Po-Russky is one of the few Russian phrases I know, and if I remember it correctly, it just means “speaks Russian.” I also can say please (Pozhalujsta) and thank you (Spasibo). And, of course, the ever useful “Ja ljublju tebja” (which sort of sounds like “Yellow blue bus,” and means “I love you”) as well as the ever more useful “Ja shozhu po tebe s uma,” which means, roughly translated, “You are driving me INSANE.”

I figured this little Russian lesson was as good a way as any to start off a post about The Russian. At the very least, you’ve learned something useful should the communists finally take over at long last, right?

But here’s the thing about The Russian: I have no evidence whatsoever that The Russian is actually Russian. I’ve never heard him talk, and aside from asking to see his Green Card, which seems unnecessarily intrusive, I’m not sure how else I’d be able to tell.

The Russian is named “The Russian,” though, because he LOOKS Russian to me. First, there’s his face, which very much reminds me of the face of a Russian scientist I used to work with years ago (and whom I had a major crush on, I might add — he was utterly hunkazoidal). And then there’s his body — not fat, but somewhat stocky and strong. And then there’s his taste in clothing — not quite right somehow, suggesting that he may be foreign.

And then there’s the real dead giveaway: his stoicalness. (Note: I actually prefer the look of the word “stoicness” there, but apparently, it is incorrect. “Stoicalness” looks ridiculous, though, doesn’t it? And it sounds ridiculous too — try it out. Nevertheless, stoicalness it is, as these days, with hunched-over grammarians skulking around every corner, it’s best to reserve poetic license arguments for when they are really and truly necessary. Say, for example, the next time I use the word “hunkazoidal.”)

Russian Scientist was also very stoic. And it was a very distinctive type of stoicalness, too — the same type I see in The Russian. Not just quiet, but disarmingly calm as well. Calm and quiet, but also firmly in control of the situation, though not necessarily willing to step forward and take action unless absolutely required to. Calm, quiet, and firmly in control of the situation, but also somewhat cautious, looking around as though suddenly aware that things are not going quite as anticipated. Calm, quiet, firmly in control, cautious, and very, very alert. All at the same time. All wrapped into one stocky, oddly-dressed package on the bus.

Also, though this is likely an ignorant thing to say, both Russian Scientist and The Russian look like solid men who have stood in long lines for hours waiting for loaves of bread or shoes. You would get stoic and calm and quiet and cautious after that, don’t you think? Do Russians still have to wait in long lines for food and shoes? I confess to not knowing much about Russia these days — I’ve been infernally confused ever since the USSR shattered and changed its name and broke regions up into other countries. Commonwealth of Independent States? But “CCCP” looked so much cooler on tee-shirts!

Anyway, The Russian is on my afternoon bus almost every day. That bus is usually quite crowded, and whenever it is that he is getting on (not at my stop, but at a previous one), he is usually left standing in the aisle. Since I’m typically the first person on at my stop, I often end up standing directly in front of him, looking back at him every time we hit another stop just in case someone is coming up behind us to get off the bus.

Yesterday was my first “conversation” with The Russian. It went like this:

[empty seat finally opens up — it is located directly between me and The Russian]

Me: Do you want to sit down?

The Russian: [mute, tips head in direction of seat, blinking eyes at the same time, symbolizing, “No, you take it.”]

This is typical for The Russian. I have seen him have other “conversations” with people on the bus in which they talk to him and he responds with nods, shaking of his head, weak smiles, or a look of stoic, calm, cautious waiting-ness. I have never seen his mouth open to let words or even the most basic of phonetic sounds come out. I find this intriguing. He clearly speaks English, as he not only seems to understand what people are saying to him, but also carries books and newspapers that are written in English. But why so quiet?

Is The Russian Russian? Someday I hope to hear his voice, and to discover that I was right about him. But then there’s the fear of finding out I was wrong — my God, what if The Russian turns to speak to me and what comes out is a Southern drawl? What if he’s from the OTHER Georgia, the one down there with Alabama and South Carolina? What will that do to my worldview, I wonder?

Aside from, perhaps, making me a little less likely to judge people simply by the way they stand in an aisle on a crowded bus, exuding serenity with a stoicalness unmatched by any other, wearing an odd-colored, too-short tie with a checked, short-sleeved, button-down shirt tucked unevenly into strangely ill-fitting, retro-colored pants. Hmmm. Food for thought.

Charts and Graphs

Last summer, I moved into a new neighborhood, and that’s when I started to take a smaller commuter bus instead of a massively packed regular-route bus. It was then that I really started to notice riders, primarily because the same riders tend to be on that bus every single day.

The first person I ever took notice of on my new commuter bus was Charts and Graphs. Figured it was probably about time I wrote something about her. I first noticed her when she irritated me with her early-morning giddiness. Our bus driver had announced that it was his last day on the route, and she broke into happy, grateful applause, practically bouncing in her seat (not happy he was leaving, but instead happily applauding his greatness). I’m not sure why that irritated me, but it did.

Since then, what I’ve primarily noticed about Charts and Graphs is her love of, well, charts and graphs. Almost every day on the bus, when she’s not chatting with Nice Lady, C&G has a steno notebook out and is drawing up elaborate charts and graphs that make no sense (to me, anyway). I have often sat near her and sneaked peeks at her pad, and I never can figure out what the heck she is doing. Often, the charts will consist of multiple circles, overlapping, into which various things will be written. But though that makes one think instantly of a Venn Diagram (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venn_diagram), it’s not really what she’s doing. Things in the circles don’t seem to overlap with each other, or even relate to one another.

Other times, she will be scribbling things into a calendar book, but they aren’t calendar items — they’re more like to-do lists that don’t seem related to any particular date. I’ve seen her actually go through multiple calendar books — she fills one up with scribbles and then buys a new one.

At first I thought maybe she was just nuts. But a few times, I’ve seen her write logical lists of things. Things to remember to pack in her suitcase for a trip, financial goals to reach before retirement. The lists usually make sense. It’s the charts and graphs, some of which become quite elaborate, that are total mysteries to me.

I have to confess I’m really hoping that one day she sets her steno pad down on an empty seat and then forgets to pick it back up so I can go through it. Isn’t that awful of me? But by this time, after a year of watching Charts and Graphs scribble away, I’m absolutely dying for a chance to see what it is she’s doing that requires so MUCH note-taking and diagram-drawing. It doesn’t seem work-related. It seems like private life kind of stuff. What the heck is Charts and Graphs up to? I just can’t figure it out.

Anyway, now, a year later, Charts and Graphs no longer irritates me with her excessively sunny outlook. She’s become more of an enigma over time — less predictable, less cliche. Plus, the fact that Nice Lady likes her tells me she can’t be all bad or all crazy. Nice Lady, though very nice, doesn’t make friends with everybody on the bus (incidentally, she’s taken to calling me “dear” periodically now, which suggests to me she’s decided I’m a keeper). She’s discerning. I suppose that means Charts and Graphs is interesting to her as well. Strange what people do on buses to pass the time. Though I do prefer frenzied scribblings to nose picking. On the whole.