Dead Crow/Fight Club

Passed a dead crow today on the way into work. It was just a lump in the road, a dark lump, brownish grey with a splattering of darker feathers on top. The bottom of a crow’s feathers are not very black, more of a dark gray. It was sitting in the road at the corner of Wilshire and Fairfax, a little lump in the road about the size of a salad plate right at the intersection of the two crosswalks. The man in a suit who had been talking to the bus driver the whole way down Fairfax, stepped on the crow in his fancy leather shoes before I could warn him. I don’t think he even noticed.

I was reading Fight Club on the way into work today, and it shows.

Jesus on the bus

I met Jesus in the bus yesterday morning. He was a polite gentleman who was reading The Death and Life of Great American Cities, which turns out to be light reading for someone with a BA in Urban Planning. So now you know what Jesus is reading.

Jesus turned out to be an interesting chap. He’s from down here, but lived in Texas for a while, where he said the idea of Urban Planning has been deeply mixed with that of business. So much so that the electorate are referred to as “clients”, and one is expected to drop everything to deal with their calls. I can see the appeal for working like this, after all it is how I work, but I can also see the distraction. Too much mixing of business practices into governance is probably not a good idea, the two not being anything like the same process, but one cannot often tell Republicans this. I got the feeling Texas was a bit too conservative for our dear Jesus, but he never directly stated anything along those lines. A sharp man, that. He was carefully politically neutral throughout our conversation.

I wish him well on his TA work in the Geology Department at Santa Monica College, and hope his career choices bring him fulfillment and happiness.

And now I have one more book to add to my reading list, which is always a delightful thing.

The Inbetween

Tonight I ran across an interesting man on my way home. The truth is I didn’t find him, he found me while I was waiting for Teri and Trevor to come and pick my up at the North Hollywood subway station.

I noticed him because he walked slowly in front of me. He was young, early 20s I’d guess, hispanic (a Latino) by appearance, but I don’t know if he spoke Spanish. I say I noticed him, but really he noticed me, as in he looked at me while I was sitting there holding up my Kindle and reading a novel. When I say he looked at me, I mean he really looked at me.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but most people in a public setting do not look at you. Oh they might glance at you, but there never let their glance rest on you for long. They look, and then quickly look away. Sometimes a gaze will linger, but this is almost always to express some form of sexual intent, or aggression. Rarely will a man gaze at me, especially a young man. A naked straight-into-the eye stare is considered a hostile act by most. Certainly it makes people uncomfortable.

(Don’t believe me? As an experiment, the next time you’re out in public openly stare at people. Look them straight into the eyes and do not look away. See what happens. Note: this will be taken as an aggressive act if they are the same sex, or a sexual advance if they are the opposite. Do this at your own risk.)

Anyway, this guy was staring at me. In the eyes. Only his expression was neutral, perhaps even thoughtful. There was no hint of anger. He seemed genuinely interested, like he was staring at a flower, or a car. There was not the least hint of negative intent, or of any understanding that his actions could be considered negative. In short, he was innocent.

Then he asked me what time it was. I clicked the menu button on my Kindle and told him it was 8:23. I told him several different ways. Finally he responded when I told him the way we used to tell the time at the Ren Faire (eight and twenty). His response was to repeat my words back to me.

He looked fascinated at my Kindle, so I showed it to him. He stood there for a second, never speaking. Looking both at the Kindle, and then into my eyes. Back and forth, back and forth. It was unnerving. He was really looking at me.

Then he walked to my right, and sat down next to me. Now I was sitting on a concrete rim of a planter there at the subway station. There were lots of people milling about, high school kids in black sporting skateboards, somber-faced old latinas walking along to their next bus, business people of every stripe and station, and even a few bums and drunks. And this guy. The one now sitting next to me. Only he wasn’t sitting next to me, he was sitting next to me. As in too close. Much too close.

Again, this sort of thing is usually considered an aggressive act, or a sexual one. But he wasn’t interested in either. Or at least I should say he wasn’t giving off the social clues for either.

So I asked him, “How ya doing?”

Its a straight enough question that most Spanish speakers can get the meaning. He responded, with a kind of non-word. A grunt, or maybe a sigh. Essentially a sound without any meaning. At least to me.

Then I looked up, and saw Teri drive up to the kiss and ride. I said goodbye to my newly found friend, and got moving to the car. Luckily he did not follow. If he had, I’m not sure what I would have done.

