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July 16, 2004
A brief description of a ride home on a late friday night, starring several out of towners and a few New Yorkers. (Post contains inexact dialogue.)

Barely got the bus on that friday night when not a single taxi cab seemed available on 8th avenue. I could have walked to the subway and waited, but the bus was just there, ready to go, and so was I.
On the very last seats was a couple, maybe in their 50’s speaking the clacking and knocking dialect that might have originated among African bushmen. They were large people, both of them. I know too little about the origins of any language that might contain these distinctive sounds to make any further assumptions here.
On the other side of the bus, across from me, on the seats that are usually folded up when a wheelchair is brought in, were two kids and what I assumed must have been their mothers. The boy looked like maybe 13, he was a bit on the heavy side (okay, very much so,) he was wearing a black adidas trainings suit that looked as if he had worn it for a few very long days (and nights). A seat away from him, and closer to the two women, was a girl. She looked maybe a bit younger than him, she was all skin and bones, her face appeared to be carved out of very light wood and then rolled through some material that gave her that very temporary but very acne-ish look. I tried to imagine what she might look like without all the little additional detail in her face and what I saw was a very gentle, serious, maybe a bit afraid person with blue eyes, a medium sized nose and barely any lips. Her ears had each several odd earrings pierced through them. It was good to see that she managed to be a bit of a rebell. I saw that she was incredibly thin, so much so that I could not even see what she was wearing, as her body was completely obstructed by a gigantic Duane Reade plastic bag. (DR is a pharmacy chain in New York.)
The girl and the boy where whispering to each other, rolling their eyes from time to time. They were probably talking about the two women, who looked like sisters, or a lesbian couple of mothers.
One of the women asked the girl for some water and the giant DR bag actually also contained a started bottle of dassani.
The women were talking. One of them was now holding on to her new dassani water and the other one was somehow using a straw to sip on what must have been her yoghurt. Both women were maybe blond maybe in their mid thirties…
“Look at all the trash!, did you see all that trash there?” The woman with the water pointed out to the girl. We were just going around columbus circle and the touristy four was clearly having their last exciting ride of a packed exciting day.
The boy did not even react anymore.
“Look, look, all the yellow cabs!” I wondered why this would have been something she would find so exciting this late at night while sitting on the bus.
The driver announced the upcoming stop. It sounded like “hyghy hyt hmytt…”


