Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Missed Bus

Well, it’s another one of those weird-ass Christmas seasons. Of course, the weirdest-ass of all was Dad passing away 12/23/04, and dealing with all that entails over the next few days. This one got off to a flying start when the bus that was supposed to pick me up at Port Authority this morning at 7:30 (I got there around 6:50) didn’t arrive.

Maybe it did. At some point around 7:45, a Port Authority employee came around and announced our bus was delayed “for an hour and a half” due to a traffic accident in a crucial in-bound lane leading to the bus station. I thought, you know what, I’ve been standing here close to an hour, I’m going to go take a long walk (in the 38-degree drizzle that has been our weather most of the day), come back around 8:30, and see what the story is.

I did. The bus line I take shares a gate with other Pennsylvania bus companies, and the ongoing issue with the 7:30 bus is another bus that leaves at 8:00 going to the Harrisburg area. Invariably, there will be maniacs lined up for that bus at 7:00 or earlier, since I’ve gathered that bus line is more crowded. Usually not an issue – we’re talking a line of 20 people, at tops, and when it’s announced to the line of people that the 7:30 bus is leaving, it usually shakes out nicely so that less than 10 people get on my bus. You can always tell the first-time riders, as they're shocked to find they're standing in a single bus line for two different buses, but such is the cheapness of Pennyslvania busing companies that they can't afford their own gates.

But on Christmas Eve. Shit. The line was about 100 people long, easily, I’m certain with about a 60-40 mix of their bus/my bus people. I was about eighth in line and had struck up a conversation with an older guy in line in front of me who was waiting for the 8:00 bus.

When I came back at 8:45, cold and wet but at least more clear-headed, the line was a little longer, he was still there. Man, what’s going on, I asked. He said that in the interim, they’d been told all buses would be on at least a two-hour delay due to this mysterious accident. Which did not make the news (I checked). I looked around, and that whole area of Port Authority, every gate had a huge line of people snaking from it, all in the same boat. Thousands of pissed-off people stuck in a small space on a very serious travel day. I just shook my head, muttered fuck it, got back on the subway train and came back to my apartment. When you’re repeatedly told “an hour and a half or two hours” for all buses, that’s vague bus terminal speak for, “We don’t know what in the hell is going on.”

Back here, I took a nice, long nap, did some laundry rather than taking it back in PA (which I’ll hopefully get to tomorrow morning), and did some key house cleaning, vacuuming and mopping, which always makes my place smell fantastic and puts me in a better mood, especially when I return from a trip a few days later and get that lemony fresh smell. I went to the gym and got some Chinese food afterwards – may as well make use of what’s basically a “free” day instead of grumbling and feeling like a piece of shit.

I could have made some more money and simply gone back to work. But the guy I work for turns into a horse’s ass when he’s in office before a long vacation (which he will go on tomorrow for two weeks). Got a minor dose of that yesterday, which was bad enough to have me thinking, you know what, I’m scheduled to be out today, I know he’s going to be carrying on like a five-year-old, I got plenty of stuff I can do for myself in lieu of making a few dollars more.

Even if my bus had been on time, man, I should have learned my lesson long ago, that traveling the day before any major holiday is a shit trip – and this one had all the warning signs leading up to it. The big one was dealing with the snitty gay guy who goes home once every five years. I state that like a stereotype because I only run into this kind of person during the crowded holiday seasons on the bus, and the snitty gay guy who goes home once every five years is a hallmark. The snitty gay guy who goes home once every five years is never on any bus but one that leaves either the day before Thanksgiving or Christmas.

I guess he’s going home to remind himself why he fled whichever rural area to stay in New York City the rest of his days, and you can tell he has a sort of grim determination about the trip he’s about to make, maybe to deal awkwardly with bad parents, or run the risk of seeing people he knows can’t stand him for being gay, or even worse, running into people who harassed him earlier in life for being gay. I don’t know their stories – all I know is these guys never go home unless they have to, and you never see them on a bus, say, in the third week of April, or at any other time.

He’s always well-dressed, mid-30s or older, wears glasses, and I’m guessing that he works in the fashion (or some other creative) industry. Chatty in a way that suggests if you’re not dropping the names of high-end Manhattan markets and shops, then you’re out of the loop, but he’ll cut you some slack, because he’s going back home to be among vaguely rednecky people like you, so may as well get used to dealing with people who hear the phrase “sun-dried tomato” and think “I wish I could punch you, hard, with impunity.”

