"Under certain circumstances, profanity provides a relief denied even to prayer."
Cake on a Bus
I boarded the crosstown bus at noon on a Wednesday. I am not a usual bus person, I don’t know the lingo or the ways and it takes me several minutes to give the driver my dollar. I was not expecting the payment process, although I am not sure why. It almost came as a shock to me.
The bus costs money? I thought, switching the cake in my hand over so I could reach for my wallet.
The bus must cost money, I thought, handing the cake to the bus driver so I could pull a crinkled and wrinkled dollar from my wallet and drop it into the collection bucket.
Does the bus really run on a dollar per person? I thought, collecting my cake with a smile and gathering myself back together.
I did a mental count of the people on the bus. Seven dollars, eight if you count the child. I do not count the child, not out of some need to put children down or make them believe they are inferior. I just think the rates may be less so I am rounding down. Best to keep to the lowest common denominator when dealing with city finances. I learned that because I am a librarian.
Three of the people on the bus are what you think of when you think of the movie Speed. A college student with hair that you wish you could post to the Internet with the caption “Man of Gel.” A large black lady holding her purse to her ample bosom and smiling in that way that says she knows who Jesus is picking up if the Rapture just happened to happen. A Latino man across the aisle is staring at the black lady as if his name were Jesus and he wished the Rapture would just happen so he could pick her up. A white guy in a suit who looks like he has no business being on a bus other than to die a horrible death brought on by his own hubris when the shit hits the fan. Beside him sits a little girl who eyes my cake with a smile that says, “I will be your best friend for some cake.” The man and the little girl do not look alike, but the way she puts her head on his shoulder make me rethink his horrible death and turn it into an honorable one.
The other three people are the people on the bus you think of when you think of Speed 2. They are nondescript and regrettably gray in appearance, sliding into the background of life. Not that that is a bad thing to be, boring. They could all be assassins or garbage men, the point is we never think of them until your dog barks at the last minute to alert you they have arrived before they do their job. Their presence requires the right moment, either so you die by the hand of a master death dealer or run out in your wife’s bathrobe carrying two bags of cat litter and takeout boxes.
The last person is the most beautiful woman in the world. I am not married in that last scenario any more than I am targeted by a master assassin. That was all about you and your wife’s bathrobe meeting the garbage man. I am not even attached, so I sit across from the most beautiful woman in the world.
Her name is Amy. I know that because in five minutes she will tell me. I only say that because typing “the most beautiful woman in the world” over and over is even more tedious than reading it, if you can imagine. Thank you for your indulgence because we only have about ten minutes before the cake I am carrying gets crushed, so I do not wish to waste time with flowery indulgences.
In point of fact, Amy is not the most beautiful woman in the world. That is a subjective term, not really applicable when given to a person with honey blonde hair that frames her face as it falls down in spiraling curls, who smiles as she reads and the smile gives off a radiant glow that causes her face to redden and reaches to the blue of her eyes like a sunset on the beach. No, I can not say that she is the most beautiful woman in the world, not really. She’s just the most beautiful woman in the world to me in this moment and that is fine.
Believe me, I took a women’s studies class in college and asked a feminist about the subject as well as consulting the majority of the Internet and a few journals exclusively written about this subject just before writing this. I have covered my bases. The above statements are true when placed in their correct parameters.
So I do what my Latino compatriot, my pseudo Jesus, has done before me: I sit opposite my object of desire and stare like a moron.
She looks up from her book and smiles. I smile and hold up my cake. Because that’s what you do when you are carrying a cake on the bus and a woman looks at you. You hold it up and show it to her as a caveman would do to a cavewoman.
“Look,” the gesture implies, “I can kill confection for you.”
She goes back to her book.
“What are you reading?” I ask as the bus’s engines rev and we journey onward with a lurch.
She does not respond.
The memory of the smile emboldens me, so I decide the engine drowned out my voice and ask again.
This time she holds up her ereader and waves the black and white text at me.
“It’s just a book I’m trying to read in peace. Please leave me alone,” she says.
Ashamed, I feel my face flush.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t... I’m a librarian...” I say weakly, holding up the cake again. This second gesture with the cake is one of futility as it no longer proves I have domination over a bakery nor that my claim of librarian is true.
For a moment, the idea of using cakes as edible business cards flashes through my brain.
She continues to stare and I lower the cake and my eyes.
Best to finish this ride out in silence, I think, and leave the most beautiful woman in the world alone with the book she was enjoying until you ruined it for her. And I understand what she means. How many times in high school did I try to read, not bother anybody, but was made to stand and cheer because that's what you do at pep rally's? How many times did I get that look from my dad while he wondered how I did not go outside all day? How many times did someone ruin reading for me, break the spell of telepathy from author to reader, by asking a question?
Too many. I resolved from that day onward never to bother a fellow reader as long as I lived. This bus was to take me to the future, a future where readers were left alone to be within the company of whatever characters they chose to-
I heard the voice, but thought she must be leaving and asking the other passengers to not block her way from the asshole who broke her reading meditation. I looked down the aisle to see who she was talking to.
