My phone rings. It’s a muffled sound. it’s—
“Bill from SDF health associates…you sent us your resume through Craig’s List this morning?”
Oh, it’s Bill.
“I see you went to school in Massachusetts. My hometown is right up route two…Grizzly Falls?”
“Oh, yes…” I say drearily, “I did send you my resume. Strange, I drove all over New England in college and don’t remember any Grizzly Falls”
“Oh. That is strange, yes. So Rachel, the position is for an Office Assistant, and the person who we have now is leaving this week. Can you come in tomorrow for an interview? Say, 1pm?”
“Absolutely.” My voice smiles but my face doesn’t.
“Well, anyway, the position is with ten men in one room. We just want you to know that.”
“Sounds intense.” I am bored. I see visions of assholes dance in my head, wearing khakis.
“Um, it can get a little rowdy.” Bill lowers his voice. “Are you comfortable with that?”
“What do you mean rowdy?”
“You know, just…” He lowers his voice more, chuckles creepily, “just jokes.”
“Ok. Looking forward to meeting you, Bill!” My face and words are ironically ecstatic.
“You too, Rachel!”
I hang up. I stare at the ceiling. I am bored again.
The following morning.
I already don’t want to go.
I have to convince myself that this job could possibly be worth getting out of bed for, despite the obvious sexism and overall questionability. That morning was a silent war in my room, between the super ego and the whining, screaming, bribing heart. The never ending internal war affects my posture, because the tension in my shoulders often reach through the nape of my neck, into my jaw and down my throat. At times like these my throat swells up and it is difficult to breathe effortlessly.
This happens almost every morning, whether it is a crappy job interview or a grocery store trip, I find something all the same–though not as much since I’ve been in San Francisco. The air here has a calming effect that New York simply didn’t provide. It’s a difference I attribute to my own ability to leave most of my life behind.
Is So slow. The old ladies. Are speaking Chinese feverishly, gesturing to seats as though someone were dying to steal it away. Spandex-wearing SFU students holding their phones so effortlessly, apple products could be mistaken for extra limbs. And then, when they are all gone, and you’ve realized that your stop does not exist, because you are on the WRONG bus, at quarter past one, and the road you are going down has three members: the bus driver, yourself, and the sole crack head, the dynamic of the moment is put on its side.
Now, I do not judge him as a crack head right off the bat. He is a person of color, a scraggly looking, older looking, and perfectly nice-seeming man. He smiles at me from across the bus, and I smile back.
Then he is sitting next to me. His face is the only image I am able to view when I turn my head to the right. He is asking me questions and trying to find my facial attention. I look at him, smile and politely nod when he says that it is a beautiful smile. Then he asks me to guess how old he is. I have a feeling inside of me that comes with being a young, apparently approachable white woman. It starts as a suggestion of a feeling, right when you first realize that the person you are talking to is trying to have sex with you. It’s a powerful thing, and as I have learned, a lady can often turn the dialogue around, or end it entirely.
In this particular instance, however, I find myself at a loss for words. He is not being an asshole in any respect, and I am thoroughly enjoying the game he is playing.
His skin is not wrinkled, or even damaged-looking in the least. He has some graying dark hairs in a beard and mustache. He has grey eyebrows and black hair.
It is 1:20pm. My stop still hasn’t appeared.
“I bet you’re 40.” I say with my eyes on my iphone google maps. A lump in my throat is slowly making itself known,
He cackles and slaps his knee. “Me?” He smiles big, and I laugh genuinely, because this entire day is outrageously depressing to me. Unfortunately, my eyes tear up uncontrollably and I am forced to look down and muffle shakily:
“Yes, you. Ok. How about 50?”
“Higher” He is trying to find my face, I can feel it. My cheeks become hot.
“55?” I manage to look up and smile.
“Higher!” Laugh, cackle, knee-slap.
“60?!” I truly can’t believe it. I slap my forehead.
“I am 63 years old. So where you goin’ girl? What’d he do to you? Come on, talk to me.” I let my eyes fall on his, he half-smiles, like he knows something I don’t.
At that, the bus stops and in comes a very skinny, petite lady with brown skin, black hair and all but one tooth. She speeds past the driver, who lazily waves her away, and closes the bus door behind her. She zealously lands her flailing self in front of my new 63-year-old creepy friend and me.
“Got any quarters, I REALLY need quarters” She looks me straight in the eye. I look at her right back.
“I really honestly just spent my last two dollars on this bus.” I say steadily, intensely looking into beady, tired brown eyes.
