Bus beauties

Another one of those uncategorizables. Or maybe that’s just me trying to hide. Either way, much of my writing happens during SF Muni adventures so I thought I’d share one such piece.


There’s a woman sitting in front of me on the bus. I can’t see her face, but the back of her head is the most enthralling I’ve ever seen. I say these things often, I’ll admit. Once a week or so I’ll see the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen, and forget all the others who’ve had that title before. But I won’t forget this one, I think.

Her hair is the color of the rotting wooden fence in my backyard. That doesn’t sound pretty, I know, and I never thought it was pretty before now, before I recognized it as the color of nature when it wants to reclaim something as its own. The faded black tips of her hair tell me she once tried to be something she’s not, only to have her roots grow back, her natural hair color refusing to be denied. There are also threads in her hair, dark orange ones braided like ropes. Way in the back are a few purple ones. They look loose and forgotten, like they found their way in and she still doesn’t know they’re there.

Every now and then she turns and I can see her profile. I start to predict it after a while; if there’s a big dog or some little kids playing outside, she’ll turn and look. Her eyes are brown and crinkled in the corners, and they look kind to me, like Bob Marley’s eyes. Or maybe I just think that because I’ve got my headphones on and Bob Marley’s singing “Stir It Up,” the acoustic version.

At one point her cell phone rings from inside her knitted bag. Her ringtone’s a fast-paced song I don’t know but recognize from the radio, and before she answers, I turn my headphones up so I can’t hear her voice, in case it ruins how I imagine she speaks. I don’t think she has the voice of an angel or anything. I imagine it to be very human, maybe sort of androgynous, the kind of voice that makes her cringe when she hears it played back on a recording because she thinks she sounds like an old  man.

I turn to my book until she’s finished with her phone call. I’ve mastered the art of pretending to read while looking at pretty girls. And soon it’s all the same, the lines on her face shape the letters on the page and I think I know her name because I’m reading a book by someone named Michelle and the name seems to fit her, Michelle. She starts to look familiar, too, like the pretty girls often do. I feel a little guilty at this point, like it’s just me being a pervert, the “hey, don’t I know you?” kind of pervert. But it’s just that each time I glance over, she looks more and more like someone I’ve met before, so I think maybe I have. Maybe I’ve met her, maybe her caramel skin looks familiar because I’ve touched her, and maybe I’ve kissed her, because I’ve had many nights kissing in dark corners, many faces I couldn’t really see, many that faded into dark nights I don’t quite remember. Maybe she’s one of those.

Though I didn’t think she was one I could forget.

But at the next stop, she gets up and walks down the steps, orange threads bouncing as she goes out the bus doors, and when she’s gone I find that I’ve forgotten her already.

Published in: on July 26, 2010 at 12:08 PM  Comments (2)  
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Blogging in public places

I’m trying something different today. I’m blogging from a public place. It feels a little like getting naked in public, except the woman at the next table isn’t shielding her children’s eyes and the police haven’t arrived yet.

I don’t know how this is supposed to be any different for you, the reader. I imagined there’d be something interesting about saying, “blogging live, from Bazaar Cafe!” But so far, I think, it’s only different for me. Not that I’ve never written anything in public, but so far I haven’t done a blog post this way.

Allow me to set the scene for you. Maybe that’ll make a difference. It’s a cold, gray July winter morning in San Francisco. For those of you from outside of the Bay Area, that description may have thrown you off a bit, but just use your imagination, from whatever enviably sunny place you’re in right now.

The dim lights and low jazz music are helping the scene come together. It also helps that I’m wearing a hat. I feel that this is an important part of setting the scene, or at least I did this morning when I decided I’d at least have to wear a hat if I was going to blog in public. That was silly, of course, thinking of it as a matter of appearances, because I’d look more like an authentic writer if I wore a hat to peer out from. I’ve since discovered that the hat actually serves the purpose of allowing me to hide beneath the brim and avoid eye contact when the employees stroll around to check that you’re paying for refills or buying your Internet use’s worth of food.

I’m just kidding about that last part. This is one of my favorite local independent coffee shops, and I wouldn’t cheap out here. It’s not like this is Starbucks or something, where I can stick it to the Man and make a slight dent in their profits, until they make it up moments later. I’ll make note of this for my next public blogging event.

I’m sipping coffee, even though I’m usually a tea drinker. See the above reasoning about authenticating the scene. I’ll be jittery soon, but at least I’ll know I did this right.

It’s feeling a little strange, addressing “the world” here but not interacting with folks in the public space around me. I’m trying to figure out how to connect this world and that one. Perhaps I’ll write my web address on some napkins, or on the dollar bills I’ll use to buy a refill. I’m trying to look intriguing enough, with my coffee and my low-brimmed hat, that someone will be unable to resist leaning over and asking what I’m doing.