When I told Teri about this, she exclaimed she would have jumped up and moved away as soon as the guy sat down next to her. No doubt wise advice for a woman. Me, I’m pretty comfortable around the mentally ill, and the strange. This guy I think was likely just retarded. Possibly lost. Perhaps he doesn’t speak English. Who knows?

All I know is he was weird, and if I got a chance to talk with him at any length, I would have probably liked him, much like you like a new puppy. Only people are not puppies.

The Jesus Parade

Coming off the subway today around noon (Hey, its when they called me in), I climbed the stairs to wait for my normal bus, and instead wandered into a surreal scene on the Hollywood sidewalks. The bus stop is right at Hollywood and Highland, and for those of you who are not native to the area, it is a very large tourist attraction. Madam Tossuad’s is there, along with Ripply’s museum, the stars on the sidewalk and the hand/foot prints at the Chinese Theater. All of this is right in this area, so it is always abounding with tourists.

So today when I came up the stairs, I heard this large commotion. It was the sound of a large group of people talking. When I got to street level I was just in time to catch a parade going past on the sidewalk. And what a parade it was. There was about 40-50 people, all with matching white shirts, marching together in a group. One guy lead the procession with a very large cross that read “Jesus Saves”. He was followed by a guy with a huge banner (4′ wide, and probably 8′ tall) that said something about Jesus and had korean symbols on it (I think, I don’t read Korean). Then the main group came. In their midst was a guy with a microphone, and as they passed he was leading them in some kind of chant “Jesus loves you. Jesus saves.” Over and over. Trailing the group was another man with a large cross like the first guy. Each and every one of the people was asian, and as near as I could tell, not American’s but foreigners.

Right before my bus arrived, they came back up the opposed side of the street so I got to see them twice. The group was pretty interesting. They marched along all happy, and enthusiastic about Jesus. They made a lot of noise. Everyone else on the sidewalk got out of their way. Beyond the irony of foreigners coming to America to preach about Jesus, the whole experience was just plain weird. It was as if they has no sense of stage craft. Did they think they could simply march by, and people would suddenly be converted to Christianity? Why did they feel the need to talk about Jesus there, and in that bizarre manner? I mean, marching? Yelling?

You’ll notice I’m not complaining about them. There’s a reason for this. You see I myself have done something similar, back when I was a board-again. So I have some sympathy for them, or at least feel like I can’t say shit without coming off as the world’s biggest hypocrite. Still it makes me wonder why a group of people would take the time and energy to get all organized, come down to LA, and then act stupid. This wasn’t about “us” getting saved. It was about “them” bragging about how religious they are. So why can’t they do that at home, and save themselves the money, and me the spectacle of watching a group perform without the the least bit of understanding of how a performance works.

But I’m pretty sure Jesus loves me now.

Big Hair

I first saw her waiting for the red line. She was about 5 and a half, in a light colored dress, well shaped, young, and pretty. But what drew my eye to here was her hair. She had hair, lots and lots of hair. It was dark, almost black with lighter highlights, and in a larger curl then your typical afro; somewhere in between afro and dreadlocks is the best I can describe it. The strands were long, flowing in clumps over 12 inches from her head, which means the individual hair must have been twice that long. We’re talking BIG hair here.

Her hair draped over her head like a dress from the Corps du Ballot. The top almost like a shield-cone volcano in shape, a long low cone of hair, like a large brown coolie hat. The hair was wider than her shoulders, and must have weighted as much as a baby.

When she sat down opposite me, her hair left this lovely space for her heart-shaped face to look out of. After a while I noticed she was looking for someone. She sat facing straight ahead, but kept turning side wise with only her eyes, looking for someone else on the platform. That’s when I realized how big her hair was. She kept using it like a bush growing over her head which she could hide in with only her face showing out the opening. Like a huge hat that also had it’s own partial veil.

That hair, really was something.

A bad day on the train

Last week I took the train in to work every day, but Friday. The first day, Monday, started so bad I didn’t think I could make it the rest of the week. It started like this.

