Monday, June 22, 2009

Mirror in the Bathroom


I hate taking showers at the gym after working out. Sure, there’s a moment when the sweat gets washed off in the cold weak stream coming from the faucet, but almost immediately the sweat returns due to the massive amount of literally stinking humidity of the locker room. When I get my clothes back on, I always realize that no matter how hard I try; I never get fully dry – making my clothes uncomfortable and every thing about me unpleasant. This is especially true on hot summer days. I actually feel dirtier after the shower and dressing than I did prior to the workout when I step outside and the sun is blazing down. This was one of those days. Luckily I was on my way home during the latter part of a weekday evening commute. Unfortunately, I was on the bus and it was packed and I’m pretty sure the driver had the heat on.

I put on my headphones and started my player. The slowly building feedback of Jawbreaker’s “Shield Your Eyes” tickled my ears before crashing into the opening line: “There was a sun once and it lit the whole damn sky.” How appropriate, I thought to myself. I adjusted the volume to be loud enough to drown out all extraneous noise, but not so loud that everyone around me suffering through the commute would have to jam along. My forehead was beading up with sweat and it began to run into my eyes. I wiped my hand across my brow and the sides of my face in a feeble effort to stop it. I readjusted myself in the window seat of the bus, and put my bag on my lap to make room for any boarding passengers. I flipped through my bag in an effort to find some reading material, but was distracted by a small bleeding abrasion on my index finger. I’m not sure what had happened, but it had been there awhile, because some blood had been smeared and began to dry onto the side of my hand. I pulled a corner of my towel out of the bag and wiped the freshest blood from my hand before getting lost in the music.

This bus trip was regularly about a half hour and this day was no exception. It seemed longer, because people kept loading on, but not exiting. And the heat! There was no hope in stopping the sweat beading up all over my face. People started filling up the aisles from the back all the way to the front door and for some reason no one was sitting in the open spot next to me. I know I’m not the most handsome person, but I try to be polite. Maybe my stink was simply overpowering. I grabbed the sleeve on my t-shirt and sneaked a whiff on the sly. Not too bad actually. I had put on fresh deodorant and taken a shower just a short while before, even if I was getting drenched in sweat. This was disconcerting, which is strange considering that I am generally disconcerted when someone does sit by me on most days.

Another stop: more people load on and try and squeeze past the mob blocking the entry way by the driver. A friendly looking older woman spots the opening by me and starts to head in my direction. Yes, this must be the reason. People didn’t want to take the seat in case someone needing the seat boarded. This made perfect sense. As she approached I pulled the headphones off and shut down the music. I decided that I should be welcoming and friendly. I looked at her and smiled a friendly nod of invitation to sit next to me. Instead of returning my welcome, she focused her eyes hard on mine, sneered and then continued moving her way by my empty seat and upsetting the crowd smashed into the narrow aisle. This was ridiculous! Now I officially had a complex. It was bad enough before that – having always felt like kind of like a big Sasquatch-like beast – but now, everyone was willing to forgo a semblance of comfort in order to completely avoid me and stand awkwardly smashed among anyone else. This trend continued the entire trip and I had no idea what to think. What did I do to these people? I smiled at the people around me, I use subtle hand gestures to present the open seat and all I got in return was averting glances and silence in response.

Mercifully, my stop arrived. The transit center was a welcome site, not only to get my cramping legs moving again, but to get away from this weird scene. I folded the transfer slip in half and left it on my seat. I swept my hand across my forehead again and threw my bag over my shoulder. I was getting irritated by this shunning I was experiencing and stomped down the three steps and onto the sidewalk. I was instantly confronted by what seemed to be transit security. This was just what I needed.

“May I see your transfer ticket please?” he firmly inquired.

I gazed at him with complete disdain in before angrily replying, “I am not on the bus, nor will I be boarding another bus, so why in the hell would I need a transfer ticket?”