I wouldn’t want to be stuck in a broken elevator with the snitty gay guy who goes home once every five years. Take my word for it, being stuck in Port Authority Bus Terminal on Christmas Eve, waiting on a bus that is destined to be hours late, is virtually no different. He’s right next to you, and neither of you can move, lest you lose your place in line. Luckily, this guy only wanted to talk travel, what I knew about traveling along the line, since he picked up that I traveled it a lot and knew it pretty well. All in all, this guy wasn’t so bad. Unlike previous snitty gay guys who pitched fits like spoiled divas over the most minor of inconveniences (shouldn’t there be ropes around here so people could form lines easier, oh god, look at all the luggage that hispanic woman and her two kids have, isn’t it a little hot in here, at least too hot for cashmere, etc.). Still, it felt good to bolt the place and go for a walk, although when I came back, he was still there, rolling his eyes, hand perched on hip, radiating bad vibes like a fluorescent light.

And he surely wasn’t alone. There was the old lady who pretends she doesn’t know there’s a line, and just wanders up to the front of the line in front of dozens people who clearly have been waiting much longer. (I nearly punched a deaf nun in the face who pulled this stunt a few years back. When she started signing me, I gave her the finger. Welcome to New York, sister!) The young hispanic guy in cocked baseball hat putting out the attitude like he’s about to take a prison bus to Rikers – like I tell fat white guys who shave their heads and grow goatees – you’re not intimidating anyone, you insecure little weasel. The clean-cut college girl, as denoted by her Ivy League sweatshirt, with nose piercing and dreads, reading her Andrea Dworkin book, going home to scoff at the capitalists paying for her liberation. The middle-aged white woman who thinks she’s going to direct traffic, but you get the vibe that when the bus rolls in, she’s going to jump line. The worst is the people you know are going to try to jump line – you can see it in their beady eyes, they’re looking for an “in” – that moment of confusion when everyone loads up, so they can hustle themselves in front of 30 people without being noticed. (And there’s always confusion when it’s announced that people are waiting in the same line for two different buses.) Save, you bet your sweet ass, I, like everyone else, notices when someone cuts in line in front of me. And I’ll give the snitty gay guy who only goes home once every five years credit – he’ll be the first one to pitch a fit when he sees cowardly shit like that going down.

This had all the markings of a very bad bus ride. There are two daily buses that travel through my part of rural Pennsylvania on that line – at 7:30 am and 3:30 pm. Could have easily come back later for the 3:30 bus. But you know what? The weather sucks, there’s a mass exodus of people leaving New York City today, traffic that would normally be bad will be at a crawl because of the rain and ice, and I can’t see myself packed like a sardine on a bus filled with these deeply aggravating people whom I never see when I take the bus home about every six weeks throughout the year. On top of which, Pennsylvania is bound to be a sheet of ice tonight, as it was this morning. My mother told me my brother had to do about 5 mph in his pick-up truck all the way home from work, and literally had to get on his ass and slide himself down the sidewalk to get to our front door. Fuckin’ A, it’s supposed to be 40 degrees and sunny tomorrow – I can wait!

Of course, I hate breaking tradition, one of which is opening presents on Christmas Eve. We tend to only get presents for Mom these days – she tends to give each of us a nice little check after Thanksgiving dinner and tells us to have fun. Not a lot of money, but surely enough to buy some cool stuff, or just to bank if necessary. I’m real sour on the concept of giving people presents they may not want, which is exactly what would happen if we tried to get presents for each other. Man, we can buy this shit any time we want as adults – the whole concept of gift giving is more for kids, who obviously should have a blast at Christmas. But as an adult, I get an empty feeling with the rampant materialism of the holidays. I wouldn’t call it depression – just the recognition that it’s only things, shit we buy, and can’t bring myself to attach any more or less value to it. If you care about people, they know it, no matter what time of year it is.

Ho, ho, ho! Where’s my Christmas variety special?

