On my way home from work today, I stopped at a downtown bus stop and waited in line for the bus to arrive. A drunk man approached us, his gait uncertain, his sense of direction clearly not the only thing that was impaired. He spotted a blond-haired young woman and stood close to her, informing her, no doubt, of her many admirable physical qualities. I couldn’t hear what he was saying until she had moved away and he raised his voice to the rest of us. To the drunk man with the grey moustache, this is for you:
Because the city grips my throat and squeezes
the life out of me. I am waiting at a bus stop
next to a woman with long curls like waves down her back. And
a drunk man staggers to where she stands and proclaims
that she is a sunflower seed. When he is met with silence he
raises his voice like only a drunk man can. He asks if we
would prefer he built an atom bomb instead. As if
those were his only options: harassing a young woman
and bombing the world to smithereens. I’d find it funny
if it weren’t for the ache I feel, like fingernails scratching
at the inside of my skin. The ugliness and desperation
in his voice, the plaintiff call of pain. Eventually the woman wanders away,
iPhone in hand. So does the man with the dirty moustache
and baggy jeans. We’re all relieved to see him go.
The No. 16 bus to 29th Station pulls up, and I amble on board,
flash my monthly bus pass to the surly driver,
and weave a path to the back of the bus, eager to pull out
the book I’m reading called why be happy when you can be normal?
by Jeanette Winterson. And I don’t have an answer.
But I can contemplate: this is why the middle class will never
ride public transit. It’s why I wrap myself in a plastic
blue raincoat before I climb on board. An indestructible
layer to keep the grime of reality at bay.