Letters From The Bay, Week 25: The thief, the bully, and me

The city is so many things.

Sometimes this city is really lovely.  October comes to mind: sunny days, stargazing on the roof, Scrabble in the park, root beer coolers by the pool.  And a particular breeze that comes from the Bay, sweeps up the hills, and catches the back of your neck and the flip in your ponytail as you turn around on Fillmore Street in Pacific Heights, after having spent five minutes looking at the view, pinching yourself because you live by water now and oh.  It’s lovely.

Sometimes this city is really hard. There have been some hard days recently – the kind of days that cause little tiny cracks in your soul, and cause you to question what the heck you’re even doing here, not just in the city but in this life in general. I’m getting better at dealing with them, because that’s just life, but I have begun to equate difficulty with the city, because life just didn’t seem all that difficult before now.

Sometimes this city has a weird smell about it.  A funk, if you will, that will churn your stomach and cause you to recoil.  I experienced just such a funk yesterday, and I almost threw up in my mouth a little bit.  Yes, it’s true.  I almost did.

But always, always, this city is weird.  At least, I think so.

My lovely roommates don’t agree.  They think that I somehow attract the weird, as though there is some magnet for awkward encounters embedded deep inside me, somewhere near my pancreas perhaps, or a frequency that broadcasts out from the top of my head and only the crazies are picking up the signal, like dogs and high pitched noises, because nothing weird ever happens to them.

I think it’s just because they don’t pay attention.

Last night on MUNI, we were stopped outside the Patagonia store near Ghiradelli Square.  A man got on the bus, sloooowly, inching his way up the two bus stairs, holding on to the railing so tightly the knuckles on his left hand were white.  His right arm was crooked under, and a blue windbreaker was draped over it.  There were raw scratches on his face, and his nose dripped like an old farmhouse faucet, one drop at a time down onto his worn sweatpants.

“Well are you comin’ are aren’t ya?” The bus driver asked.

“I’m coming,” the man labored out.  “It’s only just that, I’m very sick.”

“Well take your time then,” the driver said, “just take your time.”

The man finally reached a seat, and puddled down into it, pleased to finally be sitting.  I stared at him as the bus pulled away from the stop, and I noticed his eyes were bright and red.

As we began to pick up speed, suddenly, the man’s demeanor changed.  He straightened up, wiped his nose, shook his head, and pulled his arm free.  He was carrying a jacket.  A really nice jacket.  A jacket that is $499.95 worth of really nice, actually, tags on, from Patagonia, but no bag and no receipt.

It was clear this jacket was stolen, and it was very clear who had stolen it.

What was unclear was what, if anything, I was supposed to do about it.  Or about the horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach when I realized what he had done.

The man flashed the jacket around for the whole bus to see, except there was no one on the bus but me.  “My new jacket!” he kept saying to himself, or maybe to myself. “Look at my new jacket!”

The thief and me.

He opened his mouth and was whistling loudly, impressed with his own ingenuity, when a large woman boarded the bus with a rolling suitcase.  She instantly eyed the man and he eyed her, and they sized each other up quickly according to some bus hierarchy I don’t know.

For some unknown reason, the man looked at the woman, and inexplicably he stuck his tongue out at her.

“Sir,” she said, revving up for something, “you need to put your tongue back into your mouth, because that is not cute.  No, it is not.”

“Fuck you, bitch,” the man said, almost pleasantly, as though he had just asked for the time or for directions to Fisherman’s Wharf.

“You are not cute at all,” the woman said again, as though she were talking to a small child who was misbehaving.  “Ummmm-mmmm no.”

“Really, fuck you,” the man said again nicely.

And on and on it went, for four more blocks.  She’d insult his cuteness, he’d tell her to fuck off as pleasant as can be, and she’d rear back and insult him again.

The thief, the bully, and me.

It was finally my stop and I got off the bus just as the language was starting to get creative.  As I stepped onto the curb, I could hear them screaming at each other, the thief and the bully, gesticulating wildly, warping slightly through the wavy plastic windows of the bus.

And I walked up the hill toward home, just me.

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