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A Little Less Conversation.

I like to talk to people. Yes, I’m one of those who’ll happily engage in small talk with just about anyone, although most of the time I have a problem starting conversations with strangers. I get that small talk bothers a lot of people and I respect that. The last thing I want to do is impose on someone who’d rather be alone with their own thoughts. There’s nothing wrong with silence. There are a couple of guys I see regularly on the bus who always sit together. Sometimes they’re talking; sometimes they’ll have extensive discussions that draw in three or four other regular riders, the conversation only dropping off as everybody gets dropped off at their regular stops. And sometimes these two guys just sit together, side by side, one with a thick book, the other with a newspaper, in total silence.

I always feel a little awkward when I’m the only rider on the bus. Does the driver want to talk? How do I know? If the driver’s been laughing and talking with other riders who then got off that’s a pretty good sign that, yes, the driver does want to talk, that they’re one of those drivers who really likes to talk. Most of the time if they’re that type they’ll start up the conversation with me which takes some of the pressure off, but until that happens I’m not sure. Bus drivers run the spectrum. Some want to talk, some want to be left alone, and some are okay with talking but have trouble starting conversations.

There were only three of us on the bus: the driver, an older guy dressed in jeans and a ragged flannel shirt, and me. There’d also been a teenage boy, but he’d gotten off at the last stop.

“Did you have a good day, Jim?” the driver asked loudly.

The older guy didn’t respond. He just sat in his seat staring at his hands.

I’m not sure how long the silence went on but then the driver said, “I guess it’s a ‘don’t talk to Cathy’ kind of day.”

She chuckled, and I said, “Maybe he didn’t hear you.”

The driver didn’t say anything. I felt really awkward, like I’d accidentally intruded on a private conversation. Either that or for some reason the driver thought I was Jim.

 

Space To Fill.

This is a Google Maps shot of an apartment building on Hayes Street, a few blocks over from where I work. As you can see it’s from May 2016.

Here’s the same place now. There’s a lot of construction going on. They’re starting with the parking garage because that was probably easiest to tear down and next they’ll tear down the apartment building, probably so they can put up a much larger and more expensive apartment building with little or no room for parking because with all the new apartment buildings going up around the city parking spaces have always been an afterthought, but that’s another story.

And I was intrigued to see this:

It’s not the best or most interesting graffiti I’ve ever seen, but I wondered how long it’s been there. Was it hidden at the back of the parking garage back when people were still in residence or did someone put it there some time after the space was cleared?

Either way it filled an empty space and there’s been a flurry of new graffiti ever since the construction started.

The funny thing is as I was walking around the site I found a guy spray-painting a tarp covering one of the fences on the opposite side. He was covering up some graffiti.

“This is the third time they’ve sent me out here to paint over something,” he said.

I decided not to tell him I find the graffiti in the area interesting. I just said that at least it gave him something to do. He laughed.

“Yeah. Every time they put somethin’ up I get to come out here and cover it up.”

And every time he covers it up he creates an empty space for them to put up something new.

Fender Bender.

As soon as I started driving it was inevitable that I’d have an automobile accident. Well, maybe not inevitable, but highly likely. I think it is possible to drive and never be involved in an automobile accident but statistically the odds of it never happening are the same as being attacked by a shark, hit by lightning, and winning the lottery all on the same day. Since I got my license fairly late in life—at the age of thirty-six to be exact, something which, around here, is about as unusual as being attacked by a shark, hit by lightning, and winning the lottery all on the same day—I managed to avoid being in an accident while I was behind the wheel as a teenager, unlike all my friends who, within a year of getting their licenses when they were sixteen, all had at least one accident, especially my friend Martin who was pretty much an existential threat whenever he was operating a vehicle. Martin managed to total one car less than a month after he got his license and then had seven or eight minor bumps and dents over the next year, mostly as a result of driving over sidewalks. Martin had a strange belief that he could drive on anything that was concrete—sidewalks, patios, porches. Actually I’m not sure if this is something he really believed or if he just wasn’t paying attention. Once when I was riding with him he said, “You know, I don’t know how I manage to get into so many accidents.” I looked over and he had his hands behind his head and his eyes closed and was steering with his knees. He was also speeding because no matter where Martin was going he was in a hurry to get there. Normally I don’t think anyone should exceed the legal speed limit but in Martin’s case everyone was better off if he sped so he’d spend as little time as possible getting where he was going.

That’s when I said, “You can let me off here, I’ll walk the rest of the way home.” And then a few minutes later a nice cop pulled over and picked me up for walking along the interstate, but that’s another story.

With that experience behind me you’d think I’d be an extremely careful and considerate driver, and I am most of the time, but of course all it takes is being a bonehead one time.

