In Which Our Humble Hero Rides The Bus To Work

"I don't know if he's happy or if he just thinks he's happy," was the phrase that really started me to dislike the people I ride on the bus with when I go downtown to waste my precious youth at my job.

I am not a loud or boisterous person when I'm out in public for the most part. If you have ever seen me, you know that I have a very unique look, and in a way, it calls attention to me. However, if I am not with someone I know, I tend to keep very close to myself. I don't like people, as most of them tend to annoy me. Hell, if you've been on this list for a while, you know that after a time, everything annoys me other than Mystery Science Theater 3000 eventually. However, I tend to draw people when I least want anything to do with them. It's almost as if the subtle non-verbal information I send out is the opposite of what I want it to be. Luckily, on the bus, I rarely have to put up with people. Why? I sit in the very front in the evening (to facilitate getting off the bus) and in the very back in the morning (to facilitate seeping), and usually am either reading or sitting with my eyes closed.

When someone sits next to me, I don't acknowledge their presence, other than making sure I don't slam my briefcase on their lap. A couple of times people have tried to get me into a conversation, but I normally just give brief one word answers, and don't ask them any questions so as to end the exchange.

I had had a Dorothy Parker day and didn't much want any sort of human contact. What's a Dorothy Parker day? She's a writer, look her up. I'm not going to explain every reference to you, this is a learning experience, dammit.

I didn't want to talk to anyone, I didn't want to listen to anyone, I didn't want any sort of contact at all. I had made it through a day at work by treating the people who called as puzzles to be solved instead of seeing them as human beings. Oddly enough, it's on days like this that I get told what a good job I am doing, even though we are told to empathize with the callers. Feh. They are just impediments to me doing my real job, slacking and staring at my picture of Parker Posey. I sat in the frontmost seat so that I could escape the bus and make it to my car without even have time for the driver to wish me a good day. Then, I could retreat to my home, lay on my futon and immerse myself in some crappy movie with giant rubber monsters and dark eyed women who know how to scream at the top of their lungs when they see them. However, fate stepped in and decided to make my life more of a living hell that normal.

How? you may well ask, and well, you may or I wouldn't have anything to write about. A woman and her friend sat behind me and proceeded to carry on a loud conversation. Now, I don't eavesdrop all the time. About the only time I feel the need is when a gorgeous redhead sits near me at a coffee house and I think that if I listen carefully I can think of a way to start a conversation with her. It hasn't worked yet, but someday, I will be able to do it, so that I can be rejected in all new and exciting ways. These women, however, I could not ignore. I had my eyes closed and begged for sleep. Instead, I heard one of them go on and on about her brother, who lives in her basement and is going through a divorce. She was upset with him, felt that he wasn't moving on with his life, and wouldn't ever amount to anything.

It wasn't until much later that she said that he'd only been out of the marriage for a month. Some personal history here folks, I am divorced. It took me more than a month to get over it. If you can get over a marriage in less than a month, you shouldn't have gotten married in the first place, since you have no heart to speak of. Then again, I am so oversensitive, it took me almost a year to get over the fact that my X-Files flashlight's battery died.

She listed all of her brother's faults, going from how he met the woman to how he should have known the marriage wasn't going to work 7 years ago when she had been rude to someone's cousin. I felt an immense wave of pity for her brother because the way she spoke, it was obvious that this woman had given this speech more than once, and I imagined that it had to have been to him at least once. When we got to the bus stop, I was standing up, ready to break for my freedom before the bus had even stopped, gripping the bar so that I wouldn't go through the windshield when it finally did come to a halt. The last thing she said, as I was getting out my Metropass card to pay for my little excursion to Hell was, "And now he's seeing someone just like her and is planning to get an apartment. I don't know if he's happy or if he just thinks he's happy."

Let's consider this phrase for a moment. Emotion is all perception and has no outside qualifiers. In psychology, all there is to determine mood is self-reporting. If a patient says he's happy, unless he's blatantly lying and showing signs of morbid obsession, you must assume that he is happy. I thought about this for a moment, and turned to the woman and spoke simply so that she could grasp my meaning. By the endless chatter I'd heard, it was painfully obvious that I wouldn't be able to debate philosophy with her. It would be like trying to explain the theory of relativity to a puppy. I just said, "If he thinks he's happy, then he probably is. He would know what he's feeling better than anyone else. It's like the fact that I think I am depressed, therefor I am."

She was taken aback by this, and took a couple of beats for a response. I could almost see the 8-track in her brain trying to go from track one to track two in the middle of a song. She than said, "I you need to see a therapist."

I didn't even think about a response, since that sort of thing is pure instinct to me. "I am a therapist."

You could have bounced a superball off of her face at that one, and I felt a little better about myself that I had been able to stun her.

And you would think that that would have been the end of it.

But you'd be wrong.

The next day, I decided to eat outside, since we've only got about five days left in Minnesota you can be outside without being wrapped in Goretex. I had a fruit smoothie (which is a whole bunch of fruit thrown in a blender until it is a drink) and a bag of pretzels and a magazine to pass the 30 minutes I get for lunch. I also like eating outside the Hennepin County courthouse. Partly because there are a number of impeccably dressed women who come and go while I eat and what guy doesn't like that? Partly because you can make up stories about the people as they come and go, since courthouses are places of High Drama. As I walked to one of the park benches outside the courthouse, I heard, "Hey!"

