His outstretched hands said it all, long limbs extending from an oversized jumpsuit as he moved closer to the bus doors with a hobble. He was about to ask for a ride, and I decided to just go ahead and thank him preemptively. I appreciate when people take the energy to ask me. It's a risky move based on the behavior of some other operators. And, crucially, they're taking that risk solely for the purpose of offering you some respect. They know they could just storm on and head to the back with nary a word. They don't get anything out of it, except possibly a refusal.
"You're cool," I replied. "Thanks for asking."
He was in bad shape, limping heavily on an oversized leg cast. His stoic look and build resembled that of RZA, of the Wu-Tang Clan, except this man's stoicism was interrupted periodically by flashes of pain, shooting up from his leg to spider out on his face. His brain must have been moving slowly now, because he started offering an explanation for his free ride request anyway. "I misplaced mah transfer somewhere today…."
"Here, lemme give you a Night Owl." At this time of night everyone gets Night Owl transfers, but I verbalized it to offer some comfort. "I appreciate you askin'. How's it goin'?"
"Oh, it's not." Groan.
"Hope you don't gotta wear that cast too much longer, I see it looks kinda heavy duty…."
"Ah hope so too, mang. Iss no joke." You imagine Job sounding like this, weary and forsaken.
"Just as long as it's off before Thanksgiving, you know what I mean?"
"Yeah! Well, mah birthday December,"
"So I'm hopin',"
"Yeah. It's not a permanent thing then."
"Oh no way."
"Good good, just as long as its not permanent. That's a whole other thing."
"Yeah. Just tryna rest up."
"Oh, yeah, gotta take it easy on ourselves every now and then. Can't be Superman all the time."
I tried to comfort him by starting in with, "well, they say a bone never breaks more than once in the same–"
"I got my shin shattered completely."
He paused, watching me. I called out Orcas Street. Somebody got on and gave me a fistpound, sharing how glad they were to see me back on the 7. Then, having some sort of mental evaluation, our friend leaned in, saying, "man, I'ma tell you tha story of how this shit happened. It was the stupidest shit anything's ever happened."
"Okay yeah, tell me,"
"So I know Tae Kwon Do, right,"
"And Jujitsu. I been practicin' it fuh years. Then I'm at this bar, talkin' to some dude. He be squarin' off like show me what choo got, and ah be beefin' like let's do this, le's go. Then all of a sudden he pulls out a gun and shoots me in the leg."
"What? That's terrible!"
"That's not what guns are for!" Not quite sure what I meant by that. Shooting things, I suppose.
"And he din't even–"
"Oh, wow. I'm sorry."
"It's just starting to heal up. Ain't nothin' I can do about it."
I sat there, impressed that he hadn't voiced word one regarding any sort of revenge-oriented inclination. He wasn't processing this event that way, in the sense of I've been wronged, and if only I could find this guy, all this pain would be rendered as nought… it takes some mental discipline to look beyond such things. I said "man, well, you got a good personality."
"Iss done, man. Ain't nothin' I coul' do now but be present."
I'm usually the one who says that. How refreshing to hear someone else talking about the value of presence.
"Egg-zactly," I concurred, "bein' present. It's the only way! Easier to be happy."
I gave voice to another element I could sense in his tone: that he conceived of martial arts as a craft, and that the crowning disappointment of this affair was, more than the injury itself, his opponent's complete disregard of such. "…'Cause that's an art, Jujitsu, a discipline."
"Yo. Does your phone have Facebook?"
"No, I'm still using one of those flip phones!" Don't act surprised, dear reader! I shoot on film and listen to vinyl– what were you expecting?
"But choo got a computer, right?"
"You should check out this fight I did. I'ma tell you the name quiet 'cause I don't wanna say it loud on the bus. It's Weed Man–"
He said the following in an entirely serious voice– "Weed Man versus Dope Dealer on the Skinny Pimp Show."
"Now that's a title! I'm not gonna forget that name!"
"On the Skinny Pimp Show. Check out some uh the stuff I'm workin' on in there. Weed Man versus Dope Dealer. Das the stuff I'm talkin' 'bout."
With that out of the way he switched gears, settling into a more ruminative mode: "Th' only thing is, people be lookin' at me different nowadays. I's at da bar with my bro, this' when I was on crutches, it was two girls there. And man, didn't none of 'em wanna talk to me when they saw the crutches."
"Okay that says more about them then–"
"And I'm like, iss temporary, it ain't nothin'!"
"That's ridiculous. 'Cause it's not your person, your personality, your character."
I should have added, 'even if it was permanent,' but I wasn't thinking fast enough. It was a different element of that last exchange which stuck with me afterwards, though.
You don't hear the word character used very often anymore. It seems to have been replaced with accomplishments. How petty. I'm glad he agreed with the fundamental obviousness of one's character as the meaningful definition of personhood. Moments like this bolster my belief that formal education is basically meaningless when it comes to true wisdom. They don't teach that in school. I'm thankful for what I've learned at University, particularly the ability to contextualize, and impose structural frameworks on thought processes, and I believe I'm a better thinker for it... but not a better person. Academia focuses too much on the binary, the quantifiable.
Or as Andrei Tarkovsky put it (in his 1972 Solaris, based on the Stanislaw Lem novel): "In his endless search for truth, man finds only knowledge."