Saturday, January 24, 2004

Mr. Bubble Gum Ring

On the bus a couple of evenings ago, I was kept entertained by a man and woman sitting at the front of the bus and talking (though they were seated right across the aisle from one another) as if there were miles between them. They seemed to know each other only marginally, through mutual halfway house friends (from what I could gather—and it’s not eavesdropping if the people are talking that loud). Regardless, when the woman discovered they were headed to the SAME halfway house just then (him because he lived there, her because her friend lived there), she sidled up next to him.

“Well, then I’ll sit next to you, since we’re going in the same direction,” she said. Then, nudging him, she added, “Hey there, Mister…Bubble…Gum…Ring. Huh huh.”

He giggled knowingly then, and the two of them sat there staring straight into each other’s eyes, “huh huh-ing” in a knowing and, then, surprisingly familiar way.

I say surprising because, at that point, she put her arm around him (he responded by warning her he was sick) and then he said, “Charlene, right?”

And she said, “Dor-een.”

And he said, “I was close enough.” Which she apparently agreed with, because when he asked, she agreed to stop with him for a soda at Kentucky Fried Chicken on the way to where they were going.

I was rapt the entire way home, listening for any clue into what “Mister Bubble Gum Ring” might have been referring to. Did he wear such a ring? Had he once given her one? What is a bubble gum ring, anyway? It sounded kinky, the way she said it, but “kinky” didn’t really seem an applicable term for either party. Who can say about those types of things, though?

I love the bus.

A few years ago, I was sitting on the 22 (Eastridge Mall to Palo Alto Caltrain Station) when a man and woman (not together but having apparently struck up a conversation at the bus stop) boarded, both with chocolate rings around their mouths. She was carrying a big, Costco-sized container of chocolate muffins, which she had, by all outward appearances, been kind enough to share.

[I’d seen the woman before. We’d once been sitting at the same bus stop and she told me about having worked twenty-some years at the now-defunct Del Monte canning plant in San Jose before deciding to take an office job. She advised me against taking such a job (secretary), because “the men, you know, they only want one thing.” I’d been facing forward, and when it became clear she wasn’t going to continue that sentence, I looked at her to find her making that finger-sliding-in-and-out-of-a-hole-made-by-the-other-thumb-and-forefinger motion while watching me with a raised eyebrow. Ohmigod!]

Anyway, the man seemed about her age (mid- to late-50’s), and wasn’t so much talking with her as listening to her.

She talked about things I can’t remember now, and then stood abruptly when she realized we had reached her stop. Though the man had said absolutely nothing the entire way, when she stood, she shook his hand and said, “I wish you well. You seem like a lovely person.”

His response was, “I am.”

That’s it. No “thank you.” No humble “puh-shaw” and dismissive waving-off. Just a simple, “I am.”

What I thought was so great about this transaction was that “lovely” would rank about 9,987 on a list of 10,000 adjectives I would have thought of in describing this man. He was very large and very stinky with a scraggly beard and crooked teeth and, you’ll remember, a big chocolate ring around his mouth.

But that was only on the outside. Whatever it was he knew he had inside of him—whatever it was that made him lovely—she had seen it. He knew it was there and she had glimpsed it. And I thought that was one of the most beautiful things I’d ever witnessed. Imagine how different the world would be if everyone could honestly describe himself or herself as “lovely,” could accept a compliment that soberly and know it held within it some truth.

Or imagine if we all went around commenting on each other’s loveliness and sharing our chocolate muffins.

I think I had a vision of my dream world that day. Who’d have thought it would happen on the 22? I must always strive to keep my eyes and ears wide open. There are a million transpirings to witness and overhear in a day, and some of them--even on the Urinemobile of all Urinemobiles, the 22 bus--give me the kind of renewed hope that every person needs now and then to remind him or her of what's awe-inspiring, what's comical, what's worth it, in this world.

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