Monday, February 27, 2006

Public transit story #3: Reincarnation

I met this woman today. She was the sweetest woman I ever met. I was walking down North Clark by Belmont, down there, and this little old lady comes up to me and she says, "Excuse me, but do you know where the Bryant Street Theatre is?" And I said, "No, I'm sorry, I'm from out of town." And she said, "Well, for Christ's sake!" That's what she said! And I said "I'm... I'm sorry." She goes "Well?" (Really?) Well, yeah! (Cool!) "I'm sorry, no, I don't." "Well, for Christ's sake!" I said, "I'm sorry!" "Well?" (You know she had been wandering round the same corner...) I actually felt bad. I walked away and thought I should have known where that was... you know, I really should, like, maybe I'll look for it and then try and find her. I was actually thinking stuff like that, then I thought, what am I doing? I should, like, go find her and say, "Lady, you're an idiot!" and when she goes "What?" I'll go "Well?"
from Barenaked Ladies' album Rock Spectacle

One day last fall I went up to the university library to find the book that contained the chapter with the scoring instructions for one of the measures I used in my dissertation. I found the book and photocopied the chapter, but alas, the instructions were for a different version of the measure than the one I used. I was pretty mad, because I'd gone all the way up there and spent more than a dollar on overpriced photocopies and it wasn't even the right version of the measure. My advisor eventually saved the day (and my dissertation!), but what made the trip itself worth it was this woman I met while waiting for the bus home.

This woman was one of Berkeley's many homeless people. She wore a black tank top that was several sizes too small, a long black skirt, and two plastic jack-o-lantern buckets. When I say that she was wearing two plastic jack-o-lantern buckets, I mean that she was wearing a sash around her waist from which hung two plastic jack-o-lantern buckets. She had a shopping cart stuffed with all kinds of things. And she seemed to have come to the bus stop to feed the homeless man with whom I was sharing the bench.

It was apparent that they had a regular arrangement. Although the man never said a word, she narrated the whole process to both of us. First she gave him two pieces of wheat bread soaked with balsamic vinaigrette. Then she took these back and squeezed a lemon over them. "I think some garlic might be good too," she said, as she sprinkled on a prodigious amount of garlic salt. She watched him take a bite, and then she said, "How about some peanut butter? That would make a good sandwich. You need protein!" Thus was added some chunky peanut butter. When he finished the sandwich, she said, "Here, I got you some plum sauce. Drink it!" He dutifully drank the little plastic container of sweet-and-sour sauce. She then proceeded to serve (and narrate) some salt and vinegar chips, some jelly beans, and some lemonade.

Then she turned to me and said, "I like to have a little bit of potato salad every day. It's good for my stomach. I get the free samples from the Safeway up there." She continued to tell me about all the other places in the neighborhood where she could get free food: the cheese store, the sandwich and soup shop, the candy store... I told her I was new in town and that it was nice to know where the good businesses were.

Then things got, well, weird.

"What kind of blood you got in you?" she asked. "Russian?"

"Yes," I said, "my great-grandparents emigrated from Russia."

"You see that guy down there?" she said, pointing to someone I could barely see. "I think he is part Russian. He has black skin, but I think he is part Russian. He has the evil blood in him."

"Oh," I said. Apparently it was not a problem that I am more than just part Russian.

"Were you born in 1980?" she asked.

"Um, yes," I said. "How did you know?"

"Well, my daughter was born in 1980. She lives in New Mexico. She's okay. You look like her. She's got some Russian blood in her. Maybe you're her sister?"

"No," I said, "I'm an only child. But most people think I look like someone born in 1990, so thank you for guessing my age correctly!"

"Are you sure you don't have a sister?"


"The people around here are pretty nice," she said.

"Yeah, I guess they are. They're really different from people back East, though."

"Have you ever been to LA?"

"I was there once, but not for very long. Just a few hours."

"Those are some very interesting people," she said. She fixed me with a very serious gaze. "When you get reincarnated, you should come back as someone from LA."


"When you get reincarnated, you should come back as someone from LA. One of those sci-fi people."

"What kind of sci-fi people?" I asked, thinking she meant actors or directors.

"They have these sci-fi people there. They wear these sci-fi suits, climate-controlled scuba suits, and they jump out of these sci-fi helicopters and they can live underwater. They can breathe underwater! And they are beautiful. Very beautiful. And they live a really long time because they are beautiful and they can breathe underwater. I don't think they ever die!"

"Okay, I will keep that in mind," I said.

"Well, I've got to go now," she said. "You have a nice day."

"You too," I said.

Off she went, her jack-o-lantern buckets bobbing with each step.

My bus pulled up a few minutes later. The man, who'd just been sitting there on the bench the whole time, gave me a wink and an almost imperceptible smile as I got on the bus. I wonder what he was saying.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

And I'm the one at the funny farm?