Saturday, February 19, 2011

On Integrity. Part Three: Taking rides with strangers.

Eight a.m., and it was already a gaping black hole of a day. Up at five to go to the laundromat in a shitload of rain. Now, running late to catch the bus.

I quickly checked email before I packed up the computer. Huh. "Fergilicious4u" was back. She showed up last week on the dating site. No picture; just "Hey, Sexxxy!" and three more messages in quick succession. At the time I was in a hurry (when am I not?), so I had just fired back a quick, "My, you're persistent, Fergie. Love your profile. Thanks for writing." Turned out she didn't have a profile. She was just sort of hanging out there like a specter, an echo of nothing. Now she was back. Curious, I opened the email:

ohhhh, that's great! hahaha! ur an ugly shitbag! ur profile is bad and really boring. just saying. you sound depressed.

Imagine that, asshole. I gathered up my stuff, left the house and trudged to the bus stop through the rain, dragging my ridiculous rolling bag behind me. I missed a puddle, and then I didn't. Nothing would be dry by the time I got to work. How are you supposed to look like a fancy-ass lobbyist when you get all wet and weatherized waiting for MARTA?

I passed the dead orange cat, which had been there for two weeks now. Every day he looked a little bit less feline. Usually, I felt compassion for this little cat who had looked so much like my own. Today, though, I was just pissed off that he was still there. His face was gone now.

There were two people at the bus stop: a young African-American man dressed for school, and a middle-aged white guy in a grubby hooded jacket. In my neighborhood, white guys stand out. I had never seen him before.

As I ducked into the shelter, the white guy approached me. Too fast, and too close.

"You missed the bus. It already came down this way-hay. But another one will be here soon. Ten minutes." The guy smiled pleasantly and paused, waiting for my response. He looked a lot like that guy in Snow Day. "The bus will come again soon, so don't go away-hay."

I nodded to him and mumbled "Yeah? That's good." Who gives a shit?

"Well, yeah. There's the seven-forty and the eight o'clock. And then an eight-twenty. They come the same time every day-hay." Fuck. Why do I always get the crazy people?

"I just got my paycheck today-hay. I'm gonna go out and spend it." 

For the next ten minutes, the guy talked to me pretty much nonstop. It was clear he had some kind of developmental disability. I sure as hell didn't feel like babysitting, but then a thought hit me with startling clarity and force:

He could be God.

Right. I softened my stance, but I still wished he'd go away.

Once we were on the bus, I pretended I was trying to sleep. He promised not to wake me up; then he told the college student next to him she was a beautiful angel. Sweet, but probably kind of creepy to her. I sat up and opened my eyes; I supposed it was better that he talked to me. Clearly this conversation would happen whether I liked it or not.

"So what are you going to do with all that money?" I asked. I regretted it at once; I didn't want him to get mugged.

"Out for breakfast. At McDonald's. And then I'm buying a book I've been saving for." I wanted to tell him to keep his money safe, to be careful of strangers.

We chatted for a few more minutes, and then he began talking with the driver, who didn't seem to mind a bit. I was relieved, but I was a little jealous, too. Finally, my friend pulled the cable to stop the bus. I bet he won't even say goodbye, I thought glumly.

But as he got off the bus, he looked at me and smiled.  "'Bye, Mom."

Flattered and touched, and a little ashamed, I was instantly glad that I had kept some of my darkness inside that day. Some days, integrity, like my penpal Fergie, is just a shadowy pretension.


  1. Lovely, lovely, lovely. Such touching observations throughout this piece. If you're going to have a shitty, dead cat soaking rain kind of day, the only relief, perhaps, is to suspect God is nearby.