Riding the bus home

A pause, and I turn to stare out the window. Parallel red and white streaks flatten across the parallax between the inner and outer glass panes, reflections playing off of reflections mirroring the interior of the hushed grayness in which I stand. Below me, outstretched, lies the city. It is estimated that the population of Tokyo hovers somewhere around 42 million depending on how you count the various outlying suburbs.
While the mind readily accepts the figure into its consciousness, the reality of it, the immediacy of the very immensity, fails to strike me until I’m here, up in the quiet stillness of the observation deck, staring out at an endless expanse of white and gray concrete, rayshaded in subdued gradients in the descending twilight, the sky the particular shade of indigo nightshade that asorbes the warm glowing hues of sunset, like so much settling of atoms into the deathly stilness of entropy. Lights, seemingly trillions of dots of every imaginable shade of gaudy flicker how many stories down below, their brazeness made more elegant by the elevation of my vantage point, tiny specks demarcating the unbelievable creep of urbanization far far far out, as far out as the eye can see, stretching from the very heart of Shinjuku to the base of Mt. Fuji and out even more, lights and concrete and humanity in all its small, boxy glory coating the entirety of the world until it dissapears somewhere over the horizon, twinkling dots shining through even in the murky edges of perception, miles and miles in the distance.
Today as I was riding the bus home, one hand tightening around the shifting of textbook as the platform moved up and down over roads in desperate need of repair, the other unconsciously caressing the smooth leather of an overpriced kenneth cole sling bag, I found myself recalling the quiet autumnal qualities of graying marble in stillness of dusk, desperately wishing it were already fall so that my heart could be happy once again, when my eyes, unfocused as if they were staring far into the endless distances of the tokyo skyline, happened to rest on a man sitting in the seat across from me. His face was unkempt his scraggly facial hair tinted with what should have been a refined shade of gray, was instead crusted with food and uncared for. His skin had that particular quality of one who has spent a great deal of time outdoors, thick, almost with its own subdermal layer of leather and meat, tough, with pores that had opened up then sealed into small, flattened tan craters, exits tightened against the elements, eyes peering out from within the heaviness that seems to fill bitter men’s brows, furrowed and almost hunching over the milky gray iris, as if to obscure them from the power of returned gaze and impart their impotent owner with some semblance of human dignity, ever mindful of the unspoken contest of power that comes when riding the train or the subway or the bus and I am thrown back to population genetics, goodwin reciting tired recalictrant verses of darwinistic mantra that I have heard so many times, mindlessly drilling them into a brain that has already decided that science, like so many other things in life, is just not its forte, alpha male, beta males and the selfish gene. Memes and social darwinisim and survival of the fittest – loose ideas jumble around in a dense haze in my mind, faint echoes of what synergy I could have achieved if only I had had that special quality that impels people to greatness, rather than having sunk into the numbing depths of mediocrity, much vaunted triple major not withstanding, more empty mantras to recite like so much wisdom, wards against the sense of despair that mixes with bile, rising in my throat whenever I catch scent of some familiar yet enigmatic smell from my childhood, or turn my head just so in the night breeze and brush for just a moment against memories long since forgotten, but which for that one second unnaturally impel my subconscious to remember the sense of promise and wide eyed wonder that accompanied being a child for the first time.
His head lulled slightly to the side, yet with noticeable muscular tension in the deltoid muscles, visible by the slight bulge in the corded tendon along the side of his corotid artery, that curious delineation of a normally hidden anatomy against the surface of the neck when it ceases to be that neat cylinder that all your life drawing professors would lead you to believe it is, and becomes instead a fascinating mass of undulating cords and wires and snakes writhing beneath the surface of the skin, pulling and resisting in alternating unison to manipulate the countless expressive gestures of the cranium balaced so precariously on top of them. Head leaning to one side straining tendons which feed into the depths of the hollow between the deltoid and the collar bone, shoulders slumped towards the left, slouching, leaning, almost huddled against the side of the black wheel well, the net newtons of force starting to work their way down his degenerating body and splitting, x vectors exercising their forces through a left shoulder propped up against the hard plastic, and the rest slowly sifting down, and I can see the slouch of his vertebrate and they lean forward and sideways giving him that unflattering slump of a middle aged man, protruding stomach preventing the chest from sinking too far forward, and I can see the line of fat that creases the sternum just above the gut and the little triangles of flesh that are too flabby for a man’s pectorals in my mind and I see hips pushed forward against the blue speckled upholstered bus chair, transfer of weight at the pelvis onto thighs that spread out against the restraint of gray jeans, hard knobs of utilitarian knees outlined by the stretch of threadbare fabric pulled tight by legs that splay lazily towards the ground, nondescript calves barely supporting their own weight, brown, nasty stained tennis shoes with permanently tied laces pushing against the floor with more force than is necessary to resist the natural sliding forces of gravity, and this minor detail lends their owner a sense of urgency and nervousness which in turn peturbs me, presciencing his intent a mere second before chapped lips, flecked with dried peeling flesh, open to speak to me.
“What are you looking at?”