The little girl was still staring at my cake, a hunger that only sweets can inspire in the young glinting in her eye. The large black lady continued to stare ahead with her serene smile. I could now see ear buds coming out of her shirt and my mind wandered wondering where the wire lead to.
The Latino man was no longer staring at the large black lady. He was staring at me. Smiling as if his dream had come true. He twitched his head to the side, towards Amy and his grin became bigger.
I followed the twitch and saw that she was staring right at me. What the Latino had realized was I had somehow been given a reprieve, the gods had shined down their light and allowed my tale to take a turn, a heart to be turned toward my own redemption. From the corner of my eye, I saw the Latino redouble his efforts of staring at the large black lady and the large black lady continue to ignore him.
"What?" I said.
"I'm sorry that I snapped. I just..." she shook her head, "I was into this dumb book."
"That's fine. I should have known better," I said. I swear my hand wanted to raise the cake again for whatever dumb reason, "I'm sorry I bothered you."
"It's just a dumb romance thing," she said.
"They're very popular. We get them checked out all the time."
"You're a librarian?"
"Yeah," I said, "cats and cardigans and no, we don't get to read all the time. I'm Evan."
She smiled, the same kind of smile that she had given the book, and I fell in love. Well, dumb lust with visions of hand holding. Strictly PG, I swear.
"Amy," the most beautiful woman in the world said as she continued to smile at me.
And then the weirdest thing happened. I went into librarian mode.
"Can I ask you another question?" I asked.
"You just did."
I smiled because she smiled and I continued, "do you read more with the ereader than regular books?"
"What do you mean?"
"I have one, too, and I tend to read stuff on it that I normally... You said it was a dumb romance."
She blushed. I swear even her blonde hair became more strawberry.
"I just mean, do you find yourself reading more of the type of stuff you wouldn't have read in public before?"
Amy nodded her head, "Oh, yeah. Bunch more. I mean, nobody knows what I'm reading with this thing, and I don't have those dumb pirates staring out everybody."
She waved her hand at the other passengers. The little girl took her eyes off my cake to wave back. The little girl's father took her by the waving hand and she grabbed on with both.
"Pirates?" I asked.
Amy turned another shade of red entirely and I felt both bad and thrilled that I could have any effect on her.
"You know what's on these... those... You know," she said.
"Yeah, I know. I'm sorry again. Thanks for talking to me, it's just we're talking about going ebooks and I'm wondering what people read. I read everything so-"
"Oh? What do you read?" Amy asked.
I thought for a second about what to tell her. Do I geek out and start listing off the nerd titles to shame myself at her expense? Do I go all cool and list off crime novels and bestseller fiction? Do I appear smart enough to read nonfiction and biographies? Better to try for middle of the road.
"Bit of everything. On ebooks I go for the free classics or the cheapo self published stuff," I said.
She seemed to deflate, "Oh. Can you recommend anything?"
"I mean, I read a lot of graphic novels and comics, too," I said, my brain screaming for me to stop. Over correction! Conversation leaning to the starboard bow! The whole thing's gonna go straight to hell, captain!
Everyone can say comics are widely accepted and open to the culture now, but in south Mississippi comics are still a child's medium, no matter what the local librarian will tell you about the adult fiction section. Especially when that local librarian is the one reading them.
I really, really should have just minded my business and enjoyed my ride on the bus with my cake. Out of the corner of my eye I even saw the Latino deflate. Hope was gone. We had little in common, Amy and I.
But that's the danger you get when you talk to someone on the bus. They stop becoming the objects, the cardboard cutouts, and become real people.
And that's good. It helps you weed out the garbage men from the assassins. The stock characters from the heroes and villains. The most beautiful woman in the world from the tired waitress who's been hit on one to many times that day and just wants to read her book and go home to her boyfriend.
Yeah, that's all good. It helps you see people the way they are, kinda like the books they read. There's a heavy handed metaphor in here about printed books and ereaders, about how one shows you a cover and an expectation while the other just holds all that information for you to enjoy in secret in public. I will just lay that out there and let you figure it out on your own time.
See, I got on that bus so I could deliver a cake. And I got off that bus feeling different than when I got on, little better and a little worse, but over all hopeful.
Until ten steps down the street a car alarm startled me and I dropped the cake and a man carrying a large box stepped on it.
Gone Girl ebook sells better than print. Because print is doomed. Doooooooooooommmmed.
Librarian banned a book because lesson. Because nothing says “pay attention to me” than taking your ball and going home. Actually, that’s the point here.
Alabama doesn't want their kids to know you can bone while preggo. Come to think of it, that might be half the problem.
Another book returned really, really late. OMG wow, how does this keep happening I mean who are these people that keep who gives a crap human interest story.
Libraries checkout the wackiest things. If you think musical instruments and yard tools are wacky.
Author's guild tells tale of "dark underbelly" of digital publishing. It involves a bunch of hippies in a van that think their dog can talk when they feed it special “snacks.” Doooooooomed!
Another hot librarian boning students. Wonder if she’s ever been to Alabama...