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Down on Broad
I boarded the bus with about thirty other people. The weather was cool, which was fortunate, since the windows on the bus were sealed and the seats would only get more crowded as the ride went on. I found a seat in the back and rested for a second while the other passengers finished boarding. When the bus started to move, I opened my book.
"Hey," said a man's voice. I looked up. The speaker was about forty, just below average height, and dressed simply. He was addressing me.
"Hey," I replied.
How are you doing today?"
"I'm doing pretty good, how are you?"
"Not bad, man. I was just sitting here thinking how much you look like John Lennon."
"Oh," I said. I get that a lot, and disagree.
"You know who John Lennon is?"
"Um, yeah," I replied.
Yeah, you look just like him, man."
"You think so?"
"Yeah. Him and Jim Morrison."
"Really?" I asked, momentarily surprised before I realized he was just throwing out names.
"Oh, yeah." He studied my face, which had gone poker. "What, has no one ever told you that before?"
"No, not that I look like Jim Morrison."
"Oh, yeah, definitely. Well, more like Lennon. Maybe more like Lennon."
He paused for a moment, then asked, "What are you reading, man?"
I counted to three to brace myself, and said, "I'm reading a book on witchcraft."
Really? Are you a devil-worshipper?"
"You're just interested?"
Well, a friend loaned it to me."
Oh, that's cool, that's cool." He thought for a moment. He was a bit drunk, not falling down or anything, just slow. "Yeah, actually, man, when I was in college, I studied the Black Arts."
"Yeah, I got pretty powerful in the ways of Darkness. I got to be a..." he thought for a minute, "...class three master."
"But I had to give it up," he continued in a confidential tone, "'cause it was interfering with my studies."
"Ah," I said, and returned to my book.
"You know about K-Y, man?"
"Huh?" I said.
"You know, man, K-Y jelly?"
"Yeah, I know the stuff."
"Yeah, I see that you do, man, I see that you do!" He was visibly cheered. "You like it like that, man?"
"Uh, sure, sometimes."
"Me too, man. I love K-Y. Makes everything work better."
"You in college, man?" he asked.
"You been to college?"
"A little while," I said. It wasn't exactly a lie; after I dropped out of high school, I spent a lot of time sneaking into college classes. "I didn't graduate."
"That's cool," he said. "I have a Master's degree, but I don't look down on people."
"Cool," I replied.
"You got any kids?"
"You got, like, kids."
"Yeah, I have a four-year-old son."
"Really? But you're so young." I shrugged in response. "What's his name?"
"Michaela," I replied.
"Oh, that's a beautiful name, Michaela. Hey, I really like that name. Is he a beautiful boy?"
"Thank you. Yes, he is."
"That's great, man. Do you have a picture?"
"Sure," I said, and pulled the picture out of my wallet. After he had praised it for a minute, and handed it back to me, I asked, "Do you have kids?"
"Yeah, I have two beautiful boys. I don't have a picture with me, though. Does your son live with you?"
I didn't feel that was an appropriate question, but there we were. "No, I'm afraid he doesn't."
"My children don't live with me, either," he said. "I had to give them up."
"Give them... up?"
"Yeah, they went to go live with their mother when I went to prison."
"Oh, I'm sorry," I said, with all the sincerity that one can spare for a drunken stranger.
"Yeah, well, it's all right now, I'm getting along, I'll make it. I don't get to see them very often, though."
"That's a shame."
"Do you get to see your child often?"
"Pretty often, yes. Every other weekend, and for a few hours on Wednesdays."
"Hey, that's a lot!"
"Hey, don't worry about your kid or nothing, he's all right."
"I mean, I don't fuck other people's children or anything." I took some time out to digest that statement. It took me a minute to realize he was asking me another question.
"Hey man, you got anything to drink?" I had my flask with me, but denied it. He nodded and thanked me anyway.
Eventually, after asking a couple of other people for a drink, (both of whom seemed dry but pretending to have drinks, refusing him on the grounds that he was drunk enough already,) he left the bus. I watched him go over the top of my book.
"Hey man," I heard, a minute later. The voice, a man's, was aimed at the man sitting next to me.
I looked up. The bus was about a quarter-full, and there were only two people in my immediate vicinity; the speaker and the man next to me. The bus was stopped at a light, and the speaker was gesturing excitedly to a sign outside the window.
"That's weed, man!" he said. I looked out the window. He was pointing to a lot in development. The developer had placed their sign in front of the lot, with the name of the firm, a phone number, and the developer's logo: a huge gardenia blossom.
"What?" asked the man sitting next to me.
"That's a pot plant, man! That's a picture of a pot plant! Ganja!"
"What are you talking about?"
"That picture over there! I can't believe that they're advertising it right on the corner like that!" The bus pulled away. "Is that the way you do it down here, man?"
"I really don't know."
"Are you from Atlanta?"
"Oh," said the man who saw the pot plant. "I'm from Chicago." There's a running joke among black natives of Atlanta that the average Atlantan is from Chicago. White natives of Atlanta have the same joke, but they believe the average Atlantan is from Jersey.
