A rainy afternoon, and cold.
The driver of Metro Route 31 alternately leaned on the gas, then the brake, as though he wore super heavy shoes, as though they were so weighty he couldn't control their depressions.
When a new crop of riders boarded and the bus lurched away from the curb, I wasn't too surprised when a man flew past me. A bearded, tattooed fifty-something man, smelling of beer, wearing an American-flag-emblazoned leather coat and carrying a taped-up guitar case. He flew past and landed sideways on a skinny kid seated on the back bench.
Ha, the kid said, looking sheepish. As though he were the one who'd flown ten yards and smashed into a stranger's legs.
You think that's funny, huh, the guy said. He righted himself and sat next to me.
The kid opposite us also carried a guitar case, made of newish canvas, not even rain-spattered.
Whaddya playin' with, the older guy said to him.
Uh, nylon, the kid said.
What? the older guy snapped.
The kid repeated it, timidly, and the other kid--the fallee--laughed and said, Nylon strings? No, dude, what kind of guitar do you play?
The second kid's face cleared. Oh, Yamaha.
You gotta buy American, the older guy said.
It's not a very good guitar, the kid admitted. The three of them then had a nice chat about music.
The boys got off a few stops later. The older guy immediately began talking to a woman in fucschia lipstick, his companion apparently, and who I hadn't noticed in all the arrival drama. He was pissed. The other night he'd wanted to make french fries, and as he waited for the oil (the ole) to heat, the stove burner caught on fire, and when he tried to smother the fire, the towels too went up in flames.
We need to tell the landlord, the woman said, nervous.
Tell him what? We burned up the fucking kitchen? We'll fix it first. But we're not telling him nothing. Abruptly, he thwacked the page of my magazine. Watcha reading, hon?
Startled, I flipped back to the beginning of the article. It's about cards, I said. Poker. Then--embarrassed to show him it was The New Yorker--I got up and stood by the rear door of the bus. We were almost to my stop.
I passed the two on my way home. They stood, pelted by rain, in the cloud of exhaust from the departing 31, looking with longing at a mattress and frame dumped on a patch of muddy grass, clearly not deterred by its sodden, forlorn state.