June 18, 2012

A Book Worth Reading

Some years ago I was on the bus, reading a book, headed to a job I hated. I have since quit the job and finished the book. I still ride the bus from time to time.

As I remember it, it was a good book. It had a fine cover, nice print, and was sized well enough to carry each day without hassle. The quality of its paper was decent and would absorb ink from my red pen, should I mark notes. It was non fiction. As a rule, I only read non fiction. I write fiction and find myself uninterested in the delusions of others - I have enough of my own.

On this particular day it was sunny. Perhaps it was summer. The bus itself was crowded, stuffy. I was riding at rush hour. I was standing in the isle reading my book. I do not remember which page.

Suddenly, it occurred to me that this rush hour bus, normally loud with banal conversations and cell phone use, had become quiet, and strangely so. It is the kind of quiet one does not welcome, even while trying to read a book worth reading. It is the kind of quiet that makes one wish it were not quiet. The kind of quiet that makes one pay attention. And so, I stopped reading my book and paid attention.

This is what I saw: Two men, sitting on opposite sides of the bus, were, let us say, interacting. One was yelling - terribly so. The other, made faces back. This might not have been unusual had they each been four years old. Or six. Or ten. But they were older than this. Old enough to know better, although their behavior belied this point. The faces of the Face-maker were varietal, spontaneous - a kissy face, a tongue-sticking-out face, a scrunchy face. Had he made them to a baby they might have been cute, endearing even, bringing squeals of laughter or joy from a brand-new person just now discovering the world. But the man on their receiving end - the Yeller - clearly not a baby, was not amused. He was downright mad and getting madder. And what was clear to me (and I am certain clear to Face-maker as well) was the profanity and spitting intensity of Yeller, as well as his odd fashion sense, body language, word choice, and inflection - think of a riled-up Barney Fief - pegged him as mentally challenged, unstable even. And these "cute" faces were provoking him.

I don't know who started it, in fact, I didn't care. I could not concentrate to read, and no one else, I noticed, could much concentrate either. Yeller was yelling louder - and at shorter intervals - and Face-maker's face-making grew more intense. I watched the bus driver for signs of intervention, but there were none - he was nervous. I knew he was nervous - scared, maybe - because although this situation merited attention, he withheld it - not a word, not a stare, not even a glance. He drove in determined ignorance.

I folded the corner of the page I was reading, so as to return to it, and made my way forward, weaving and squeezing past the stolid riders of the terminally quiet bus to finally step into the loud and charged space between Yeller and Face-maker. Once positioned directly between them, so as to force them to look around me to continue, I reopened my book and watched the page. And as I watched the page I watched both of them peripherally. I never once looked at them. I never once acknowledged them.

Now, the yelling did not stop. The faces did not either. And for several moments this dynamic duo peered around me and continued their awkward conversation with more profanity and more faces. But not for long. Soon, the yelling grew less, then quieted. And the faces became like reruns - his creativity exhausted.

Eventually they both settled. The drone of the bus' engine became noticeable again. The conversations banal again. I stayed where I was, managed to find my place upon the page and concentrate on my book.

It was a good book, as I remember.

One worth reading.

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