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.

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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.

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Published in: on July 26, 2010 at 12:08 PM  Comments (2)  
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Another me

Sorry, I took a break from writing for a couple of days. Now I feel guilty for neglecting the blog. Here’s what I wrote this morning, after an odd experience the other day…

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I was downtown the other day when I saw myself. Or rather, I saw another version of me. I’m sure of myself enough to know that I was me, standing on the corner, but I’m pretty sure that was another me, sitting on the outbound 5-Fulton bus that went by.

Needless to say, it was a strange experience. I don’t even take the 5.

I couldn’t really see her very well, just the outline of her hair and her shadowed face, and I wouldn’t have been so sure that it was me if it wasn’t for the fact that she was facing me, staring too, seemingly equally enthralled. And there was that strangely familiar feeling in the pit of my stomach, like I was reuniting with a long-lost soul. If you ever come across another version of you, know that it’s not like looking in the mirror, knowing it’s a reflection of yourself. It’s more like watching a video of yourself that time you got blackout drunk at your cousin’s wedding, and you don’t remember it at all and you’re sure you’re incapable of such behavior, but there it is on the video, a person with your face and your voice, smashing things with strength you never thought you had, until your uncles subdues you. And you have to admit that it could’ve only been you.

Only it wasn’t me, there on the 5. I figure that momentarily she or I crossed into some parallel universe, the Other Me existing in a universe where I take that bus. I’ve seen it in the movies so I know it must be possible. In the movies, of course, there’s always a good guy version and a bad guy version, and while I’m used to thinking badly about myself, I’m trying to change that, so I decided to think badly about the Other Me instead.

She must be the bad version. I bet she didn’t even pay for that bus ride. I bet there’s an old lady standing there, hanging on to a pole for dear life, wishing she could sit down, but the Other Me is only sneering at her as she sits comfortably in her seat.

Sitting on that bus going in that direction, I bet the Other Me lives downtown and goes to school at the local private university, instead of the public one I graduated from. I bet she affords it by selling out to some corporate place, getting on her high horse every day as assistant manager at some place like Pottery Barn, decorating her downtown apartment with the same pastel colored rugs she sells to ten customers a day.

I bet she has a dog, instead of a cat. I bet it weighs 8 pounds and lives in her purse.

Then I start to wonder about her writing. I can’t imagine a version of me that doesn’t write. She’s bold enough that I’m sure she’s already gotten at least two books published, because she wasn’t afraid to break into the business writing something like erotica. I bet she puts her writing on a self-indulgent blog.

Now, of course, the lines between good and bad are beginning to blur. Nothing wrong with writing erotica, and at least she’s gotten published. So she’s bold. So what? I bet her boldness is good in some situations. I bet she’s unafraid to speak her mind. I bet she doesn’t do things like shrink away from confrontations or apologize to the guy who runs into her. I bet she’s unapologetically out about being queer, in all situations, like making the most out of Mother’s Day at her grandmother’s church by taking the pastor’s daughter home without even trying to pretend it’s for further “Bible study.”

I think maybe I’m starting to get down on myself again, thinking this other me is so much bolder and more self-assured than I am. Or maybe she and I aren’t so different after all. Maybe she just didn’t have to wait until she saw another version of herself to realize the possibilities of who she could be. Or maybe that’s not true at all. Maybe she was staring in awe of all that makes me, me. Maybe she didn’t know what was possible until she saw me.

I just hope that from now on she sticks to her own universe, or at least she stays away from my buses. I can only imagine what we might think possible if we put our heads together.

Published in: on July 14, 2010 at 10:49 AM  Comments (5)  
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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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