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Through the mirror, I can see him positioning himself closer. Someone passes down the aisle and he leans into her. Another quarter of an inch gained. I'm looking into the face she hides in a novel. Her tightened lips are prepared to bear it. When we were kids, we used our hands and words to communicate. We grabbed ass and got kicked in the crotch. As adults, we're just a pathetic lot. Wolves and sheep. Working the eyes. Fixing the compliments. Wedding rings slipped into front pockets. Call it what it is. Grown men and women moving about the playground.
Jeff was a real anti-social bastard. A drummer in a late 80's rock n' roll cover band. He caught me carrying a guitar into the loft and from that day forward we were musical brethren. So there I sat in a bar that looked and sounded like the inside of a speaker nestled in the corner of a teenage boy's bedroom. Jeff's hands looked as though they had been professionally manicured. Each hair on his head was the same length and dangled stiffly just above his shoulders. He was staring through the skin of the young woman singing on stage.
The spittle was beginning to cake towards the corners of Robert's mouth. Soon it would be in his beard and I would be able to see it and I would transfix on it. Dewy milk drops on country long grass. "Music was not meant to be a business...... It's for spirituality...... For delivering a message. It's for times of merriment, to celebrate victory." "Aye." He stopped to look out the window. Mondays were gruesome. Bob was a good chap, but not the now. The bus was quiet for the moment, peaceful even, but then it was the same old route.
I've known skinheads. Mean and ignorant bastards. Chivalrous. Aggressive and ruthless. I'd like to say I've a rotten bunch along the route, but I don't. I do, on the other hand, have a polite clan of them. These lads, despite appearances, act no different than the Mormon boys who ride on Fridays. I mean, they're skinheads, they've shaved heads and black jackets with all the symbols of death and hate, but never a word out of them. With all the Blacks, Mexicans, and Somali that come and pass... There's something awry with this group. You can see their minds plotting.
The Mythmaker was a frequent Monday, Wednesday and Friday rider. A student at the University. If the bench seat facing me was open, she would sit and talk. Subjects included music, clothing, books and diet. However, the instant someone sat near us all talking ceased. Head nods answered all inquiries. She wore black; including black eye make-up, black lipstick and black jewelry. Her hair was black, her skin was school paper white. She had an unacknowledged obsessive compulsive disorder. Between her fingertips she fidgeted with a compact mirror, uncomfortably checking her facial appearance when conversation lulled. She distracted my driving.
Seated next to the Panther was a small business type. The man's left leg was protruding into the aisle. The Panther's legs were probably spread wide. The business type was reading a novel. The Panther's head was bobbing back and forth to his walkman's beat. He swayed heavily and on every 8th beat hesitated and then finished with a short circle. The Caucasian kept his eyes on his book. Occasionally he lifted them to glance briefly at a woman's calves. Perhaps her feet. All the insecurities. The three of us should go for beers. I'd like to ask some questions.
Called in sick. Haven't done that for months. Don't have it in me for the Friday crowd. Buffet of lunacy it is. Every hood wants to mince words. The students are jumping off the seats. The gays are burning up cell minutes announcing their weekend plans to everyone. The business types are in their casual wear, trying to act human and not just the ambitious pigs they are. The drunks are in the back drinking beer from small paper bags. Traffic is congested and impatience is the general rule. Everyone is doing. I'm not and I don't have the energy.
From 100 feet away, you could tell she was a crackhead. She struggled to keep her feet in proper walking alignment. It was as though rubber bands attached her legs to her hips and onward to a crooked spine. The end result was a drunken soldier in a pink miniskirt and fake white fur coat. I drew heavily from my cigar as she made a desperate leap through the shrubs in front of me. She turned back toward the street, pulled her panties down to her ankles and bunched her skirt up around her waist. She peed on our grass.
Sunday morning, 8:30 am, someone's buzzing. It's the police. Need to ask a few questions. Need a moment to clean up a bit if you know what I mean. I've done nothing wrong, no need to worry. They've pictures. Do I know this man? He's a regular on the route. Don' I watch the news? No, I don'. They've been looking for him since Friday. Statutory rape. Can I identify his stops along the route? Sure. Pharmacy was one of them. This guy was a real problem when he was off his meds. Liked to bang his head on things.
The afternoons are just shit. The route's diversity of passengers boils down to drunks. Old, mean, nasty drunks. In and out of the liquor store in a paper bag. The hard stuff. That's what we're talking about here. Stumble up the gangplank, hand pushed into pocket, not enough fare, scowl on face. Avoiding all human contact. Staring out windows, lips moving, cursing. Words replaced by growl. These men didn't throw up or piss themselves. They didn't fight or harass. This was something much more dangerous. These bastards were upset with something unimaginable and they were pushing their way through it.
