway) Skekses from that old kids’ movie, The Dark Crystal. Same beaky face. Same hunched look. Same beady eyes. His grabby hands had overgrown, sharp nails on them, black with nicotine or dirt or both or worse. And I was torn between feeling sorry for him — for clearly he was a poor, somewhat senile old man with a nasty addiction that would no doubt kill him and soon — and shivering from the frisson of such a close encounter with a creature that once haunted my childhood nights with ferocity, beaks, and long, dark claws.

In the end, I did neither. Instead, as the bus began to pick up speed, I turned away from Oldest Man Alive, cracked my book back open, and reabsorbed myself in the capitivating lives of the fictitious.

I’m not sure what this says about me. Probably nothing good.

Da Bear Bus

Wow, did I get a great big happy surprise on the bus this morning. It was The Bear! The Bear was back on the bus this morning! The Bear! THE BEAAAAAARRRRRR!

Who is The Bear, you are wondering? The Bear is, quite simply, my favorite bus passenger in the world. There is a certain je ne sais quoi about The Bear that simply radiates happiness and kindness. I am immediately soothed when I am in his presence. He’s the kind of guy who makes you think, “If I ever have to run into a huge man in a dark alley at night, I really sincerely hope it’s THIS huge man.”

When The Bear is on the bus, I know I am going to have a great day. There is no way not to end the morning commute on a happy note when you’ve had the pleasure of being seated near The Bear.

Now, despite my obvious affection for him, I confess I didn’t actually notice The Bear was gone for several weeks. In fact, come to think of it, I don’t think I’ve seen The Bear since before Christmas. I’ve been so busy watching others these days (like Bookman, who has been on a curious John Le Carre kick the last several weeks), I didn’t really realize we were missing someone. But when The Bear came loping down the aisle this morning to take his usual seat (center, back bench), and I realized how much I had truly missed seeing him, it was hard for me not to literally stand up and cheer.

God, I love The Bear. If I weren’t married, and he weren’t married (he’s wearing a ring, anyway), I would flirt shamelessly with him. Shamelessly, people. Because The Bear has all the qualities I love in a guy — he’s enormous (tall and rotund — I cannot resist this combination), he’s got lots of fuzzy hair on his head and his face, he’s got gigantic hands, he listens to music with the volume at a reasonable level, etc. Everything about The Bear makes me happy. His clothes. His facial expressions. Even his ponytail brings me joy, and I usually hate long hair on men.

But the thing I love the most about The Bear? The fact that he’s a people-watcher like me. You see, The Bear takes his seat in the back of the bus, headphones on, and then spends the entire ride very openly watching everybody around him. He’s not as clandestine about it as I try to be — if you look up at the right moment, you WILL catch The Bear eyeing you, which is something I try to avoid myself when I’m on the ocular prowl, so to speak. I don’t want people to know I’m studying them, looking at the books they’re reading, thinking about their lives. I suppose it could seem kind of creepy, in some ways, even though that’s certainly not how it feels from my perspective. I’m just fascinated by my fellow bus passengers. Utterly fascinated. That’s all there really is to it.

But The Bear? He just seems friendly and curious. Not like he’s making any mental notes about what he sees — just that he’s thoroughly enjoying the experience of having us all gathered around him for twenty-five minutes on his morning commute to the daily grind.

Life for The Bear seems peaceful and gracious. It is a simple, pure, honest pleasure to be seated near him. In the back. On the bus. On a gray Thursday morning. With the rain slowly pattering on the steamy glass windows behind our heads.

I’m glad you’re back, Bear Man. You have been dearly, dearly missed.

The Scarfer

It’s taken me eight long months to finally come up with the right name for The Scarfer. When I first started to notice her on the bus each afternoon, I quickly dubbed her Stubs, short for Stubble, in reference to the patch of hair she missed on the backs of her thighs when she shaved each morning. Stubs is one of those odd people who wears shorts every day, even when it’s cold outside. And it was, for some reason, extremely disconcerting for me that she so carefully shaved every day (you could tell — pristine gams on this gal) and yet never ever thought to shave the backs of her thighs. For me, seeing that patch of dark, straggly hair each afternoon threw me into an absolute etiquette tizzy — it’s like when you are talking to someone and notice they have something in their teeth. Like, say, THE EMPIRE STATE BUILDING. What do you say? Do you say anything at all? It’s impossible not to notice that THE EMPIRE STATE BUILDING is hanging off of one tooth and you know — know without a doubt — that the person would want to know about it. Would be mortified to know, and would want to correct it posthaste. But — ack! I’m always at such a loss in these moments, so I usually just end up trying to pretend it isn’t really happening. To them OR to me.