That was the first thing we all heard from the yoghurt sipping lady. The kids were embarrassed. The boy was the only one who answered.. “mom, shh…”
“I did not hear what he said, what the hell did he say?” She shouted.
“The next stop will be 66th street.”
I made the mistake to answer, of course. Eight tired touristy eyes looked at me as if I were their dinner. “The next stop will be 66th street.”, I repeated. Talking worked with wild animals… maybe tourists could be calmed this way too?
The entire bus was now staring at me. The bushmen-sounding people in the back seat went quiet, the man who looked like the illustration of a writer looked at me, somebody in one of the front seats cared enough to turn around and see who I was. Somewhere all the way in the front of the bus was a mirror reflecting the two very angry eyes of a busdriver.
It was as if I were the sole creator of these four visitors, as if I had been the ventriloquist who made the yoghurt lady scream.
“WE ARE FROM O HI YO.” the water lady spelled out the name of her state for me as if I were a little monkey. “In O Hi Yo we have grass,” her fingers made a movement that was supposed to show me what she meant with this exotic word, “and gar-dens.” No hand movement here.
“You guys have none of this here.”
I was not sure how this was in any way related to what just had happened but clearly the four were now expecting a fun and witty answer.
“Well, we have that here too. I promise.” (Okay, that was really lame.)
They stared.
“If you have time, you should take the A train to 190th street and take a walk towards the cloisters.” I really surprised myself how I dared to suggest something so unexpected and incredibly complicated to these people. The writer guy from the front of the bus looked at me as if I had just sent these four gentle souls into certain death in a piranha pond.
“A CLOister?” Something was not quite right with the yoghurt lady.
“Yes, Rockefeller build this cloister in trenton Park, in the north part of Manhattan. It looks as if it were a real medieval structure, but it is not… it is really a nice and quiet place with gardens… It is a satellite of the Metropolitan… mu..se…hmm…”
It was as if I could see all of my words flying out of my mouth and straight over their heads and then bursting into little pieces on the bus window behind them. The writer guy hated me so very much right now.
“Like a medieval FAIR? That is so cool. We have one of those in our town and it is SOO COOL. It is like knights and horses and…” That yoghurt that lady was having was some very quickly spinning stuff…
“Are you from New York?” The lady with the water bottle reacted to the part of my description she managed to remember.
I told her that I was not born here, but that I had lived here for a while now. (I did not want to use the term “New Yorker” at this point of the embarrassment as I did not want the writer guy to throw something else at me, beyond his continuos lethal stare.)
“have you ever been to Ohio?” (She said it as if Ohio were the other 99% of the country.)
I lied that I had never been there, but that I was not even sure, as I had crossed the country more than once. (Which was not a lie.)
“That sounds like an adventure. We are here for adventure. And we want to show the kids New York. We are going to show them Liberty tomorrow.” The waterlady liked the sound of the word adventure. She made it sound as if the word were a description of itself.
“Do you have kids?” The yoghurt lady tore off the lid of her yoghurt cup, pulled out a giant bottle of Bud and refilled the little plastic container that then immediately went back to looking like an innocent little health drink with a straw.
I did not even get to answer… she continued. “Kids steal the BEST YEARS out of yer life. They just STEAL the best years. And it doesn’t even matter if they are yours or not. Even when you just adopt them. Even then. Kids just really mess it all up.” (She used a different word for mess.)
The kids had obviously heard this one before, and clearly more than once.
“We came here to show the kids something. We both have been here before once. That was in 1998. Back then we were just like two dumb girls on the town. We had a lot of fun. So now we are back. My son is 15 and her daughter is gonne turn 13 on Saturday…”
“Tomorrow…” whispered the girl from behind the bag, staring at the floor.
“I’m telling you. Kids just take out the fun of it all. They tear out the best years of yer life.”
I was supposed to answer now. I was supposed to lift my imaginary glass, and shout something back as a toast. It felt as if the floor were littered with carnage. The bus felt like a deep pit filled with some smelly psycho carnage.
“Well, haven’t we all been children at some point in out lives?” (I really wasn’t able to give any better answer…”
“Next stoh heghenhy nigh hthreet.” Said the bus driver.
“Next stop seventy night street,” I said to the kids.
I found out that the Ohio-four were returning to their hotel on 94th street. I offered them to just leave the bus with me and not worry so much about missing their stop.
The boy mentioned something about “many” and “streets”… I saw all the beautiful places that usually made the ride home so pleasant, pass by in the window behind him, unnoticed.
The writer, in his black suit and white shirt, left the bus on 86th street. He adjusted his large black glasses and looked at me as if he wanted to let me know that he was far from finished with me.
I made sure not to miss “our” stop on 93rd street, a block away from the Ohian’s hotel. The kids managed to convince their mothers that it was okay to leave the bus with me, as I would probably not really mug them. The more sober mother was holding on to a piece of paper:”96th street, 96th Street…” It was clearly a set of instructions given by a hotel clerk who wanted to make things as simple as possible for himself.
It took a few seconds until they realized that they were in fact where they were supposed to be… and so they thanked God… well, the sober mother did, rather loudly.
I waved to the kids. “How do you?… ” I did not finish this one… “Enjoy New York!, Enjoy your stay. And Happy Birthday.” I said… The girls face now looked like a carved apology for the moments on the bus.

I passed the shoe shine guy walking back to his station. He was out of character and so he ignored my greeting.
The one legged lady in the pink nike suit was still trying to get some money into her cup. The Cuban Chinese place behind her was closed for the night. The lobsters in the tank had to wait yet another day for their death.

A conservative looking guy in a yarmulke stepped into the elevator with me and asked me to press the button for his floor. He was clearly breaking several rules of his very openly displayed religion by doing so. And so he became the first one of my Jewish neighbors I ever asked if he felt that his request was “legal.” (I did not want to use “kosher”; I am just a goy, not his rabbi.)
“It is legal enough for me,” he said, “besides, it’s been an awfully long day.”
I pressed the button, making a little light bulb go on behind the number nine.
Once I had stepped out of the elevator, I could see him, out of the corner of my eye, pressing that button, again and again and again…

It had been a rather long ride home, for sure.


witold, i love this post. i chuckle at the thought of the daughter finding this post in years gone by and dying a little adolescent death while cracking up at her "yogurt"-swilling family. but don't worry, there will be stories told about you in oh-hi-yo. bring your sharpie for autographs if you ever get back there. you'll be reknowned as the friendly NY ferrner.

Posted by: emdot on July 19, 2004 12:22 PM

i didn't chuckle at all... i ached for those kids, hearing o-hi-yo talk like that about them.

Posted by: Christa Wessel on July 19, 2004 02:14 PM

Great post, Witold! Like a slice-of-life short story. I also felt horrible for those kids. And never underestimate your small acts of kindness--to everyone, but especially children.

Posted by: brad on July 19, 2004 11:03 PM

I hear you Christa. I wasn't thinking about the mean things the women were saying when I wrote my comment, instead their state of All Ignorance All the Time. Hopefully the kids will come to terms with the women's State of the Ignorance so that the sting of the thoughtless and cruel words can lose its sharpness.

Posted by: on July 20, 2004 04:26 PM
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