The policeman's questioning went through and through my mind. Frustrating. I wanted to be done with it. Guilt in my gut. Bastards didn't care about anyone. Making victims of everyone they came in contact with. I'd nothing to do with fuck all. I would testify if it was needed, but for the family, not for them. These cops, they would need to understand. None of it was for them or because of them. I nearly locked up yesterday. My hands grew hot and my breath came hard. Could hardly stay on. Kind of thing that brings people to crack up.
You try not to get jaded, but this isn't a great environment for it. The days when people are not in tune with what you're feeling. You're a machine. Pistons turning. Flywheels. Metal dust. There's the hole in your gut again. You're going to lock up. The only thing to stop is to stop your thoughts from circling the f..king wagon. Vultures dive and recover and dive and recover. What I need is some love. Hand on shoulder. Eye contact followed by smile. Christ, this job sucked you out when you let it. All of the world just wanted off.
The gut pains continued this afternoon. This was now a part of my routine. Another reason to see a doctor. My teeth clenched as stabbing waves of displeasure passed from reef tract to fisherman's foot. It was now, of course, that passengers wanted your attention. Directions. Transfers. Small talk. The grumbling began as I doubled over to buckle in a wheel chair rider. My knuckles went white as I gripped the chair arms and attempted to breathe deeply. My life needed some rearranging. I vomited in the aisle; on the man's rear wheel, his hand and the safety belt latch.
The doctor tells me I'm suffering from anxiety attacks. Physically, there's nothing wrong with me. It was all in me head. I'm given a list of exercises and stretches for the morning. I'm told how to breathe when it hits the fan. Paper bag shit. I already knew that. Then I'm prescribed Xanax, an antidepressant. So, now, I've been reduced to the likes of my clientele. That gives me something to chat about on the route. It was also recommended that I try group therapy. Maybe one of my afternoon riders could recommend something. Right? Oh yes, this was brilliant.
I nearly got caught on some internet porn. The computer's so old, it's always freezin' up. Student friends had popped in early. They weren't familiar with the neighborhood. I'm sure it frightened them. I spared the telling of the prostitute urinating on our flower bed. Nothing got done. The girl was distracted, asking about me accent and the time I spent in the Marine Corps. I gave them the short version. All trimmings, no meat. I was an adopted child. The desert was hot and lonely. I was lucky to be alive. At least she didn't ask about me job.
Aging oak doors with long, thick black pull handles led into the great depths of St. Stephen's. Tall ceilings of red and gold held slow moving fans far from one's reach. Stained glass windows portrayed images of the Apostles. Mary's statue looked across the many rows of dark brown pews. Intricately carved wall hangings rounded the walls depicting the painful journey to the cross. The cross itself, hung long and wide behind the altar. I never took communion and I never entered the confessionals, but this illusion was as real as any other. The hands of peace, they were enough.
"You don't call me a nigger, You don't call anyone a nigger!" This stocky Black guy held a large Native American by the neck. The Native had a look on his face that worried me plenty. "Both of you off, now!- "It's not right, he shouldn't call anyone that. He shouldn't call anyone a nigger!- The Native went off like a bull. The Black man stepped off and cautiously drew his arms back. A shirt sleeve rustled just in front of a fleshy popping sound. Our black friend was laying across the sidewalk. I never even saw an arm move.
What was the point? That was my hang-up. Right? The military, the schooling, the driving, the saving. Living in this ghetto. I had no family. There was a wooden structure in which some people stayed that I vaguely knew. That was my family. Was my life a story about life's possibilities? The passing of people and events. Quantum physics. Billions of complex formulas passing in the breeze like so many dead skin cells. A lesson for the youth. How to see the cow for its milk. Or its meat. Definitely how to see the cow for the cow though. Right?
Of the 120 routes we run, the 11 was the most odd. It was a real over the hills and through the woods kind of route. The passengers were older women. Some of them working, some of them just working their mouths. Wasn't often I got this route, but when I did, it drove me nuts. There were two old bags who sat up front and never shut up. Corn bread. Jello casseroles. Perms. Foot problems. Noisy neighbors. One of them was always chatting up her grandson. Drug problems. Pregnant girlfriend. Gambling. If this kid only knew, his own grandmother...
What is it with these business types? Greeting you with this sympathy laden voice. Like they need to feel sorry for the blue collar man. As if shitting your pants in an office all day is some leap above driving a bus. The computer, the phone, back to the computer, type type, the phone again, off for coffee, bragging up the golf game, chatting up avenues of cubicles on your improved handicap and your lack of red meat due to the wife's new diet. All the while she's doing the same. Her figure, her hair, her shoes and outfit. Christ.