The station where I catch the Red Line subway is the first one (or the last one, depending on your point of view) in North Hollywood. It’s common for a train to break down when attempting to come back, which is why they keep an extra train beyond the station just in case. Monday started like this. I got on the train and it was so full I knew right away that this was the second train, the first one had broken down and was waiting on the other side of the platform with it’s doors closed, and the sign reading Not In Service glowing on it’s side. The doors chimed, then closed, and the train attempted to move forward. It jerked forward only a few inches and stopped. Not a good sign. The driver tried a few more times, but the train refused to move.  Shortly thereafter, the driver got on the PA and announced that this train was Out Of Service, and that we’d have to catch the next train which was just now pulling into the station. Everyone rushed to got off the train, and cross to the other side (all of 20 feet), where they proceeded to mill around the places where the train’s doors would open. This is somewhat normal, so I didn’t think much of it. What was abnormal was what happened when that new train opened its doors.

Right when the doors opened, the crowd surged into the train. Now normally they wait politely outside the door for the passengers inside to depart. This time they didn’t, and in some cased literally shoved them aside. I made some comment about waiting for the others to get off, but was ignored in the otherwise silent rush to get a seat. It was sad and disgusting to see people who normally act politely to be so hostile and selfish.

But that is not all. When we got off the train at Hollywood and Highland, many of us (it was a larger than normal crowd becuse of the train delays) stood outside waiting for the bus. Amongst the people waiting was a young man in a wheel chair, and a young women attending him. Now normally one waits for the people in their wheelchairs to get on first, but on this occasion the crowd surged forward, and immediately started getting on the bus. The young lady said politely many times to the crows that they needed to get on. The driver either did not see them, or was too pacified to care. Many people held back, but the since crowd kept trickling in, they saw no reason to wait, and got on themselves. Finally the driver noticed the wheel chair, and told the people to get back, but by then it was too late. The bus was so packed that even the people standing could not go back far enough to let the guy in the wheelchair on.  The driver shrugged his shoulders, and the bus moved on. By that time I was so disgusted with the passengers that I didn’t wish to ride with them, so I waited with the young couple for the next bus.

And man was that a good decision. You see while I was waiting for the next bus I struck up a conversation with a young couple from England. They were from the Midlands, and on their honeymoon, spending a few days in LA before they flew out to Tahiti for 2 weeks. He is a Bobby, and she is a Chemist (that’s cop and pharmacist, for those of you who speak American), and they were so charming and friendly. It was nice to meet fresh faces, and see some genuine happiness in the world. They got off the bus at Santa Monica and Fairfax, and I went on my way to work, for once forgetting how nasty humanity can be.

Late night train ride

Last Friday I ended up working for a client later then normal, staying until 10:30. Most of you know I take the subway and/or bus to work whenever I can. This particular client is right across the street from the Hollywood/Highland station on the Red Line (the subway). Late night on a Friday, and especially at a popular tourist stop on a warm summer evening, I expected to find the station crowded with the typical Europeans, Aussies, and American tourists. What I found instead were the workers; the hidden part of a modern city.

I thought I was heading home, but instead took a small detour into the hell of the working poor.

Waiting for the trains were all the security officers, janitors, and other people who come into the city late at night, and clean up after the rest of us have left. This is the shadow city, the other city. The part you normally do not see as their work happens after you and I go home. It was like I had wondered into a different town, one more Kafkaesque then the one I normally inhabit. Gone were all the suits, and the bright colored people. In their stead were tired mostly dark-skinned automatons. The late night, and harsh light giving them an almost zombie like appearance. Starring into space, the fatigue behind their eyes was palatable. I saw several bow their heads, and fall asleep on the short train ride to the last stop, their heads bouncing with the motion of the train, but their bodies too tired to wake up. The whole ride had this subdued air, with even the few teens on board unable to bring up enough energy to overcome the fatigue of their fellow passengers.

Getting off the train in “the Valley”, I was relieved to climb that last big set of stairs. The moonlit air above ground was warm and its comforting light invigorated the people as they left the station. We were back in the real world, the normal one. Kids hooted and hollered, riding their skateboards, or just running around to expelled the rest of the zombie energy from below.

As I boarded the Orange Line (and long articulated bus) I saw smiles all around. It was still late, and we were all still tired, but the dark pallor of the underground had lifted.

Interesting people

I met a very interesting lady tonight named Judith, on the ride home. She was an excellent contrast in character. She spoke like a New Yorker (not with the accent, but with that same feverish delivery, and the tendency to use proclamations), yet she thought like an old-school liberal. She is a piano teacher, in town from Canada to see her daughter perform in a local show. I got the feeling she is also at loose ends, a creative person playing the odds to see what will fall out of their lives. As she talked, you could almost see her fierce intellect behind her eyes. She wasn’t mean, or unkind, at least at heart. Yet there was a part of her I could sense that was neither dangerous, nor scary, but powerful all the same. I think perhaps, fearless.