But enough. Time to kick back, watch some TV, go to bed early, and hopefully have better luck on Christmas morning with this shithead bus, which had better be close to empty and on time after all the shit I went through today. If that’s the case, I should be just in time for a full turkey dinner and afterwards one of those amazing 500-calories-per Selma’s Cookies that I bought Mom this year -- at a loss to get anything but food as people in their 70s don’t want anything, save good health and people in their lives, which is pretty much all I want in my 40s, too. And that’s pretty much all that matters for me these days in terms of Christmas. That, and a bus ride that doesn't leave me feeling homicidal.

Friday, December 05, 2008

That Song: Insert Genesis Ballad Here

I still haven’t cracked the nut on women yet, and any man who thinks he has must be delusional. You can be married for decades, and you’re still going to be in the dark on any number of issues. I’m single and don’t lose any sleep over this – I think the secret to happiness is choosing not to lose sleep over issues like this, which is probably how couples stay married for decades. Life gets situational after awhile, and you roll with whatever one you’re in at the time.

I wouldn’t know it at the time, but in high school, I was setting up patterns with women that play out to this day. Which is to say getting myself into impossible situations that are often not impossible to begin with, but reveal themselves to be in short order. The first time was trying to win away a very smart, pretty girl from her longstanding boyfriend, who happened to be a badass on our state champion wrestling team. (I’ve noted in an earlier piece how cool both of them, who did get married eventually, were at one of our high-school reunions, for which I’ll be eternally grateful.)

Since then, man, an abridged inventory: a woman who had her heart set on becoming a nun, changed her mind, then became a Born Again Christian, much to my chagrin. A flirty/artsy woman who was a great match for me, but involved sporadically with other (generally older, moneyed) guys while she couldn’t make up her mind with me. A beautiful Japanese woman whom I tutored with her English writing skills while she broke off an engagement, lost touch with, came back a year later to continue our lessons, at which time she was openly flirty, but shut me down like a lawnmower when I had the tiny balls to notice. A lesbian I had been good friends with. Don’t laugh and don’t consider me delusional: when I went through that situation, I found that a handful of guys I know meandered through the exact same scenario, although none of us panned out like the movie Chasing Amy – all any of us got was dick. Our own. In our own hands.

(Sidenote: the dramatic “this is why I love you” speech Ben Affleck’s character makes in that movie to Joey Lauren Adams’ lesbian character in their car on a rainy night, the one that convinces her to toss aside her sexuality and give this straight guy a chance … is one of the biggest loads of shit I’ve ever seen perpetuated on screen.
Guys who saw that movie and declared “right on” or “I wish I could do that” afterwards have obviously never made that sort of “no bullshit, this is how I feel” speech to a woman. Here’s what really happens when you make that sort of speech, especialy to a heterosexual: the woman sits there, staring straight ahead, with her mind completely blown that you have laid everything bare and are expecting her to immediately accept or reject you in return. She will reject you – maybe not immediately, but you better believe she’ll resent the hell out of you for forcing her emotionally into a corner like that – and that one instance will probably be the first of a series of emotional ultimatums you drop on her like “truth” bombs that demand her equally impassioned, committed response. It’s more a game of emotional control than “baring your soul.” It’s the sort of shit teenagers and inexperienced guys do in their 20s, i.e., director Kevin Smith’s core audience, no matter what age they are. This shit doesn’t work in real life. If you don’t believe me, try it yourself. Jesus. Just watching that youtube clip again has my skin crawling … and I like that movie in general. If you think that scene is cool, you’re my ideological enemy!)

It’s a similar pattern every time: meeting a woman who is great in some sense, hitting it off immediately, then soon discovering her situation is weird/challenging in some way I couldn't have anticipated, accepting the challenge, and eventually losing the challenge. I would swear on a stack of bibles that I don’t search out women like this, but I must have some type of internal bullshit detector: one that draws me into a situation in which bullshit will prevail. The older I get, the less time I spend trying to make things work, based on experience. Where I’d spend months in some hazy area in my youth, I’ll now spend weeks, or days even, or sometimes don’t even go there. I’d call it snakebit, but more than anything, I just try to be honest with myself. If I’m attracted to a woman, I’ll generally go for it in some sense. If it doesn’t pan out, I’ll let it go. How this compared to some guy married for 20 years, I don’t know. You get yourself into one situation that stretches on for decades, you got a different set of problems than mine. And we all got problems!

