As well, in thinking on what we're leaving behind for posterity, there won't be much documentation millenia from now on how people between class groups interacted. Aliens of the future will have a more complete view of our daily life than any period preceding, since banalities are documented at heretofore unprecedented levels. They'll pore over billions of pictures of cats, selfies, and cheese sandwiches… but unless they happen in official capacities or on Twitter, the cross-class conversations, the reaching outside of our familiar boundaries, tend to happen unexpectedly and often go unrecorded. I therefore offer the following soul-spanning dialogue as just such an example for the aliens, robots, robosapiens or just plain old humanoids of the distant future. Strangers of all generations, different colors, the well-off and the destitute… we did talk to each other, and sometimes this is what it sounded like.
"Jooohhhnnnnn!" I howled, as we pulled up to the zone underneath the I-90 bridge. How's it goin', good to see you, hey what's up… all the pleasantries collapsed up against each other, a morass of downright familial welcome. His greasy, curly locks were handsome in an unaffected, streetwise sort of way. Today he had on dark glasses.
"Whassup, champ?" he said, as we bumped fists.
"Not a lot happening, I like the sunglasses!"
"Thank you, man,"
"There you go, dude!" I was unreasonably excited. I often am. I don't know what spark sets it off, but John, a forty-something half-drunk Latino man underneath a freeway, apparently did it for me today.
"I have to wear 'em for a reason," he said.
"Oh yeah, better for the eyes?"
He's right, I thought. Blocking those UV rays can prevent cataracts in the future. "That's what I hear, yeah,"
"I seen you, yesterday I seen you. Walking."
"Oh I was just walking around?" Everyone sees me drive the bus, but I have been known to locomote on my own two feet….
"Yeah, I never seen you wearing clothes before."
"Hey yeah, sometimes it happens!"
John reflected, correcting himself. "Well no, th' first time I met choo you were wearing clothes."
"Yeah yeah, that's true," I replied. Naturally he means non-uniform clothing!
"I think that was your girlfriend, and your girlfriend's son, right?"
"Uh yeah. Back in the day, yeah."
"You guys were on a bus goin' to Pac Highway. That was like, how long ago?"
The last time I rode buses with a ladyfriend on Pac Highway…. "Gosh, years. It's been years." Clearly a leisure activity I need to do more often! "We been knowin' each other for a while," I remarked, referring to John and myself.
"You still with her?"
"No. We're still friends, but yeah."
"Man. Jeez, I'm not gon' lie to you I seen her I said, that girl is beautiful."
"She's a, she's a good one."
"Shockingly gorg– really?"
"Yeah, good person. But you know, everything comes to an end."
"One day I hope to introduce you to whoever my next ladyfriend is,"
"Right now I got nothin', but just gimme some time! I'm tryna be like you!"
That loaded half-truth is too hefty to unpack here. I spoke jestingly, but in all candor I grow less enthused over time with the "end-of-the-rainbow" appraisal of coupledom, delightful as it can be. If you're single and unhappy, a relationship won't solve that. There are questions that dog us through this life, questions of belonging and self-worth, a silent conversation we have with ourselves. But the answers are not found in adoration or validation by others, and if so only fleetingly; no, there is a void we seek to comprehend, and a "new flame" won't exactly simplify that largely interior journey. But nevermind.
John, encouragingly: "good things happen to good people, you know?"
"This is true."
"Yeah that's one thing ah heard. Good things happen to good people."
"Yeah I guess bad things do too, but good things also do, lil' bit of everything." As I glanced at his face I saw now the bruises underneath his shades. Had I actually thought he was wearing those clunkers for UV protection? "I'm sorry about whatever– I see your eye, I hope your all right, dude!"
"Yeeeaaah," he said.
His was a yeah containing multitudes, a drawn-out syllable representing months and years and minutes, the peaks and valleys of life gone by. It was a tone fraught with emotions that existed before language, a suggestion somehow brief enough and large enough to encompass the full, enduring spectrum of joy and strife. I wouldn't know til later the degree of his lows.
"Seems like you're okay."
"Got out uh the hospital," John explained. "Broke my back,"
"Ow! You're a survivor. I'm sorry."
"I am, man! Broke muh back. But, stuff happens."
"Yeah, these things happen, bad things happen to good people too. Makes you stronger, you know? What doesn't kill us,"
"Hey, young man!" It was his phrase of testosterone-infused approval. We were bringing it back around, resuscitating our good energy. He continued, "I'm still alive, so something's still happenin'!"
