Sunday, May 12, 2013


It was Anything Can Happen Day.  I was on the 12 Sandy bus instead of the 75 Lombard-St. John's, in the afternoon instead of 7 a.m.  I had just passed a state insurance license exam, which had been on my to-do list for many months, so I was riding the crest of an accomplishment wave on my beast of metal, glass and rubber.

Also riding my beast:  across from my mid-bus aisle seat, a woman in big headphones played a movie on a tablet. The sound track suddenly poured into the bus -- music, dialogue, effects: the works.  Heads turned, muttering comments.

She was absorbed, blithely innocent of the aural trespass.

The driver jumped in through the intercom.  "Please turn down the volume!  You are playing your device too loud!"

She didn't respond.  That was my cue.  I reached over and tapped the woman's arm.

Her face said, "What?" and I pointed at my ear and her device and mouthed "Too loud."

Her face said, "You are a lone oversensitive nuisance and I'm going to ignore you," but I gestured sweepingly, to indicate "everyone" and mouthed "We're all listening."

She took off the headphones.  The sound still filled the bus.  Glances came at her.  Her face said, "This is not what I expected."

I said, "We can all hear your movie."

She turned it off with some exasperated lip English.

Then, saying her first words, which I couldn't understand, the woman held out the headphones, inviting me to partake.

I may have laughed at her.  I know I shook my head "No" several times. 

A few minutes later on the Max train, I caught a whiff of something troublesome. I was guessing, but I'm very familiar with a revulsion that sometimes hit like a heavyweight when I was jobless for a year. It went bone deep.  And now it was nearby again.

Of ten people in my line of sight, all were male, one a boy of 11 or 12, two men of 45 or older and the rest between 18 and 40.  Six of the seven young men were wearing T-shirts or sweatshirts and jeans, shorts, or baggy pants.  Six wore running or gym shoes.  One or two of these were neat and clean enough that it's conceivable, barely, that they were on the way to work.

In other words, at least half of the adult males riding with me on a Monday afternoon in April were not working.  Nor were they looking for work, I guarantee you.  I have to guess that they were hanging out.  They were enjoying life.  As riders boarded and left, there was one constant:  half of the men of working age were doing as little as possible.  Most of them had a mobile device but not a single one was reading.

Does this seem about right?  Five of ten men who are out of the house and not at work are slacking?  If they were working, they wouldn't be riding the train, would they? (Answer:  No, they'd be working.)  Any one of them could be on vacation, having a day off, taking it easy.

Oh, hell.  Why not?  Why am I judging? Mid-day is a good time to be out doing as little as possible, especially in this fine, fine weather. I try not to judge, but sometimes I'll glance around the library thinking "At least all these homeless folks are trying to learn something."  The thought just happens.

Never mind.  I passed my insurance exam.  I helped a lady on the bus.  The world and the day are big enough to hold a worker like me and -- whatever those guys are doing, too.  Bless them.

The End

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