I really should have clarified at the beginning that I wasn’t just involved in an accident. I caused it. And I would have mentioned that but I was in a hurry to get on with the story, so bear with me while I back up a bit since I was backing up at the time. I in a hurry to get home even though I really didn’t need to be, and backing out of a parking space. And in my defense I was being extremely careful to check behind me to make sure I didn’t back into anyone—so careful, in fact, that I didn’t realize until I heard the sound that I was scraping the side of the car directly to my left.

Luckily the owners of that vehicle happened to be walking across the parking lot at that very moment because I really couldn’t live with the guilt of leaving the scene of the crime and there are half a dozen places around that parking lot and if they hadn’t shown up I’d be walking into every one and yelling, “Hey, does anybody around here drive a big gray SUV sort of thing?”

That was my plan, anyway, since I was completely  flustered, flummoxed, and discombobulated.

And they were very nice about it and listened patiently while I gave them my name, license, phone number, mother’s maiden name, first pet’s name, the street where I grew up, how I met my wife, a coupon for a free burrito, my favorite color, and then proceeded to demonstrate that I wasn’t intoxicated by walking a straight line then taking a piece of chalk and playing hopscotch and wondered aloud about the phrase “pure as the driven snow” because snow that cars have driven through is always filthy. By that time I’m pretty sure they did think I was on something and I would have understood completely if they’d quietly backed away and forgotten about the whole incident.

In fact I did think they’d forgotten the whole thing because that was more than two months ago, but relatively speaking that’s a pretty short time. An accident can happen in seconds but dealing with the aftereffects takes a lot longer, and I’m pretty sure the insurance company will make sure I remember it for the rest of my life. Even if I never have another accident I’ll still have to pay a higher rate so each bill might as well have HEY, REMEMBER WHAT YOU DID? stamped on it in big red letters.

There have been predictions that someday accidents will be eliminated, or at least dramatically lessened, because we’ll have self-driving cars, removing all human error. I’m a little skeptical but it is still possible that in the future, maybe even in the very near future, we’ll have much safer vehicles. I really look forward to that and I’m eager to get there, but not in too much of a hurry, and I hope the people who design self-driving cars have their eyes open and aren’t steering with their knees.

If Wishes Were Buses…

Most of the things people leave behind on the bus are things they don’t want: empty bottles, grocery bags, pieces of paper. Once I found a small pile of bones left over from chicken wings carefully balanced on the edge of the window. I thought about sliding open the window and throwing them out but there are some things even I won’t pick up, and I didn’t want to risk throwing chicken wings into the windshield of an oncoming car. A bus driver once told me that she had a kid who threw a milkshake into the open sunroof of a car in the next lane which I thought took some amazing skill but was also a criminal waste of a milkshake, but that’s another story.

Just a few days ago I got on the bus and went straight to the back just as I always do, especially at this time of year because the motor is in the back and it’s the warmest place to sit. And I found this:

A

wishes1At first I thought it was a child’s school assignment. When I was in school we had to do things like this all the time because being able to cut pictures of stuff out of magazines and paste them to a piece of posterboard was a valuable skill that, like the quadratic formula, I have never once needed in my adult life. But then I looked at it more closely.

wishes2

It looked like a shopping guide. Someone had been calculating and comparing prices. They wanted a cell phone, a bicycle, a small motorcycle, and a Nerf gun. I couldn’t tell whether the pictures really matched the exact items or if they were just guides.

wishes3

What I really wanted to know, though, was, who were they? Who made this thing and left it behind? Was it a Christmas gift guide? Maybe it was and with the holidays over they didn’t need it anymore. That’s the best possibility. The worst possibility is they were a student and this was an assignment that they accidentally left behind. If that’s the case they probably ended up getting a F on it, although if they had turned it in the grade wouldn’t be much better. That’s some really sloppy work there. Don’t they teach kids the proper way to stick pictures to a piece of posterboard  anymore?

wishes4

Think About It.

think1At first thinking outside the box was a good idea. For too long we’d been confined by the box and its six walls, each of uniform height and width and equidistant in all directions. The box had, in its time, been useful, but outside we found our possibilities expanded. We thought next to the box and on top of the box. A few brave souls tried thinking under the box but they found themselves back inside the box.

Thinking outside the box opened us up to new distances, broader horizons, a landscape we hadn’t imagined and which, unlike the inside of the box, was constantly changing.

think2And yet as time passed a sense of unease came over some of us. We sensed there was something more. We could turn to face one way and there would be no box. We could turn to face another way, and still another, and there was still no box. But when we turned again there was the box.

think3We began to ask ourselves, could we go far enough away that there would be no box? Do we need the box at all? And so we went in search of things that had no part of the box.