If that happens, of course, I’ll have to come up with something more interesting that I’m blogging about. More interesting than “You’re asking what I’m blogging about? Ohmigod, I was just blogging about that!” Something like world peace, thrift store shopping or the plight of baby sea turtles in the oil spill. And if I hand them a napkin with my web address while I tell them this, then I’ll probably have to actually make a blog post about it. So if this post is followed immediately by one about baby sea turtles, you’ll know why.

Everybody else seems too worried about keeping up appearances of what they’re doing, though. Like the guy in the corner, whose jiggling leg keeps catching my eye. He must not be a regular coffee drinker, either. But he’s wearing a collared shirt and won’t take his eyes off his computer screen, so he must be running a business. Either that, or looking at porn. And the two women a couple of tables over, one of whom seems much more enthralled by their conversation than the other. The one who keeps glancing at me is clearly more intrigued by the idea of what’s going on over here, beneath my hat. Maybe I’ll drop off a marked napkin as I leave, to satisfy her curiosity.

I wrote some fiction while I sat here too, but I’ll spare you that. I tried to match appearances with that as well, writing the type of fiction one might write while sitting at a coffee shop listening to jazz music and wearing a hat. You can imagine the pretentiousness that resulted.

So that’s all, for now. Signing off, live from the Bazaar Cafe. Tune in next time, when I might try blogging live from the gym. Not working out, of course. Just sitting in the corner. Towel on my shoulder. Brooding. See you then.

Published in: on July 21, 2010 at 10:42 AM  Comments (1)  
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Yeah, I’m looking at you

I don’t mean to be creepy.

But I like to look at people. According to my mother I always have, ever since I was too young to know it was rude to stare or too curious to care. She says that people used to laugh at the way I’d sit and observe, so silently and intensely that people often thought I couldn’t speak. I’m jealous now of babies who get to sit and stare. Wish I could park myself in a stroller and sit and watch people without looking like a creeper.

Now my excuse is that I’m a writer. I find people intriguing and I can often get story ideas just by watching people around me. A lot of times when I’m around people in settings like public transportation I bury my head in a book, but nothing can tear my eyes away from a good book like an interesting fellow passenger.

The problem is that people don’t appreciate being stared at, which is understandable. I wish I could communicate that I don’t have any ill intentions, wish I could just stare shamelessly wearing a t-shirt that says “I’M NOT JUDGING YOU.” For example, when I come across somebody with a truly unique sense of style, socially acceptable or not, I’m so appreciative of their individuality and courage that I just want to look them up and down and take it all in. But of course, I’m sure I’m not the first person to stare. And I’m sure most other stares have been accompanied by judgments, glares or giggles, so I understand when they catch my eye and glare right back.

I find myself staring at unconventional romantic pairs too, like interracial couples or lesbian couples. I’m not staring at the them with envy or with lust (okay, not always), but with appreciation of their freedom to love one another and show it in public. I think of places like my hometown or other more restrictive places, even places within the Bay Area, and I think of images from the media that would have us believe that all romantic relationships look a certain way. And I’m still (happily) in awe, sometimes, when I find myself in situations where these partners can be together without fear of judgment or violence. These are times when I want to bust out my “I’M NOT JUDGING YOU, I’M QUEER TOO AND I LIKE WHAT YOU’RE DOING THERE” t-shirt.

Sometimes I’ll run into another starer. We’ll keep making accidental eye contact as I look around,  and I’ll notice that curious gleam in their eye as they look around too. I’ll think, “Aha, I know what you’re up to,” and give them a little smirk, but it turns out I’m the only weirdo who wants to acknowledge things like a shared love of staring so usually I don’t get anything back.

That’s different from when you catch people staring at something everybody looks at. That can be my favorite thing to do sometimes, when something happens like the guy mumbling to himself on the back of a crowded bus makes an outburst. Instead of looking at the one causing the scene, I’ll take a look at the people around him. The kids riding home without their parents, their eyes widening as the girl wraps her arm around her younger brother. The young woman who’s talking on her cell phone, who rolls her eyes and pulls her bag closer to herself, as if the whole thing is about her and her purse.

You can learn a lot about people just by being an observer, just tuning into their habits and behaviors. I feel guilty about it sometimes because I don’t mean to intrude on anyone’s privacy or make them feel uncomfortable but sometimes that’s what happens. I could use another lesson in etiquette, I guess, to remind myself that there’s a reason people don’t like when you stare. But that reason usually has something to do with a fear of being judged. I’ll try to keep my eyes to myself, but just remember, if I slip and you catch me looking at you, I’m not a creep or a judge. I’m appreciating you for who you are. Try looking in the mirror to see what I see.

Published in: on June 15, 2010 at 10:05 AM  Comments (1)  
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