He started to respond, but cut himself off after taking in a deep breath. I pointed at the bus I had exited and told him that I left the ticket on the bus in case someone else could use it. My anger was continuing to build, while his demeanor had changed more into confusion. He nodded his head and walked away. In turn I stormed off in the opposite direction, even more confused, towards home.

I spent the entire walk home racking my brain, trying to understand what had just happened. None of it made any sense. I thought to myself: “It's one thing to be cast aside as a freak in certain situations, but a bunch of adults on public transportation? And why today and not the day before, or the week before that?”

At the end of my destination, I stormed up the stairs to my apartment and slammed the door shut behind me. My aggravation was growing, but at least I was home. I took a deep breath. Set my bag down on the floor and headed in to the bathroom. It was time to take another shower. I needed to regain my sense of normalcy. That was when I caught something in the corner of my eye while passing in front of the mirror in the bathroom. I stopped, turned and moved in for a closer look. There was dried blood smeared all over my cheeks and forehead – almost like war paint. This changed everything.



Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Life of Riley


Everything in front of me was moving from the bottom up – flickering like TV’s used to do when they were not quite picking up their single from the antenna, or when a vacuum cleaner was running nearby. I tried to close my eyes and breathe deeply to let the sensation pass, but the sense of motion only increased my discomfort. The sounds of a millions conversations at once stilled burned my ears, along with the muffled and distant sound of random music from a jukebox. No song ever stood out, but the repeated “NA NA NA-NA-NA-NA-NA!” from Bryan Adams’ “Cuts like a Knife” is what is in my head now. My eyes and throat were sore from the cigarette smoke that fogged that basement bar. My plan had been a simple one. I was going to just stay for Happy Hour and then head home and get some rest for the weekend. Instead, what ensued was a seeming competition to see which one of us could buy the most rounds of drinks for each other; Ryan with his pint of Knob Creek and Diet Coke, Skywalker with his yellow dotcom drink and me with my IPA’s. Every time Skywalker came back with a round, it meant that we each owed him, and so on and so on.
Earlier that day I was fretting over the last Christmas present I had left to buy. I had no ideas, but after several stores and several aborted notions, everything fell into place. I had found what I thought was the perfect gift, thanks to a random memory of something she had said in passing a month or so prior. After that, I spent an hour or so at a hiring agency taking timed computer tests and interviewing for a full-time position crunching numbers at a small office. It had been maybe ten years since I had gone through the job interview process and I was very uncomfortable. Somehow, everyone seemed to like my awkward sense of humor as if I was putting on a show, as opposed to just being an awkward and unbelievably nervous. Somehow I did well on their ridiculous and useless tests. Things were looking good that I would return to the five-day-a-week grind, whether I wanted to or not. Meeting up with the gang at the L.O.R. for a few drinks during Happy Hour seemed like the perfect remedy to relax and prepare for the weekend visit. Moments before opening the door and heading down the stairs, I received the call I had been expecting for the last day or two. What would be the plan? Where would we meet? What would we do? Instead it was once again a cancellation and an apology and an “I’ll call you soon.” I shrugged my shoulders after the brief, but unsurprising phone call and headed in to forget about things.
Despite lying uncomfortably on my bed watching the ceiling move with increased speed with each dry blink of my blood shot eyes at 4am, I felt a sense of freedom. It had been a long time since I had treated myself to this kind of abuse and it was liberating. I allowed myself to push away all of the pressure that I managed to let push me down for the last couple of years. This was the first time that I remembered the liberation I felt after I received the new kidney and was jacked full of rabbit adrenaline steroids. This was a feeling I wanted to share and wanted to maintain, except maybe without the too much to drink part.
In the end, I did not get that job and I never received another call from her again. I sometimes ponder what I did wrong with each situation, where I felt that I was doing well. I like to learn from my mistakes, but am not sure what the lesson was with either of these – besides losing faith in what people say and do. Instead I choose to remember how good it felt to be entirely too fucked up on a Friday night and start a weekend happy.