She looks me up and down. I am in my best pantyhose, velvet skirt and silk blouse. But yes, it was my last two dollars. And yes, I decided, I have missed that interview, because I didn’t want to go.
“Come on what you got!” She yells. And her lack of teeth is suddenly startling to me. I find myself feverishly afraid that I am loosing all my teeth. I stare back at her, my eyebrows crinkled, as if to say, “I’d give you my blouse, but this creep would totally jump me.”
Creepy Friend swoops in, “Come on, get lost! She ain’t got nothin’! Get lost girl.”
The bus stops at the next corner.
The lady flies off, screaming incoherently.
“Thanks.” I say. My eyes are steady now, my body is distracted by the guilt of my privilege, and the anger turned inward, anger because I even acknowledge my guilt, as though I’m asking for my own false pity. Thank you, Hampshire College.
“No problem, you know it’s so crazy they be crazy you know you just gotta try and be happy, be happy, you know? Come on what’s your name? What are you doing out here, you got a boy?”
“I’m Gertrude. I do not have a boyfriend. Just trying to get somewhere.” I smile again. Now I really want him to go away, but I am clearly stuck.
“YOU don’t have a boy? What?” He starts cackling again, and I become bored again, and want desperately to get off of the bus because now it is—
There is no excuse. I’m just lost on this bus. With this man. And I missed the interview. But I got up early. And I got dressed up, and I thought I knew the way, I thought I had it all figured out. I wore a trench coat even though it’s too warm out.
Am I sabotaging myself or saving myself?
“Hey Trudy,” my friend says.
“Hey, what’s your name?” I am teary eyed again.
“James.” He says, looking at my face again, trying to see me. But I don’t let him. I’m glancing around, averting my gaze.
“So girl, talk to me, what did that boy do?”
“I don’t have a boy. I’m fine.” I turn my back to him. I take out my book. I want him to go away. But he doesn’t care.
“You wanna smoke it?” He whispers.
I look at him. He is gesturing at an imaginary pipe that is very clearly not intended for marijuana use. You see one never lights pot from the bottom. It’s unseemly.
I smile again. “Yup. Sure. I’ll give you my number.”
“Really? WOW! WOW Trudy! GREAT!!!” He hands me his flip phone.
I type in a phony number with a Connecticut area code under “Gertrude”.
“There you go.” I say, and hand it back to him.
“WOW! Imma call you Trudy! Imma call you like…how bout this weekend?”
“Sure James, give me a ring.”
He scampers off at the next stop, screaming into the bustling edges of fisherman’s wharf, “I got her number! I got her number!”
How I went from getting dressed for an interview, to being alone on the bus at fisherman’s wharf, I can hardly remember. I crossed the street, lowered my head and sulkily walked toward the bookstore at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, wondering if they still had those Fanny Brice CDs.
Wayward tales and dusty sails line the shipyards far away, off somewhere, on the edges of the country. Here, there is no water, only that which is filtered and re filtered and hosed through the ground underneath our shoes. There’s well water, too. The bugs like that, and so do the aliens, I think. The aliens are everywhere, and they lay traps for us that we can’t see. In the old wooden house, on the old dirt street where the scent of burning wheat fields is always aglow, there’s a ghost that sits in a rocking chair, on the second floor. He laughs a lot, and when he laughs he sounds like a crow. A hacking crow, a rabid bird, a two-headed alien. Who knows. There’s an old lady on the first floor, she said that she asks the ghost for rent every month but he always says no. He stinks up the toilet, he overflows the bath, he laughs and creaks his rocking chair around, so that it echos a horrible sound, and the lady on the first floor never knows where he is, he just goes and goes.
Out there by the ocean there must be a change. A hark, or a bellow, a small one even, like the crunching sound apples make while horses chomp, chomp, chomp. There must be another way to live than this, a way that involves shiny People talking on the street, in a shop, on a boat. People yelling, and laughing, with live vocal chords and shadows.
Remember what the pastor said. It was just their time. You carry on the farm by yourself. You’re a man now you can do it. And I just looked at him and saw my parents lying on a tree, pushed over a carriage whose horse had all but left the scene entirely. Their heads looked purple, swollen, hollow, their eyes both open, still looking.
The farm is mine and so, I will never see the shadows on boardwalks and that is what it is. It is just the old man in the rocking chair who refuses to pay rent. The aliens watching me, the wheat-smoke burning perpetually, staining my bed sheets with the secure feeling of time passing, and grains growing, and people-less miles, for miles and miles, until you can’t see the spec that was a stop sign, about an hour ago. The rock that was a landmark, before you knew the road.