And so, Stubs it was. For about two months. Then I started to notice something else about Stubs — the fact she was perpetually cranky. Like, ALL THE TIME. Without fail. Tired of having to think about the stubble on the backs of Stubs’s legs every time I saw her, I quickly redubbed her Permascowl (not to be confused with Permasmirk, which is what I call Wentworth Miller from Prison Break). And Permascowl as a name lasted for about six months, until The Incident last Thursday that changed it all.

The Incident took place on the afternoon bus home. Permascowl had taken a seat directly across from me at the back of the bus, and I was intrigued to see that she had two books in her hands. One was about puppies and the other was about knee injuries. Now, the knee injury book explained the scowl — I know what that can be like. But puppies? How can you be so cranky AND be reading a book about puppies? Does. Not. Compute.

Anyway, about five minutes into the bus ride, Permascowl did something that absolutely horrified me. She opened up her backpack and took out her lunch bag. Inside the lunch bag there was a package of string cheese and a chocolate energy bar of some sort. Hmmm. Interesting, I thought. Knee injuries, energy bars, does Permascowl wear shorts all the time because she is some sort of athlete? She pulled the string cheese out, opened the package, and then. . .

Quickly bit the top half of it off, chewed, and swallowed. Then popped the rest in her mouth, chewed and swallowed again.

I could not believe my eyes. Had she eaten an Oreo in one bite without first unscrewing it and scraping the filling out with her bottom teeth, I could not have been more astonished. You can’t eat string cheese like that (or Oreos, for that matter)! What the. . . ?! I mean, honestly, people, what is the POINT of eating STRING CHEESE if you aren’t going to EAT IT IN STRINGS?

Oh, the humanity!

And thus, The Scarfer was born.

To sum up:

1. Don’t forget to shave the backs of your thighs if you are going to wear shorts. Do a mirror check before leaving the house. Or else make sure you go up the steps to board the bus behind me instead of in front of me. For my sake. I beg you.

2. Eat string cheese in strings.

3. The Scarfer is not so dubbed because she knits a lot.

Bookman Speaks!

I have a confession to make. Though I am happily married, I have a bit of a crush on the Bookman.

The Bookman is one of the morning regulars — I almost never see him on the evening bus, though I get off work at 4:30 and perhaps he’s an 8-to-5er instead. But every morning, he gets on my bus and sits in the back, usually directly across from me.

He immediately takes out a book and begins to read. And while that’s fairly normal behavior on a bus, I confess I took notice the first time I saw him do this, because the book he had with him was one I had read myself and didn’t think anybody else had ever heard of. Since then, I’ve made a point of sneaking a look at his book every day, and, in the process, have made a discovery: it’s my contention that the Bookman only reads when he’s on the bus.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s just an observation I find interesting for some reason.

Why do I think this? Because the Bookman gets through about a book every 10 days to 2 weeks, and never any faster than that. This seems to me to rule out a lot of extracurricular reading. Unless he saves one book for the bus and reads another one when he gets home? Perhaps he saves the paperbacks for the bus, and reads hefty tomes in hardback when he’s in bed at night?

Anyone for Tolstoy?

The Bookman is married, and he has an earring and a grizzled gray beard that I am especially fond of. But my favorite part about the Bookman is that he’s gigantic. He’s like someone from Brobdingnag, really. Not fat — just extremely tall and broad-shouldered with large hands and large arms and large everything else. I love tall people. I’m a tall people. Tall people rule. And I also love the fact he kind of lumbers when he walks, and that people often have to shift a bit to the side when he sits in between them. The Bookman seems larger than life and looks exceedingly gentle, intelligent, and kind. This is my favorite type of older man.

The other day, I had my first verbal encounter with the Bookman, after weeks and weeks spent sitting across from him and clandestinely scoping out the insides of his bag every time he removed his book from it (yes, I am a disgusting bag snoop). He hadn’t been able to get a seat that morning, and was standing by the back door (note: not in the stairwell, thank god, as that makes me bananas). It was time for me to get off, and I had to squeeze by him, and as I did, he turned to me and made a joke (which I won’t repeat, as I’m trying to make sure no one I talk about here can recognize themselves). I misheard the joke, as I was listening to the Ramones on my MP3 player, which I guess I’d better quit doing whenever there’s a chance someone might say something interesting in my direction. And the upshot of this mishear was that I didn’t laugh at the Bookman’s joke, but instead just responded, “Okay, no problem!”

He gave me a quizzical look, which I didn’t understand until later when the joke was finally filtered correctly through my brain. But the next day, he caught my eye and smiled in my direction. I took this to mean that he either thinks I’m crazy and thus had better stay on my good side, lest I suddenly snap and lunge for his throat. Or else it means he thinks I’m cute in a quirky, nonsensical kind of way, and that he’s rather fond of that quality in young, strange women he encounters on the bus.

Either way, he had a nice smile, and I hope to see it again soon.