Archive for the 'Strangers Observed' Category

28
Nov
14

Mass transit is an unwise place to nap

Not until the bus took off did I notice the ball rolling toward me. It was about two and a half inches in diameter, pale brown. It looked like a dusty lump of clay, a fuzzy ping pong ball. It went directly for my feet. Then there were two. Then three. I shifted my legs to avoid crushing, kicking or otherwise interacting with them.

When the bus stopped and the trio skipped along forward, I realized they were stale powdered cinnamon Munchkins from Dunkin’ Donuts. They rolled too well to be soft and fresh.

(Image stolen from Maryann's Baking Company in Sacramento, California.)

(Image stolen from Maryann’s Baking Company in Sacramento, California.)

Following their trail toward the front of the bus, I saw a puddle spreading forward and backward along the ravines in the floor. It was the same color as the Munchkins. Coffee with cream. Ah, someone had been to Dunkin’ Donuts and spilled something.

I traced the coffee to its source. A woman seated near the front of the bus was reaching down to the floor, concentrating very hard on gathering up the donut holes in the clear plastic cup they came in. What is she going to do with them? I thought. Does she actually want to eat them, or is she just cleaning up after herself?

The coffee cup, on its side on the floor under her seat, rolled helplessly back and forth in a lazy half-circle. Continue reading ‘Mass transit is an unwise place to nap’

10
Nov
12

‘And you put it in here?’

“And you put it in here?” I heard her ask as I hopped off the last step down to the subway. She was pointing at the change slot on the turnstile.

The man in the booth answered. I couldn’t hear him, but I knew what he said.

“You put it where it says ‘coin return’?” she asked.

No. That’s the coin return button, he explained.

A newbie. Marvelous. Continue reading ‘‘And you put it in here?’’

11
Feb
12

Conflict avoidance

When I got out of the subway and turned the corner, there was a fight happening in front of my destination, so I turned around and started walking in the other direction.

I would have to go to the 7-11 instead of the Rite Aid, I decided.

All I saw at first was a quick burst of isolated action among a loosely gathered crowd of people. I thought two kids were rough housing, joking and shoving. And people were always loitering on that block. I thought of maybe just making a wide arc around them to get to the front door. If I minded my business, they’d leave me alone.

But then I noticed one of them had his belt in his hand, doubled up, and as he backed away from the other guy, he took swipes at his head. Continue reading ‘Conflict avoidance’

26
Jan
12

Have a nice trip. See ya next fall.

The first thing I thought as I fell was I’m going to tear my pants.

I knew I was going down. No way to stop it. No time for anything graceful. Just minimize the damage. Oh, shit. My phone.

And then I heard myself say it, casually, calmly—”oh shit”—as I landed on my right knee (There’s the tear.) and my left hand, scuffing the palm. The right hand swung out and landed somewhat more lightly, just to steady me and stop me from rolling forward, the corner of my iPhone scratching hard against the ground. (Its just the case. It’s just the case.) And my gym bag pivoted around my body on the strap across my chest and slammed down on the sidewalk behind me. I heard the combination lock, in an outside mesh pocket, rattle against the concrete.

The high school kid in front of me, on is way to school, looked terrified and suddenly wide awake. My headphones were still in my ears, but I heard the panic in his voice: “Oh, god. Are you all right?” Continue reading ‘Have a nice trip. See ya next fall.’

28
Nov
11

tweedle-dee, tweedle-douche

It has been a long day. I need a little sit-down where everybody knows your name. Funny enough, I know none of the names of the half-dozen or so fellas scattered around the bar, and I suspect none of them knows mine. So I figure I’ll make it a quick one and head home.

I’m sitting there with a lager, and a guy down the bar gets into an impassioned discussion with his companion about ’90s music. It’s ’90s music, I think. Why bother?

His friend pushes out from the bar to throw some money in the jukebox.

He calls out to the bartender to get his attention. “Hey, Vince. I have two problems,” he says, loud enough for everyone to hear. “We need a couple more drinks. And … all I have are large bills.”

He ceremoniously hands over a 50, slowly. I can see Grant’s stern, almost reproachful, gaze from six seats away. I think he must want me to see it.

Oh, Jesus, I think. What a problem. Oh, you poor thing and your burdensome cash flow. Please, honey. A 50 is not so huge.

Continue reading ‘tweedle-dee, tweedle-douche’

30
Jan
11

Here, kitty, kitty…

Thursday afternoon, on my way to the post office, I passed the fenced-in front grounds of a Catholic school in my neighborhood. The school day was over, so I was surprised to hear a woman’s voice inside the fence over the sound of my headphones.

She held the leashes of two dogs with one hand and her phone with the other. The dogs seemed agitated and restless, but she ignored them, carrying on as if she were talking to a girlfriend about her date last weekend or a sale at the Acme.

Ten paces further I saw a group of people clustered around a tree, each of them looking upward. None of them was wearing a coat, despite the snow and the cold. Glancing upward myself, I saw a cat, totally exposed in the leafless upper branches.

Two teenage girls were calling up to the cat, who seemed to be in no mood to come down. They held something up to it. It was white. It looked like a snowball, but I assumed it must be something else. Surely they were trying to coax it down with with something that would actually attract it.

“She’s scared. She senses the dogs nearby,” someone said.

No kidding. The dogs are as plain as day, and no more than 30 feet away. I guess it’s good that the woman is holding her dogs back, I thought, but as long as they’re there, whining and yipping, that cat is going to stay put. Doesn’t anyone watch cartoons?

Continue reading ‘Here, kitty, kitty…’

03
Nov
10

Of Coffee and Donuts and Half-Eaten Hoagies

On Election Day, I always have a soft spot in my heart for the volunteers working the polls. Every polling station has some variation of the same thing: a half dozen retirees, sitting on folding chairs, stationed at folding tables, a box of a dozen donuts on one side, a slowly cooling polystyrene cup of coffee on the other. They look over the rims of their glasses at you. They squint in the dull fluorescent, sometimes gently flickering, light.

Whatcha last name, hon?

Continue reading ‘Of Coffee and Donuts and Half-Eaten Hoagies’




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