I didn't think it was directed at me since, A) I wouldn't associate with anyone who is so rude as to say hey instead of hello and B) Cory Don't Socialize. I was wrong, however, as the voice rang out again, and I looked in the direction of it. There was a frumpy blonde woman wearing a bad fitting sweatshirt with some local sports team on it, poorly fitting dungarees and had a tattoo of a rose on the back of her wrist. Dear Sweet God, I thought, some biker chick things I look like someone her old man knows. She motioned for me to come over and sit down, and not being one to rock the boat o'ermuch, I decided to do it. Even though I knew that she would try to engage me in conversation, and I wouldn't be able to read my magazine.

Once again, I pray to God that he send a homicidal maniac or a massive cardiac arrestment to free me. Once again, God proves that he hates me, and I am forced to live and listen to this woman.

She looked at me for a minute and said, "You don't recognize me, do you?"

The puzzled look, my vacant stare and the fact that I sat down as far away from her on the bench as I could get without being on another bench was not enough of a clue. She wanted my verbal verification of the obvious.

I muttered that I wasn't sure if I knew her, which is a polite way of saying, "No, I have no clue and dislike guessing games, can we get past this little part of the game please?"

"I was on the bus last night talking about my brother," she said, "and I thought about what you said."

Really, I thought, are you actually going to quit beating up on your brother in his time of need and show some compassion instead of going on and on about what a loser he is?

"And while I was watching Home Improvement last night, I decided that if I ever saw you again, I would tell you that it's just a phase."

"What's just a phase?" I asked, confused by the fact that Home Improvement can give anyone a sort of intellectual insight. I've seen that show a few times, and it only has one script. Every week, the writers just use the search and replace function of their word processing program. This week Tim gets in trouble for wrecking the -car- ... and the next week the replace the word car with the word toaster, or replace Tim with one of the kids, that sort of thing. The only insight I've ever gotten from the show is that I need to change the channel.

"Your depression, it's just a phase."

Ah, my ennui at the vast indifference of heaven combined with the facts of my existence are just a phase. I'll grow out of it, like a 15 year old girl who likes to collect pictures of their favorite teen singer. Thank God. I was wondering how I would handle the arbitrariness of how contentment and meaning are handed out among the masses of humanity, but it all seems to be a phase. This insight came to her in a flash while watching Tim Allen setting a prop on fire and spraying it with a fire extinguisher.

So much for all the therapy I was ready to pay for, or the soul searching I was going to do to decide what I want to do with the rest of my life now that I seem to be at a crossroads. I'll just go home and wait it out and it'll pass like a craving for pizza with pineapple and black olives.

When she asks why I'm depressed, I do what I always do, deflect the question. My personal life is my own business, and I have learned the hard way over the last two months that it's not a good idea to let anyone know what you are thinking, planning, dreaming, or wanting for any reason. It unleashes a demon, and takes all of the plans and dreams from you. I give an ambiguous answer, and give her a leading question, "Do you work in the courthouse?" to get her to quit wondering about me.

She was going to talk to me anyway, so I thought I'd better have her tell me about her life, since I won't be telling anyone about mine, thank you very much.

"Yes," she began, and we were off to the races. She went into painfully crushing detail about a problem she was having with one of her co-workers. She said that he was gay, and it made her uncomfortable. The way she said that he was gay was in the same whisper that your grandmother used when she would tell you that someone had cancer, as if saying it out loud might cause it to happen to you.

She was uncomfortable with his being so open about it, and how he would tell his co-workers about his personal life and it just wasn't right. Never mind the fact that she was talking about her husband as she talked about how this guy shouldn't talk about the fact that he has a life partner.

Need I tell you that she was showing me an amazing lack of insight? Here's a woman who goes on about her life and everyone in her life at such a volume that people who don't want to know about it are forced to listen, complaining that this person is talking too much about their life. I refrain from using the phrase, "Kettle, thou art black, the pot exclaimed," because I honestly think she would just give me a look like a confused puppy and I would have to explain it. The urge to begin chanting my mantra of "Please someone kill me now" over and over again briefly flashes through my brain, but I stifle that urge until I am able to figure out how to get Jack Kervorkian out of jail.

Instead, I drop into therapist mode and tell her to confront the co-worker, tell him what bothers her and see if they can come to some sort of middle ground. Standard, boring crap that they teach in first year psych to people who think it is some sort of amazing insight into how the human brain works. She looks at me as if I have opened the box of complete understanding and tells me what a good idea that is.

So, this woman who was going to give me insight into how to cure my situational melancholy didn't know to tell someone to knock it off when they annoy her. There are times I wished that I didn't think about things so much, and could be happy with little things like that. Then again, I also wish for fresh Earl Grey to be waiting for me when I wake up in the morning and to be able to travel back in time and slap the crap out of myself at various stages of my life.

She prattled on a bit about her job and how she's been given two written warning in the last three months, and I wondered why people want to tell me things like that. If I'd been given a written warning at work, it's not the sort of thing I would tell a guy with long hair, dressed all in black who wasn't paying very close attention and didn't know their name, let alone anything about them. Call me crazy, but I do have a couple of boundaries.

Finally, after a seeming eternity, she excused herself, since she was only outside on a smoke break. I looked at my watch after she'd lumbered away and thought to myself that I had been sitting there for almost a half hour, and she was there before I sat down. That's either a very long smoke break, or I won't have to put up with her on the bus for much longer.

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