I Get a Transfer?
don’t right now know which to blame, my brain or the city
Each is, I think, equally likely to be at fault for my indecision
as to whether we, humanity, exist as a great potential only
befuddled and poorly educated, incompletely realized, or rather
as a great blight, a pox, a cancer, a plague of rogue cells
metastasizing within the body of Gaia.
My car is in the shop, so I am back on the bus. I don’t mind
the bus, despite its bad reputation. Its schedules are unreliable,
true; its patrons eccentric, yes. But I like surrendering
my responsibility for punctuality (a responsibility, not a
habit) to it from time to time. And not to be too exploitive,
too imperial in my attitude, but public transportation today
provides the kind of material Joseph Mitchell used to get
in neighborhood watering holes. Plus, I like being able to
devote the attention I usually have to expend on the successful
merge to more rewarding efforts. It’s pleasant—moreover, it’s
medicinal, like an inoculation—to begin the work day with
some substantial reading. My cars, historically speaking,
afford me this opportunity with great generosity.
The first day of my renewed relationship with mass transit
began provocatively. A nurse in colorful scrubs stood next
to me, each of us attempting to get as much off the front
page of the newspaper as we could through the window of the
machine. He spoke, giving voice to my own thoughts, as we
both read the same headline indicating that American troops
will be in Iraq indefinitely: “We ain’t got no business being
there no more. The war is over, they tell us. We won. OK,
so who’s shooting at them, then?”
I agreed and, briefly, we commiserated, expressing our mutual
concern for the young men and women whom we were certain would
prefer being somewhere, almost anywhere, else than stuck in
the desert as targets. I made a comment about the level of
fear, anxiety and frustration those service people must feel,
particularly given the president’s recent macho posturing:
‘Bring ’em on,’ he said. Well, they brought it on, all right.
Ten injured the next day; two dead the day after that.”
I figured the nurse and I were simpatico, that he would get
where I was coming from. Instead, there was a long pause while
he mopped his brow and craned his neck, ostensibly in hope
an air-conditioned bus was rumbling up the road as we spoke.
It was, I think, as much in hope that he’d soon be away from
a seditious twerp such as myself.
think the president woke up one morning and said, ‘Let’s get
over there and kick some ass,’ like he had nothing better
to do,” the nurse said eventually, as if starting an entirely
new conversation. “The man’s got advisors. These people know
what’s going on. And it ain’t like they’ve got nowhere else
to go. They got other offers, you know?”
The logic was curious, but the point was clear enough: The
president is a good man, informed by the most competent and
objective of experts. He does not act selfishly or capriciously,
and they do not need to curry favor, maintain reputations,
jockey for position, placate egos or service partisan ideological
agendas to get ahead—they’ve got options. They could go work
for . . . well, for whomever the nurse figured big-shot, brainiac
policy wonk-types go to work for if they think the administration
to whom they owe their professional existence proves to be,
in fact, selfish or capricious. The Masons always have work,
after all, and Skull & Bones pays in the middle six figures
for yard work, I hear.
I didn’t push it.
This was a good guy, whatever his personal threshold for dissent.
People are generally good, I realized. They understand pain,
and they don’t wish it indiscriminately on others. The number
of true sociopaths among us is small, I comforted myself.
Talk-radio rhetoric may suggest otherwise, but people by and
large are decent. I’m just a crank. So the guy’s got a somewhat
less-pessimistic view of the whole ghastly affair than I—that’s
only politics. We both agree that people shouldn’t have to
die for exigencies of the state-big-business axis. That’s
huge, and heartwarming. God bless the bus.
My second day on the bus, however, gave me something else
to chew on.
When I boarded, I saw that several of the row seats toward
the front were taken up by one man, an enormous man. He’s
a guy I’ve seen around, usually in the parking lots of public
places—shopping malls, grocery stores. He catches the eye
because, though I’ve never been good at this kind of guesswork,
he’s got to be 500 pounds. And he’s florid and very apparently
unhealthy. I’ve seen him lying in the mulch of medians, his
plastic shopping bags still gripped tightly in his hands.
I’d guess he’s schizophrenic. He was muttering to himself
and gesticulating dramatically, his fingers rolling off obscure
gang sign,” someone at the back of the bus—where we all congregated—joked.
Thing is, it’s really not all that funny. Nor was the guy’s
smell, which was the subject of much laughter and cruel bonding
on the bus that day. It was the smell of sickness and neglect,
not his neglect for himself but ours collectively for him,
and we laughed at it like he splashed it on in misguided vanity,
his eau de crazy fat guy. Like it was his choice. Like those
shorts, you cow; or that mullet—you paid someone to do that
to you?—you vicious, borderline feral, third-generation loser;
or that tattoo . . .
My car should be fixed by the end of the week. I think it’s
just routine brake work, I pray it’s just routine brake work.
I’ve got to practice my merging. I could be better at merging.