After that first debacle of going for a girl who was taken, I was understandably gun shy about these matters. Way too gun shy – to say I didn't get laid in high school is a radical under-statement! I would find myself getting into these odd situations where I’d find myself gazing at some girl for weeks or months on end, with her gazing back. Which didn’t necessarily mean the door was open.

Such a case happened with H in my sophomore year, with her a grade ahead. A very pretty girl, smallish, smart. Dating an ape. One of the guys on the football team who was a goofball at best, but if I could go back in a time machine, would recognize him as a deeply-average kid who really wasn’t that big or tough, but had a knack for hanging out with other vaguely “bad” guys who never really did anything all that wrong. High school was all about image as opposed to action, and it worked most of the time. If I had been really smart, actually if a guy any age wants to be smart, he should ask himself why a woman he considers attractive is with a complete jackass, and perhaps draw the unfortunate conclusion that maybe she aint all she’s cracked up to be. And the even worse conclusion: why is he routinely attracted to this type of woman?

I spent months making eyes with this woman, as she did with me. All the while, dating this other guy with no end in sight. One day, an older friend in her class saw me looking at her, asked why I didn’t ask her out, told him the obvious answer, he shrugged, went over to her, told her I liked her and was wondering if she would go out with me. I was incensed at the time, but what the hell – the guy made a great point to me. What was there to lose? Chances are the answer would be no, already taken, thanks anyway, but I’d be no better or worse off than before. And that’s pretty much how this one played out – I do recall later that day, making eye contact with her as my bus pulled away from the school, and she had the saddest look in her eye, I guess acknowledging that there was some quiet bridge between us she wasn’t willing to cross. Fair enough.

How does this relate to Genesis? The whole time this quiet flirtation played out, I was listening to the Genesis album Duke which had come out that spring, and even now, just seeing that album cover makes me think of H and that quiet teenage despair. Nothing happened, but something happened. The album’s vague concept is a character – Duke – guiding a woman to stardom, with her leaving him behind when she becomes a star, leaving him older, wiser and heartbroken. Of course, I wasn’t Duke – this chick was a year older than I was and not a star – but I related to that same sense of heartbroken wisdom. You want a good “romantic failure/feel like an asshole” song to pine over, try “Please Don’t Ask” from this album. I remember playing that song over and over, and thinking, “Christ, what an intelligent song about losing hope. No bitterness. Just the truth..”

Genesis got a bad rap after Peter Gabriel left, the consensus being they were a lesser band because Gabriel was the creative focal point of the band, and probably responsible for most of those interesting stream-of-conscious lyrics. In reality, the band didn’t skip a beat. The band shared writing credits on every song. When Phil Collins took over the lead vocals, his voice sounded almost exactly like Gabriel’s. They lyrics might have changed a little, but they were still good. I guess the bad rap was they were still doing what was basically Prog Rock at a time when it was slowly fading out, while Gabriel was doing more commercial material with great success. (And I still prefer those first two more pop-oriented albums as opposed to his more experimental/world material that followed.)

I bought all those post Gabriel albums, once on vinyl and re-upped on CD: A Trick of the Tail, Wind & Wuthering, And Then There Were Three, Duke, Abacab. That’s where I stopped, as Abacab was the band skulking towards the 80s pop-rock monster they would become through Collins’ far more slick solo albums. I should note that along with Duke that ill-fated spring of 1980, I was dogging two other big Genesis ballads that best represented my teenage state of perpetual blue balls and broken heart: “Ripples” and “Afterglow.” Both songs about leaving and heartbreak, both sung by Phil Collins in that post-Gabriel period. Emotionally accurate songs to play when you’re a screwed-up teenager and think your world is about to come crashing down because the love of your life is unobtainable. A drive to the convenience store to pick up milk for your Mom feels like a windswept journey on a ghost ship in the Azores. Shit like that.

I think there's a much larger story to tell in the fantasy life of 70s teenage rock fans in which their rote American surroundings are in direct contrast with the romantic imagery placed in their imaginations by bands like Genesis, Queen, Led Zeppelin, etc. All I know is there were plenty of guys driving around in Ford Pintos who thought they were on camels in the Sahara when listening to "Kashmir." Of course, drugs may have had something to do with that also. But the same mild self deception came into play with matters of the heart, too, thus we all felt like Fabio on the cover of a romance novel every now and then. Which, I can assure you, is not a good way to go through life!