Lots of blind folks rode the bus. Made sense, eh, they couldn't drive. I'd gotten to know this black guy named Chuck. Funny thing about him was he said he was half Irish. Tol' me his mother's family was from Cork. I'd been weaned in the North, so naturally I never questioned his heritage. Ãƒâ€šÃ¢â‚¬ËœNother thing was the way he dressed. Most blind folks dress like they really don't mean to be noticed. The tapping of the stick was probably enough. Not ol' Chuck, he had a sky blue Kangol and a black tweed jacket. A real player he was.
The bus was black and gray from the rain. The shadow of a street pole faintly cut through passenger heads. Four rows back the Native hunched forward with his eyes staring up into the mirror. The wolf illuminated by moonlight. The snake coiled beneath the bed. The hawk circled the cornfield. I couldn't place the eyes. Passengers thinned with each stop. Raindrops and wiper blips. Four more stops and the city became miles of highway. The last two riders jumped off into the puddled street. The Native remained. I slowed to meet a red light and turned to face him.
Lewis Erickson. That was the name of my mentally challenged client who attacked the girl. He'd holed himself up in some abandoned house. However many days later, I didn't have a calendar on it, he got hungry or antsy or who knows what and decided to go for a walk. Within an eight-hour window, thirteen people reported sightings to the police. His capture was documented by 4 television choppers, who'd been following squad cars the whole of the day. This was the same guy that used to slap himself in the head while his fekkin pushcart bumped into everyone's shins.
I felt like a phony sometimes with my accent. I'd lost it you know. The Irish ghettos became the Midwestern suburbs. When yer young, you try to adapt to everything. You try to fit in. Wasn't till I was heavily into girls that I saw it was a mistake to let it go. So, I did my best to bring it back. Now it was an invention of my own, but it was still enough to give me a distinct advantage with the females. It's pathetic, but as long as I'm trying to stay honest, it needed to be told.
Walking down a long, wide aisle. Blinding fluorescent lights. "Don't miss our Project Days Sale. You'll find giant savings on mowers, hose reels, plant stands..." Something is wrong with my eyesight. Hotel peepholes. Sick to the stomach. Trying to find an exit sign, but looking above the shelves is painful. Those lights. Fast approaching a woman and her daughter. She's reaching for something on a shelf. The girl's arm is curled around her mother's waist. I want nothing to do with this, but I cannot control my movements. My hands are reaching out. Wait. No, stop! Forget this fekkin dream.
There was one person waiting at the Lowry stop. A bum with a bag of aluminum cans. The bag was so full the opening couldn't be tied. "Careful to keep those in the bag, right?" He grunts in response. "And don't block the exits.- Nothing. He finds a seat in the back. I check the mirror at the first downtown stop. The bum is blocking the rear exit. Some business type is trying to get past him. They're mixing words. The businessman is pushing past the bag. "Goddamnit!" Cans are blowing up and down the street. Doors won't close. "Goddamnit!-
"Listen friend, I'm sorry, right? There's birds on this route I know better than you and I wouldn't drive them to St. Paul, much less to an Indian Reservation on the Canadian Border. I might never come back from that trip." Nothing. "And it's a 1980 Buick Regal. Christ, hardly reliable ya know.- "I need to be there Saturday morning. It's important." He stretched his arm out on the back of the seat while drawing a deep lungful of air. People on the reservation called him Ãƒâ€šÃ¢â‚¬Ëœthe Bear.' "No guns and no drugs.- "No.- It stank. "Can't do it mate.-
"This Spring's Project Days Sale. Lawn mowers, hose reels..." I'm approaching the girl. The shortness of breath. Thighs are burning, legs moving, right arm extending. Reaching out toward the girl. Innocent the world. The back of my hand grazes her backside. The fingers find the loose space around her waistline and pull. She cries out. The mother screams. Fifth time I've had this f.cking dream. I shower. Shave. Pack a bag. Fill the car with gas and turn for the transit station. I'm going to take a little trip up north and if nothing f.cking else, I'll clear my head.
Ãƒâ€šÃ¢â‚¬ËœRed Fort Reservation' reflected in yellow paint on a small wooden sign beside the dirt road we traveled. For many miles this road had been dark, narrow and lined with tall evergreens. The wiper blades were working overtime to push back a line of pounding rain. Slowly, we navigated the back roads to his mother's home. It was 2 o'clock in the morning when our headlights bore down on a small, beaten mobile home. Shadows moved about a lighted room and pulled back a shade. I watched my newfound friend open the front door without knocking. He waved me in.
She finished writing, looked up and locked eyes. That was her style. "What do you mean by Ãƒâ€šÃ¢â‚¬Ëœgoing after the girl'?" "Something bad, I don't know what, but it all comes back to that whack I used to drive to the parks." "And the trip to the reservation, you felt that would help clear your conscience...?" She was writing again. "Listen, the writing makes me nervous. Distracted, you know." "Ok. I use the notes to track where we've been and where we're going, but I can stop. Tell me about your Indian friend." "Right, well, for starters, he's no friend.-
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