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Because I’m A Selective Listener November 21, 2008

Posted by A. Robinson in Bus Songs, Crazy Magnet.
Tags: , , , ,

About three weeks ago this area of the country had its first cold snap, which prompted the trees to change colors and the locals to fish out their bulky–though toasty–outerwear.  I’ve been living here for four years, but I’m still not accustomed to the winter weather, so where many people were donning sweatshirts, I had on my sub-zero Columbia.  

Cold snaps are particularly problematic for someone who catches the bus in the morning.  Its always much colder at 7:00 or 8:00, so if you’re not careful, the weather can take you by surprise.  This particular morning happened to be below freezing at 7:00 a.m. with the wind chill, so I was particularly proud of my forethought.  I swung my truck into a prime space in the Walmart* parking lot and trudged over to the bus stop to hitch a ride onto campus.  

Normally the 7:00 route is fairly empty, but today I happened to have one of the on-again, off-again bus-taking Walmartians to keep me company.  I had seen this woman at the stop before, but normally she was busy either a) smoking up a storm or 2) chatting with her fellow, equally odd Walmartian co-workers.  The last time I’d been privvy to their conversation they’d been discussing how her neighbor had been kicked out of her apartment complex for attacking the landlord; with this in mind, I nodded a polite “hello” and sent her a reserved smile, keeping my fingers crossed that I’d done just enough to meet decorum without inviting further conversation. 

Pah.  Some luck.  

Not five seconds after I’d arranged my backpack and lunchbox on the ground, this woman pulled out a pack of cigarettes and started to drum up conversation.  I didn’t expect much; she certainly look like she’d been “rode hard and put up wet,” so to speak.  She was in her late 50s as best I could guess, average height, a little round around the middle.  Her hair was long enough to reach past her lower back despite the fact it was pulled back in a scrunchii that looked like she’d had it since 1993.  The cheap, Crayola yellow she’d decided to dip her head in made her smoker’s complexion look even more pasty, and the constant punishment she’d inflicted on her poor, defenseless hair made it look more like hay than anything else.  I could tell that she’d put effort into her appearance, though–she certainly hadn’t neglected make-up.  I didn’t ask her name–still don’t know it–so for the sake of the story, we’ll call her “Blondie.”  

I discreetly moved myself and my pile out of her smoke trail as she began to complain about how late the bus was running. 

“Man, don’t he know I’m freezing out here?” she railed.  “This bus driver is always late.  He’s supposed to be here at 7:30, and it’s already done 7:35.  The old bus driver, he wasn’t never late.”

“Oh,” I respond.  The Red bus’ driver is actually quite delightful.  Unlike his counterparts, he actually waits for latecomers and doesn’t leave you in a cloud of natural gas fumes if you happen to have waited in your car to keep warm.  He’s always friendly, and usually quite nice to talk to.  I’d been riding his buses off and on for four years, so I felt morally obligated to defend his honor.  At least a little.  “Sometimes he runs a little late on the first route because he has to get out of the depot.”

Of course, the Blonde Bombshell cuts no slack, continuing on about how cold she is.  I notice she’s wearing nothing more than a thin, purple hoodie and say as much.  

“Well, I’d be wearing my coat if I had it,” she responds.  She’s clearly getting agitated now; her voice has more than the usual amount of edge to it.  “I used to have a green coat, but it got holes in the pocket so I threw it away.  Then I got a pink one, but it’s dirty, so I can’t wear it.”

Hrm.  Problematic, this.  I start to realize that this woman is fully prepared to divulge much more information that I’m willing to listen to.  I respond with sympathy, and make a show of putting on my backpack, hoping she’ll take it as a signal that our conversation is over.  

She doesn’t. 

“I would wash (pronounced WAR-sh) my jacket, but the machines at the place where I rent (not “apartment,” not “complex”) are broke.”  

I politely suggest taking her jacket to the cleaners, mentioning that it’s better for it than the warshing machine anyway.  Blondie will have none of it, and tells me that dry cleaning is a waste of money.  Apparently she visited a cleaners, and when they told her the price, she turned right around and walked out.  Fine, I think, this woman obviously gets minimum wage.  Cleaners can be outrageous–perhaps she has a point.  

“I went to the laundromat too, and they wanted to charge me $1.75 a load!  I couldn’t believe it!  That’s just way too expensive,” she says.  I start to interject, but Blondie cuts me off.  “It’s no good though.  There’s a sign on the door [to the warshroom, I assume] that says the machines will be fixed soon, but it’s been two weeks and they ain’t done nothing about it.”  

TWO WEEKS?!  I’m sure my jaw dropped and my eyes got wide.  Talk about airing your dirty laundry!  Har-dee-har-har.   

“Well,” I reply, forgetting the caution I normally exert when dealing with CRAZY PEOPLE, “It seems to me that’s not too much to pay for clean clothes.”

“Did you not hear me?!” This woman–whom I’d never spoken to before five minutes ago–has started to YELL at me.  “You weren’t paying to attention to anything I was saying!”  She’s now making eye contact, a sure sign of aggression in animals, children, and Walmartians.

Oh.  EXCUSE ME.  Not only is some stranger yelling at me, she’s falsely accusing me of not actively participating in a conversation that I politely tried to end numerous times.  At this point, I’ve crossed the line from being mildly annoyed to just plain pissed.  

“Excuse me, ma’am,” I respond, drawing myself up straight, returning her stare.  “I heard every word you said.  $1.75.  See?  I caught that.  I’m just saying that it’s not too much to pay for clean underwear.”  We stare at each other for a few seconds, and she looks away.  Ha!  Point for me. 

If you take nothing else from this post, remember this:  If you don’t win that dominance-establishing staring match with animals, children, or Walmartians, they will tear you apart.  You have to sacrifice manners for survival.

I clearly am the bigger dog, but this doesn’t convince Blondie to shut up.  She moves on to another story, telling me about how her daughter helped her get a job at Walmart, but then was fired.  That’s why she rides the bus now, she says.  Her daugher’s (lousy, no good, jerk of a) husband won’t let her drive mama to work at 11:00 p.m. at night. 

“I never did like him, not at all,” she finishes defiantly as the bus pulls up.  As I wait behind her to get on, the bus driver and I share an eye roll.  What a nut job, I say to him without words.  

As she sits down in the seat behind him so she can chat with a new victim, he responds with a glance:  Oh, I TOTALLY KNOW.