It takes a moment before I realize he is talking to me, and yet another before I unpackage all the connotations implicit in his words. Suddenly I am self-consciously aware of the leather jacket enveloping my shouders, the expensive shirt opened so carelessly yet so carefully to reveal the comme ca t-shirt proudly purchased in some random Seibu or other, fingertips suddenly burning hotly against the inner liner of black leather gloves moving with newfound urgency to settle over and occlude the designer label emblazoned on the side of the black leather messenger slung casually over my shoulder, its buttery surface once such a strong selling point, now as rough as sand paper grating against the edges of my mind, a mind aware of how long I spent on my hair this moment and the unspoken resentment implicit in his statement, resentment even of the heavy textbook lying against my thigh, the mark of a college student on his final home stretch and I find myself desperately desiring my old, oversized brown hoodie and baggy ufos, bandana restraining unkempt hair that had not seen a comb in weeks, wanting to sink into the comforting recesses of my clothing, eyes hidden by shadows cast by a generous hood that could be drawn up at a moments notice, and find to my incredible dismay, that solace was not to be found in the form fitting tailoring of clothes that fit, Kenneth Cole apparently not mindful of my incessant need to shrink from confrontation when he sat down to design his spring line. What the hell happened to me? I wonder, trying to figure out just when I had stopped wearing that comfortable brown hoodie that could have seemingly kept me in good stead until the end of time.
“What?” is all I can muster, barely a croak, the camlocks of my mind turning much too slowly to keep up with the pace of the scene that seems to be flowing into place around me.
“I said, what are you looking at?”
And there it was, the unmistakeable; mantle of the disgruntled, a matrix of defensiveness mixed with hostility which was in turn a blanket for insecurity and resentment, anger at the debasement which accompanies the emasculation of a man down on his luck and floating asunder in the turmoil of uncertainty and a lack of clearly defined societal conceptualizations of men’s self-affirment, anger which is used as a foil for those aware of the humiliating injustice that comes when that unspoken power balancig assesement between two strangers on a bus spells out, in no uncertain terms, that the 23 year old kid sitting in front of you, has it better than you, and most likely will have the life that you, in middle age, slouched against a bus wheel well having been struggling for unsuccessfully your entire life.
Sometimes I wonder, when I see the bums on state street or up by the capitol, what they must think when they see us, young college students, flitting in and out of shops with our bulging book bags and schlepping around oversized texts about the intruiging details of accounting or the politics of china, and so forth while they are forced to humiliate themselves by asking children 30 years younger for spare change. I don’t know that I could handle being stripped of my fundamental sense of self-dignity in such a way, and in some ways I am glad that I am privelaged enough not to have to face such tests. But when did I become the burgoise, I wonder? This isn’t right. Suddenly the prospect of a future in the ‘burbs looms frighteningly close. this is that first step in the slippery slope of mediocrity, isn’t it? A remedy however, is not close at hand, as is readily apparent in the desperate antics of childish ultra-leftwing liberals, engaginging in countless and pointless protests and shouting various slogans of the cause du jour of the moment as if to affirm in their own minds the fact that they are not about to slip into mediocrity, each rehearsed shout an echoing denial of the hypocrisy of the very situation which they, privelaged members of the “educated class” find themselves so very deeply mired in. Almost as frightening as the conservative right winger anti-abortionists with their “sensationalist” placards of mutilated fetuses and indoctrinated “republican youth” spewing forth the most vile statements you’ve ever heard. The two are really made for each other, two sides of the same coin.
Heedless of my momentary mental tangent, the gray eyes continue to stare out with an accustatory gaze that shoots out from behind the words still lingering in the air between us. I go to open my mouth, and for the briefest instant, there is a gap in my mind. To be perfectly honest, I hadn’t given him but the briefest of attention. What should I say to him? That I was thinking of Tokyo, with its 42 million inhabitants stretching out into the endless horizons, and how in two short months, my life as I know it will come screeching to a halt, rehearsal time will finish and I will leave the safety of Wisconsin for the possiblities of the city? That the thought of Katie Komp entering law school in Notre Dame, or Brad graduating from Standford sears through my mind as I struggle ineptly over the simplest of physics problems, cheeks burning red with humiliation at the depths to which I have plummeted since that promising start in high school. That I despair at the thought of trying to figure out how I can hope to compete with the medical students, the Harvard graduates with their perfect 4.0′s, the kids from Singapore who speak 4 languages fluently plus english, the rich children from europe who have seen the world and fear nothing of it? That I see little comfort in my much vaunted triple major when confronted with the reality of the competition which I face, of the inherent implausability of my plan to enter Todai for graduate school, of the meaninglessness of my Japanese certification as I struggle for the japanese word for “whiskers”. Should I mention the realization that I am not as smart as I could be or as prepared as I should be, the agonizing resentment of children from homes with loving mothers and functional families, of the Mree’s and Toms of the world with their family-life coordinator parents who loved their children and encouraged their interests, rather than cruelly ramming reality down their throats in some desperate bid to relive their own, wasted childhood, or assuage a deep, pervading sense of insecurity? Of the struggle to keep resentment from consuming me, paralyzing me, squelching the natural human reactio to blame one’s shortcomings on their parents or teachers or society or whatever? I wonder if he knows that I am scared shitless of the idea that in two months, I will be moving to a strange, xenophobic country, with no real job, and hardly any prospects for the future save a line cobbled from a movie somewhere in the past about having to go see about a girl? Can I tell him that at that very instant, when he thought I was silently judging him, I was in reality back in the Tokyo Tocho towers in Shinjuku, staring out into the settling dusk and realizing just how very very big and very very real the number 42 millions really is, and how the universe is so very very large, and I feel so very very small? Our eyes meet for the briefest of moments, locked across the aisle on the number 6 bus, meandering its way down Reagent street, and I know that I cannot tell him this.
“Nothing.” I say. “Sorry.”
“You’d better be.” he harumphs, then turns away, unfocused gray eyes staring out past the windshield, perhaps to some twinkling dots stretching out into the distant horizon.
2:23 am

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