"Exactly, doin' something right!"
"Rollin' with it!"
Now that's a good attitude if I ever heard one. Broken back? Just roll with it!
I said, "and last time I think I heard you said you just had a grandbaby!"
"Yeah I did!"
"That's beautiful thing!"
"I'm forty-three years old mah son is twenty-four, he just had his grandbaby he just had his daughter,"
"Aaawwwesome dude. That's an exciting time."
It was all coming out at once. "Mah son he's twenty-two years old just got his job in Montana, pressure dropping…."
"Really! I hear that pays good,"
We continued like that for a few minutes. His son of indeterminate age had a well-paying job in Montana, his daughter had returned to Seattle, he was asking about my photography... furthering the small talk, I said, "I'm glad you and Valerie are still hangin' around." They've been on and off the route 7 for years.
"Broke up this morning."
"WHAT?" I was blindsided. We hadn't said anything important for ten blocks! How had he held it in, listening to me ramble on about photography?
"Now, you told me that bef– in the past,"
"Not the first time you guys broke up!"
"I heard she's more comfortable. She been drinkin' more and more,"
"Oh man, it's not healthy to be around all that,"
"I know man that's why I said, I'm out–"
"Gotta take uh yourself,"
"I know man, I like talkin' to her, but she get all mean–"
"Sometimes you just gotta do you!"
The phrase meant a lot to him. Heartened, he declared: "yeah, bro! Thank you! Love hearing that."
"Totally, 'cause sometimes you're with someone so long you stop being yourself, you know?"
"Oooh yeeeah," he breathed. It was another of his multidimensional yeahs, this one being the type which understood completely.
"'S good to have some time alone, you know? So important."
"Yeah I been out here… face got jacked up but I got friends, they say John, you gon' git her but you don't need her. I don't know what that means."
"Ha! I don't know what that means either, man!" I wonder now if his friends were referring to the notion of getting back together– rarely a good idea.
"Yeah," he said. "You don't need her but you do need her."
You know that feeling, I imagine, in the time before processing, where it's all happening so fast and so heavy, and every new thought on the subject is the most important thing that ever happened, and each rumination steamrolls everything from five minutes ago. You're a teenager again. It's the type of conversation that's always more interesting to the talker than the listener. That's where he was. I'm grateful for my friends who've put up with me during such moments! I said, "sometimes time helps, givin' it time. Talk to folks, talk it out. Not with her, but I mean with friends even. And talk with her too eventually but not now,"
"Yeah jeez," John replied, with weight, a voice caught halfway between resentment and remorse.
We are so fragile.
"Gotta take some time."
"Yeah I was in and out the hospital lil' bit. She looked after me, I loved that."
"Exactly, it doesn't mean it was all bad, there's always,"
"You know, I'd wake up and she's right there." There was no resentment now. Only rueful heartache, as he recalled what used to be the present.
"Yeah. Every relationship's got it's good parts, gotta remember those."
"I been with her couple years."
"She might be the one."
We had long before ascended to a point where I was no longer merely listening. Usually in bus conversation it's safer for me to primarily be the listener; I also find it more interesting than going on about photography. This was a true back and forth now. I was talking as much to myself as to him when I said,
"Yeah. It's tough when they're so close to being the one but they're not quite."
"Messes with my head, dude!"
"Hear you, bro! Right now she's with her sister, don't want me come nowhere near. Maybe we meet up tomorrow."
"Or maybe even give it more time, you know couple weeks or something."
"I'ma go back home a while, relax."
"That sounds good."
He mumbled to himself, reliving past incidents with her, oscillating as we do in such circumstances, half frustrated and half wistful. Everyone's bitter over something. Everyone has tried, and had to watch it all fall apart. Slacken them some rope, these good folks around you. We're all going through this life for only the first time.
"I'm a step out this one," he said finally, gesturing at the zone.
I told him I was glad to see him. "Glad you stopped by, John!"
"Oh yeah! I see your picture all the time!" Referring to the ad of me about town.
"Thanks, John, shoot! For noticing that!"
"You cut your hair man, what's wrong wichoo?"
"I know, man, I'm tryna grow it back!"
"Couple more months I think,"
"Exactly couple more months it'll look just like yours. I'm workin' on it."