"I guess that's pretty smart, though," said the Chicagoan, "To have just a picture and a phone number. That way, anyone who wants some weed can call the number, and anyone who doesn't won't recognize the picture."
"I guess," said the man next to me as the bus was reaching the station. We filed out, and I went to catch my second bus. Once there, I read peacefully for a while; someone was talking loudly at the back of the bus, but not to me. I was quiet until Lucy boarded the bus.
Lucy is a low-functioning white woman, about thirty years old, with no physical characteristics that would mark her as having one of the common genetically-caused mental conditions. That's not to say she looks normal; she looks nuts, and she's extremely loud. She's well known for sharing her vivid fantasy life with the people around her, by telling stories at science fiction conventions, on the Internet, and to whatever shopkeepers or passers-by will listen.
I don't know how well Lucy recognizes me when she sees me, but she recognizes me well enough to seek me out. She filed down the bus to where I was sitting, and asked, "May I sit next to you, sir?"
"OK," I said, wincing at the use of the honorific, especially from someone seven years my senior.
"How are you today, sir?"
"I'm fine, Lucy, how are you?"
"I'm very well, thank you. And Miss Awesome is doing very well, also."
"That's good to hear."
"Ask me about Heropuppy."
"How is Heropuppy?" I asked.
"Heropuppy is very well. He had a little accident at last year's Fantasy Con, but is feeling much better."
A very elderly woman boarded the bus and sat down a few rows away. She had lost her nose, and wore a bulky bandage.
"Oh, my," said Lucy, and asked her what happened. The woman didn't hear her. Lucy looked perplexed.
"How are you?" she asked the elderly woman, in a very loud voice.
"WHAT?" came the shouted response.
"I asked, how are you?"
"I CAN'T HEAR YOU, HONEY, COULD YOU SAY IT AGAIN?"
"HOW ARE YOU?"
"I'M FINE, SWEETIE, HOW ARE YOU?"
"WHAT HAPPENED TO YOUR FACE?"
"WHAT HAPPENED TO YOUR NOSE?"
"CANCER, HONEY. I HAD TO HAVE IT REMOVED."
"I'M VERY SORRY TO HEAR THAT!"
"OH, THANK YOU, SWEETIE, DON'T WORRY ABOUT IT! IT DOESN'T HURT OR ANYTHING!"
Lucy turned to me, her eyes brimming with tears. "I know just how that woman feels," she said. "I'm handicapped, too." I grunted sympathetically.
"Miss Awesome has a web site, now," said Lucy.
"Cool," I replied. As long as I've known Lucy, she's used the concept of herself and of Miss Awesome interchangeably, although Miss Awesome leads a much more glamorous life.
"Do you have a web site?"
"Would you like to link to mine? For Miss Awesome?"
"You'll need a banner," she said. "The banner is very easy to install. You'll just need the web address to the banner, and if you link to that, it will link to Miss Awesome's page automatically."
She gave me the address for her banner, and asked me to repeat it back to her. I got it wrong. She patiently corrected me. "Great," I said, hoping she didn't ask again.
"Are you going to tell everyone you know about Miss Awesome's new web page?"
"Because you need to vote for her, see."
"Vote for her?"
"Yes, for the best web page, so that she wins an award."
"Oh, I see."
She began to tell me one of her many stories about the life of Miss Awesome. In this particular story, a misogynistic man who hates the handicapped was trying to get Miss Awesome's TV show cancelled. In the end, the mayor intervened, the man went to jail, and the mayor assured Miss Awesome, "Yes! You are the Queen of Cable!" causing her to burst into tears of joy.
Lucy's stop arrived, and she left the bus. The man who had been talking loudly at the back of the bus addressed me.
"Yeah?" I asked.
"Man, that woman likes to talk, don't she?"
I grinned foolishly. "That's Lucy," I said.
"Yeah, she likes to talk, all right."
He laughed, and was quiet. I returned to my book.
"Hey man," he said to me.
"Man, all the hos down on Broad Street know my name."
"That's great," I said, resigning myself. He looked a little confused, like he was expecting a more positive reaction, but it didn't deter him from his monologue. "I'm walkin' around on Broad Street, and they're all like, 'Max! Max!' and I'm like, 'What you want, ho!' and they're like 'You know what we want, Max! We need it, Max!' and I'm like, 'What you gonna do for me, bitch?'"
The guy was decked out well, with just the right amount of gold, but somehow I didn't think it made him too terribly popular with the hos.
"Uh-huh," I said.
"And I'm like, 'Suck it, bitch!'" he continued. "'You want it, you got to suck it!' and they're like, 'Oh, Max, let us suck it!' Man, I never have to pay for anything on Broad Street. You gotta pay for your hos on Broad Street?"
"Yeah, I gotta pay," I said.
"They don't give you discounts or nothin', for being fine?"
"Nope," I said. The bus was approaching my stop. I stood.
"Alright, man, you have a good one, now," said Max.
"You too," I said, and left the bus. I shook my head and tried to prepare for a day at work.
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