Monday, August 22, 2005

Bloody Knuckles

The curiosity about strangers in DC is that whenever you say to yourself, “please don’t talk to me, please don’t talk to me,” they understand the vibe you’re giving off and take advantage of the chance to strike up conversation.

It was a hot summer day, and I was waiting for the bus out of Georgetown. I stood at the bus stop, sweaty in the heat and agitated at the always-running-behind-schedule manner of the thirty-something busses.

I saw him from far away, walking as though the sidewalk underneath him was constantly shifting up and down. He marched on, decked out in all black with large army boots.

He kept walking straight toward me, his friend by his side.

“I bet he’s going to try to wait for the bus too,” I told myself. “Great.” I could just tell he was the kind of person who had already decided he was going to talk to me once he got to the bus stop.

As he came closer, his friend walked off toward another distraction. On his friend a pair of extra large dj’s headphones cupped his ears and buzzed faithfully. He was like a bug drawn to an island of light, speeding off to a foreign destination not far from his cohert.

In his mid to late thirties, the man in black approached me. He stood a foot away. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed long, thin, greasy black hair spilling out from a zebra patterned cowboy hat. A thin red rope came down from the black and white hat and snaked around his chin. His skin was unusually pale, his eyes as dark as his dyed hair.

He caught me studying him and took the opportunity to introduce himself.

“Hello,” he said, offering me his name, which was less of a name and more of a virtue that his parents perhaps hoped he would embody someday. A masculine version of female names like prudence or patience, I suspected that he made up the name yet used it often. He seemed to be a professional at such strange encounters.

Since I was kind enough to respond to his introduction, he mistook my polite demeanor to be an amicable opportunity to tell me his life story.

Together we waited for the bus, and he described what it was like to grow up in Virginia. Nearby his friend popped in every few minutes, like a bee loyaly stalking a sticky tourist. The man reminded me of a sickly male rocker/VJ who had been popular on MTV a few years back. As he talked I noticed silver rings decorating each of his fingers, accompanied by knuckles that were dry and cracked, most bleeding. I silently prayed for the bus to come soon so that I could be lost in a sea of other strangers, all of whom would be too tired from their workday to bother me.

“You’re a sweet girl, you even have a heart,” he said, in a shy, childish way, referring to the necklace I was wearing. His gestures reminded me of Johnny Depp’s version of Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Carribean. He pulled out a gigantic gothic inspired silver cross hanging on a silver chain from under his shirt. His own version of show and tell, he explained to me that he had recently been re-baptized in a stream in Virginia.

Finally, the bus pulled up. From the street I noticed that every seat on the bus was filled, as was the aisle that riders stand in during busy hours. Since this stranger had informed me that he wasn’t riding the bus today, I had a decision to make: brave the sardine-packed bus for a stinky fifteen minute ride home, or wait for the next bus. I decided that thirty more minutes of conversation with bloody-knuckles wasn’t appetizing. I boarded the bus.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

"I bid you adieu, Sire."

I.

He sat across from me on the bus, the opposite row from my seat and two spots down, the closest seat to the bus driver. Little did I know that other people-watchers have already dubbed him a cult icon within the infamous group of strange people in DC. This, however, was my first encounter with him. Only later would I learn that many others have seen him in his usual area in northwest DC.

He read a book which rested on his belly, which was large enough that the paperback sat at eye-level. His thumbs, large and pink like sausages, wrapped around the weathered cover. I inspected the book; it had surely been purchased at a used bookstore.

His uniform was an elaborate three piece pin striped suit with black reeboks whose soles flapped around when he shifted his feet. His limbs barely touched the floor of the bus, and he had grocery bags filled with food piled into a small barrier on the seats around him.

He reminded me of a pug. He let out large sighs from time to time as the bus rolled from Georgetown down Wisconsin avenue, as though the velocity of the bus tired him. His face was sweaty and his moustache curled.

He pulled the line as the driver neared his stop. He heaved himself out of his seat as the bus slowed, pulling his cane up to support himself. Once at the bottom of the steps with groceries in tow, he offered the bus driver half a bow of his head. “I bid you adieu, sire,” he proclaimed, in a hefty yet faux saunding british accent. The bus driver laughed and waved, and the bus rolled away.