"You know, I find this job oddly relaxing," I told a man with a box of cupcakes. "I basically tool around for eight hours talking to people! You never know what's going to happen, it keeps you sharp…."
That was earlier in the night. Now we're going up Pine Street, working our way through Capitol Hill. A person about my age who I think is male stares vacantly at me from the sidewalk.
"I'll just go one stop," he says.
"Sure yeah, that's fine. Come on in. How ya doin'?"
"Good." Pause. Then, not quite slurred: "How's your night going?"
He keeps staring, as if directly through my head, listing a little in the sway of bus movement. Slightly heavier, a collection of tan and olive, his shirt riding up on his navel.
I reply to his query with, "it's been really cool! Yeah, it's been very pleasant." Pleasant really has been the operative word of late. A young couple steps out the back doors, blowing me kisses. But I want to do something about this uncanny intra-cranial staring that's happening up front. To distract myself and I keep talking to him. "So are you goin' home for the night? Or uh, just getting started?"
"More like uh. Just getting started."
"Making the most of Thursday night. Thursday's the new Friday, right?"
"Yeah it is." Gazing ever still.
"You know," I continued, "ten minutes ago, this guy was on the bus giving out free cupcakes!"
Cupcakes have a way of waking people up. "NO FUCKIN' WAY," he exclaimed, as if I were immediately now fifty feet away.
"Yeah, true story! He works at a bakery. You shoulda been here."
"Did he give you one?"
"Yeah, it was pretty amazing, I have to say." This, coming from a guy who once drove up Rainier Avenue chomping on raw kale while the kids looked at me askance! I'm thinking about the rest of this cupcake. It's on my left, by the door release handle.
"Actually, I have a half-eaten cupcake over here. That, I'm not gonna eat it. I'd offer you a half-eaten cupcake but I imagine you probably don't want a half-eaten…."
He thought about it and said in a reasonable tone, "only if I can lick it off your balls."
I love this job. Where else can you practice responding to completely absurd comments with a straight face? With just your matter-of-fact let's-talk-about-the-grocery-list voice? Doing so is such a fun activity. Who knows why. You never know what's going to happen, indeed!
Missing only a small beat (give me time; I don't hear this one every day) I replied, "you know, that's nice of you to say, but uh, what I have to offer is simply. The cupcake."
"Well…," he said. Decisions, decisions, as he weighed the pros and cons of cupcake sans scrotum. He looked genuinely conflicted.
I needed to get rid of this cupcake and stay healthy. It was salted caramel, and far too delectable. "Do you want it? 'Cause it's good!"
"I'm not sick, I don't have germs, I promise. Yeah, it's good."
"Thank you. Oh, I don't care." He took a bite. "OH MY GOD," he said. Then, sheepishly: "I'm sorry for that vulgar-ass comment. Earlier."
Vulgar-ass! How perfectly self-reflexive and postmodern! We could write papers about this….
I got the sense he was embarrassed, and thankful I hadn't railroaded over his appeal for romance. I've been known to use slightly different language in my own pursuits, but I can understand a bit of his vulnerability. We become a child again in those moments, as much as we pretend otherwise, and how we interpret the responses we get can prove formative in ways that last lifetimes.
"Oh, that's fine," I assured him. "We're on Broadway. This would be the place to say it!"
"Thanks. I'ma check this out," he said, noticing a crowd of youngsters laid out on the cement by the former Castle Megastore adult sex shop. "Later!"