Riding to work on public transportation is a big tease; it only takes you half the way there. In total, I end up taking four modes of transportation: on foot, light and heavy rail and wheels. I’ve endured hellish commutes on crumbling roads while standing for two or more hours with nothing but a bar to hold on to. One thing I am thankful for is that there’s always something to see out of the windows and inside the bus.
Walking down the steps into the cavernous subterranean train station already resembles what sticking your head into the toilet of a porta potty would smell like. Now imagine actually doing it and having to breathe in that heavy suffocating toxic air for about 4 to 7 minutes, depending on how late the trains are running that day. Sometimes the homeless mischievously defecate on the penultimate step from the top of most flights of stairs in the subway stations. Their placement of it demonstrates a cognizance of what stepping on it could mean to somebody. I wonder if the perpetrator—like a John Hancock of scatology—is still present as people arrive or if it’s just a hit and run, one and done type of affair. Well, in this case, a deuce and done.
Those unfortunate souls that do step on it, are too far away from home to just go back and change. Their day is utterly ruined. As if someone had taken a huge dump on it. It’s the homeless’s way of protesting, of calling attention to their soiled state by using biological weapons. Dirty bombs. Gorilla warfare. The pile of fecal matter is placed there playfully the way a friend sends you a poop emoji. It waits there patiently in your unread messages, but when you open it, it is received more like the unnerving and unpleasant surprise of a dick pic. I always look out for these steaming piles as a preemptive all round defense in the forms of self-preservation and saving face, but also with a sense of dreaded anticipation when I do see them and welcomed forlorn when I don’t. My morning bay of pigs. I just hope that the day never comes when it hits the fan.
On one of the stops, a man that walked into the bus and proceeded to sit a few seats behind me. On his face, he wore an unflinching smile like the one on the cover of the graphic novel “V for Vendetta.” He smelled of wet clothes and armpit sweat, of strong steaming earl grey tea and a dirty mop head left out sopping on the floor. His smile also reminded me of one I had seen on my high school friend’s face after he had boldly stated that he could make me smell his asshole from where I was sitting; he was on one end of the room and I on the other. At first, I didn’t know what he was talking about, then my nostrils helped me understand. The chain reaction of the noxious smell grazing my nasal receptors followed by my nose shrugging uncomfortably brought as a result a smile to my friend large enough to cover the face of the moon like that on a vintage Victorian trade card. This indignantly stinky man kept closing the windows that people would opened to ventilate the stink out. The outside air wasn’t any pleasanter, feeling the breeze full of debris. Wearing a mere t-shirt, he was hotboxing us in the process of keeping himself warm, until someone told the driver on him and made him stop.
The awkward instance was broken by a boisterous ambulant seller of incense bursting into the bus. “Y’all wanna buy some incense!” he shouted as he walked up and down the aisle. His voice along with the aromatic scent emanating from the thick bundle of incense sticks he was carrying filled the entirety of the car. He was selling them for $2. Tied to his belt were a couple of jingle bells that served as an accompaniment to his light fairy-like steps. His skinny waist whipped side to side like a samba that swung so cool and swayed so gently. The potent yet pleasing scent lingered for a bit after he had exited the bus then slowly dissipated. Its ephemeral olfactory illusion gave way to the more permanent smell of real dirty arse.
There are times when the bus’s pseudo-cataclysmic oscillation and turbulence create a rocking-cradle effect accompanied by a soothing berceuse from the white noise of people’s indistinct chatter along with the engine’s eurythmic clatter that lulls you to a deep sleep. The tepid and stagnant air circulating the cylindrical vehicle provided the perfect balance of carbon dioxide poisoning and fumes being funneled from the engine, a concoction just lethal enough to induce sleep, not death. You try to fight it, but you can’t and helplessly drift into an abysmal slumber. Next thing you know, you’re casting your sails down the waters of the Lethe. Sitting in a rocking chair on a porch over-looking the river, smoking a pipe whose smoke floats lazily upwards is Morpheus gently petting and stroking Cerberus’s three heads slowly and lovingly. You’re sleeping like you rarely do in the comfort of your own bed. It’s so good you would swear you were hopped on Temazepam. Suddenly, as if guided by GPS gone rogue, your boat makes a sharp turn towards the river Styx. You lose control of your dream and you’re instantly transported back to the world of the living. You’re awake. Groggy in a bus that has barely crawled past one stop.
I looked around to see who or what had disturbed my slumber and scared off the often hasty and desultory Hypnos. I soon realized that to my left, there was a man slurping his coffee with short sharp slurps. Every, few, seconds. To my right, there was another man slurping his coffee, long and amorously as if trying to make either the white Styrofoam cup or himself reach orgasm. Helplessly absorbed in their smartphone merely enjoying their coffee, I was haplessly consumed in my egotistical aspersion, writhing with irascibility. I truly felt like they were somehow waiting for me to relax in order to slurp again, like a jack in the box striking at the very moment you least expect it and are most vulnerable. The slurps emanating from these men were staggered, never in unison. It was like listening to Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on first?” with slurping. A cacophonous sound resembling what Hendrix’s “National Anthem” must have sounded to the ears of the unsuspecting parents of Woodstock attendees. The sounds produced by their lips’s suction—their whirring with the plastic flip door on the lid—alluded a sound more similar to fellating than drinking. They were the ones slurping yet I was the real sucker for not moving and finding a different seat.
One night, a young man sick from either too much alcohol consumption or a bad reaction to a bacon-wrapped hot dog purchased off of one of the many street vendors that line the sidewalks, was quietly vomiting into a garbage can. The very next day, that same garbage can served as a horn of plenty to a man who was gorging himself from the heap of discarded foodstuffs bursting out of it. His cup runneth over. It looked as if the garbage can was about to explode and vomit its rotting contents all over the street. In spite of the passers by judgmental glares in the presence of such grotesqueries, this dispossessed epicure was extraordinarily committed to his hearty fare. It’s a one way ticket for this man. It took me so long to find this out, to find out that like most of my commutes, this voyeuristic single course freak show was merely a one night stand, to be repeated again tomorrow, with different people in a different place and time.