 

A Dream Within An Involuntary Succession Of Images Occurring During REM-Stage Sleep.

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

I had that dream again.

There are several sleep-related issues I’ve fortunately outgrown: sleeping with the light on, night terrors, and sleepwalking. At least it’s been several years since I sleepwalked and my wife no longer has to worry about me trying to take down the picture that hangs over her bed to get the computer disk out of the wall safe behind the picture, mainly because she moved the picture to another part of the bedroom but also because we don’t have a wall safe. And even if we did I’m not sure why I’d store computer disks in there.

One thing I haven’t outgrown though is the recurring dream, although I don’t have them nearly as often as I did when I was a kid. Psychologists might say this was me working through a particular issue or set of concerns, the same reason some children reread the same story. I think there’s a much simpler answer: I just hadn’t built up enough experiences yet so my brain regularly had to go into reruns. And I also think I prompted it. Even now I can do that sometimes: I’ll be in the midst of a really interesting dream, wake up, and then find that I can re-enter it, although usually at a later point, sort of like stepping out of a movie to go to the bathroom, but it doesn’t really matter because the move is Un Chien Andalou which would make just as much sense if you watched it backwards. And sometimes at night when I’d lie down to sleep I’d think, hey, that dream I had the other night was really fun, I’d like to dream that again, and my brain would oblige. Then halfway through it would turn that fun dream into a nightmare because that’s the sort of thing my brain thinks is hilarious. And I’d try to explain to my brain that that sort of thing is only funny if it happens to other people, then realize that I’m a truly horrible person and that my brain was just giving me what I deserved, but that’s another story.

Anyway I have this recurring dream. The alarm goes off. I get up, take the dogs out, take a shower. Sometimes I get all the way to work before the alarm really goes off. Since this is a dream my brain will skip over the boring parts and go for the really boring parts.

Here’s the odd thing: I’m always sound asleep when I have this dream so why do I wake up exhausted? Probably because that’s the sort of thing my brain thinks is hilarious.

Seeing Stars?

spaceHave you ever looked down and seen stars? Chances are you’re saying “No” unless you’ve been in space or simply extremely disoriented, probably due to some form of intoxication, and even then you weren’t technically looking down because, first of all, when you’re in space and loosed from the surly bonds of gravity “up” and “down” become meaningless and second, if you’re so intoxicated that you can’t tell up from down your feet should be firmly planted on the ground, unless you’re in a bed, and even then someone should make sure you stay on your side or stomach until you have been once again ensnared by the surly bonds of sobriety.

Let me start over.

I was standing at the corner waiting for the bus to arrive and I looked down and saw stars. Just off the edge of the sidewalk, in the curb, there was a rectangular object with stars on it. Now I’m not the sort of person who goes around picking up trash. Well, sometimes I am. If there’s a piece of paper or an empty can on the sidewalk and there’s a trash can nearby I’ll pick it up and throw it away. If someone’s left a half-finished cup of coffee on the bus bench I’ll move it. Once when I was on the bus a half-full bottle of something rolled from one end of the of the bus to the other for two miles before I finally picked it up and put it in the garbage bag behind the driver’s seat. Why no one else did is a mystery but I decided someone had to.

Anyway I couldn’t get over my curiosity about what this thing with the stars on it was. My best guess was that it was a poster of the stars or possibly even a Star Wars poster, and since it had been raining it was soaking wet and likely ruined but I still had to know. First I waited for a lull in the traffic because I didn’t want the anonymous strangers driving by to think I was the sort of person who picks up soaking wet trash. Then I picked it up and, well…I’m still not sure what it was. It was a multi-panel piece of cardboard with stars on one part of it.

And then I realized the bus was coming. The driver had very likely seen me and was thinking of me as the sort of person who picks up soaking wet trash. Or something. I don’t know what she thought. She smiled and said hello when I got on the bus and I realized that some guy picking up a mysterious object off the street was probably not the strangest thing she’d seen. In fact I’m pretty sure that for most bus drivers seeing strange things is common.

You Decide.

Back in the ’80’s when the ‘M’ in MTV still meant “music” they had an occasional feature called “Smash Or Trash?” They’d run a music video–remember those?–and ask viewers to call in and vote on whether it was “a smash” or “trash”. Local radio stations did it too. Memorable songs that I remember hearing for the first time as a “Smash or trash?” are Love Shack by The B-52s–smash, obviously, Don’t Worry, Be Happy by Bobby McFerrin–again, smash, and She Drives Me Crazy by Fine Young Cannibals. Yeah. Smash. In fact I can’t remember any that were “trash”.

Anyway, here’s your chance. Smash or trash?

drunk

 

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