The Metro’s bus and rail system was definitely not suited to Judith. That girl needs a train. She also had mental illness in her family, and in her personal life; a point we both could share. A brave and faithful traveler. Perhaps we’ll meet again.

Then later, on my last bus, I met a young lady who had a large backpack on her back. She had just been to Mississippi to some meeting for those who like to ride the rails, and we’re not talking about the ticket purchasing kind of traveler either. I told her of my own grandfather’s experiences during the great depression when “hopping freight” was common. She must have been under 30, and yet had already been married three times. Her third husband died of cancer (I believe). What she didn’t say, but what was clear to me, was that she was definitely touched by mental illness. When I meet people like this, I often wonder what will happen to them. She was very smart (she mentioned she had a degree in Chemistry), but she was also very fragile, so much so that I was almost afraid to talk to her. As if my words might harm her. She was quite the opposite of Judith, who was almost painfully centered. The two, separated by a middle train run, made for a very bizarre commute.

The very definition of brave

I met a young man today while waiting for a bus. His name was Alan (I believe, I am terrible with names). Alan was 25, african american, and new to the LA area. We started talking about this and that, and I come to find out Alan had just moved here from Atlanta. He had been involved in some things there, ways of making money that wasn’t healthy or legal, (or so I gathered) and he was here in this town to make a fresh start. He has been spending the past two months living on skid row, trying to find work. Even his mother didn’t believe he could do something like that. Somewhere he has a brand new baby child, and the desire to be man enough to be considered a good father.

This is one of the better things about being a man. To see in others the hard work and sacrifice necessary at times, to earn the title. It made my day, and I told him so. I also wish him all the luck he can find.

More Bus Stories

Two different stories to share. The first was last night (Friday) coming home around 8:00ish. I was on the phone with a colleague, and I overheard these three girls ask somebody if a certain bus came by the stop we were at. Well, I just had to butt in. Turns out there were three young ladies visiting the states from Australia. They were genuinely surprised I guessed their country of origin correctly, as most Americans asked if they were English. Since I meet an Aussie about once a week on this route, its not that big a skill. They had some very nice things to say about our country, “Everybody is so friendly here.” one said. I didn’t have the heart to tell her is was likely more to the fact that she was blonde, cute, and young. They were good company until I got to Hollywood/Highland, and had to run off.

Tourists are the perfect people to meet on the bus. They don’t mind a short conversation, and one can learn oh so much just by asking them questions. They also do not expect a deep relationship, they are quite happy with a short polite talk, and then to be on their way. Sending them off with a smile is so easy, and costs practically nothing but a little friendliness.

One of the ladies asked me about superannuation, which caused me to say, “huh?” I can be quite witty at times, but this caught me completely off guard. Apparently it is the name for their retirement/pension system. It was interesting to try and explain Social Security to someone not from around here. This lead to a discussion about medical insurance which was even better. They thought our system was absolutely stupid, leaving so many people uncovered. When I told them that many conservatives were convinced their medical system was terrible, they laughed. “Why would they think that?” one asked. Why indeed. That this conversation took place on the bus, which means we were surrounded by a crowd of mostly working poor, most of whom could not afford medical insurance, only made the point stronger. I wonder what those sitting next to us were thinking.

All in all it was quite a pleasant experience.

Earlier in the week I had the opposite experience. An elderly gentlemen of color approached the stop while I was waiting to catch the Orange Line one morning. He was dirty, and smelled strongly of urine. When he saw me looking at him, he started talking to himself. He soon got very loud, and was obviously agitated. The other people at the stop moved away from him. His stench alone would have been enough, but his tone of voice was pretty scary. He didn’t yell at anyone, and he didn’t make any sudden moves, so I assumed he was reasonably safe. I did keep a careful eye on him though. The worst thing was that he often was speaking to himself, telling himself to calm down, but he could not. He mostly spoke lots of disassociated gibberish, like scanning through several talk radio stations, but all in the same voice. He also looked around and addressed people who plainly were not there. It was sad to see, as he was old enough to be a grandfather, sitting at home, bouncing babies on his knee. Instead he was living on the streets, peeing in his pants, and unable to contain his mental illness.  In his lucid moments he must know what he is doing, and feel a sick dread at is actions.

Sometimes mental illness really sucks.