Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The walk from Santa Monica to Brentwood

I got on the bus, and I recognized him. He patted the seat next to him with what I like to remember as a lecherous smile. (It was really just a friendly smile.)

We were in graduate school together, and had only exchanged a sentence or two. On the bus ride I learned that he lived in Santa Monica. (I lived in Brentwood.) He liked to ride his bike to the beach for a break from studying. Not my type, but he'd make a really nice friend.

He got off the bus before me, but it was only one stop before. I started walking to his stop in the mornings, hoping we might have the same schedule. I started riding my bike to the beach after classes, hoping to find myself riding along next to him.

He lived in Santa Monica; I lived in Brentwood--we lived a block apart. It was more a matter of perception than city limits.  I never ran into him biking--it turned out he had hurt his knee and didn't bike for awhile. But I did catch him at his bus stop from time to time. He finally asked me out, after a long wait of a week or so.

He started moving in, about 6 weeks after our first date, one paper shopping bag at a time, walking the block from Santa Monica to Brentwood. That was 1978. We're still living together.

Sometimes the guys you meet on buses are keepers.

Monday, February 21, 2011

About the Time I Embarrassingly Fell In Love With a Random Stranger at a Bus Stop In Little Rock, Arkansas

It was 1993. I bought a Greyhound bus ticket from Durango, Colorado to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Nearly everything on this journey by bus was inspired by a lack of sleep and a certain crazed desperation that prevaled amongst the majority of the riders. I didn’t share the feeling entirely, but it did tend to rub off on me a little bit. The people I met came and went, came and went, sitting in that seat beside me, and life became this strange and endless stream of hearing people’s stories, and then never seeing them again.

At the major bus stations, you had to get off and switch buses. It required waiting in line a lot, sometimes for forty-five minutes at a time.

I met Mr. West Virginia at the bus station in Little Rock, Arkansas. He had no crazed desperation about him. He was relaxed, enjoying himself. There was a long line, and he was in front of me, and we started talking. Mostly, he talked. He was in his mid thirties, and I was a week shy of nineteen. I’ve never been one for older men, but I was in this sort of half dream state, and living with those on the fringe, on those buses, it kind of makes you become like them.

This guy had longish hair and a pleasant face. He was a little on the heavy side, a little on the unkept side, a little short. He had green eyes. Faded hair. White. He started telling me about his place out in the country in West Virginia. He loved West Virginia. Loved it. And to this day, I can not hear a thing about West Virginia whithout remembering this guy (although I have forgotten his true name).

“West Virginia is the only state with a declining population,” he said happily. “It just keeps getting more open and natural out there. The road that leads up to my cabin is probably knee deep in snow right now. I’ll have to hike in,” he went on with a serene smile.

Mr. West Virginia loved nature. He described the trees around his house in the different seasons, the near impassable road that led to his little cottage, the reason he was riding the bus- the old jeep wasn’t that reliable. But he liked riding the bus, watching the people. It was always an experience. Mr. W.V. just loved his life.

And as we got closer and closer to the front of the line, the place where we would split off and take our separate buses, it became more and more clear that this monologue about his life wasn’t just talk at all. This was an invitation. He had to say it in a very obvious way, because I don’t catch on to stuff like that very well, but I can’t remember. I think it was something like, “You’d like it there. You could try it a while, you know.” Which seems very creepy, now, but there was this feeling that we, we two, we were different from all of those other people at the bus station. The rest of them were the crazed underbelly of society, but we were mere observers, nature lovers.

It’s entirely possible that all of this was true, and it’s also entirely possible that he was an ax murderer luring me to his home in the forest where he would take me and cut me up into tiny little pieces. In my innocent youth, I really didn’t consider the ax murderer possibility. I was actually considering going home with him.

When we got to the front of the line, he clearly wanted me to walk away with him, to take his bus to West Virginia.

He was one of those people who talk with their hands a lot. I was drawn to him like I have not been drawn to hardly anyone.

Of course, it was insane to think of running away with him. Insane! That’s what made it so appealing. He said,

“You’d like it there.” And then he just paused. Time stopped. We were probably surrounded by fifty crack addicts, but I saw no one but him. He and I looking at each other.

I remember I was wearing a long white coat made of fake fur.

I felt the draw to Grandma’s house. For a moment I imagined what would happen if I didn’t show up at the bus stop in Pittsburgh. If I just ran away with some guy I'd met at a bus stop, the modern Ralph Waldo Emerson of West Virginia. Still...

We were at the front of the line. I hesitated to hand over my ticket for inspection. You could have your ticket swapped for free- I’d seen people do it. It felt like I was flying for a second. And then it passed.

“Well,” I said.

“Well,” he said.

And there was just a nod and we went out our separate doors. A nod and a smile.

I was happy the next twenty hours, maybe, considering what might have been, watching America roll by.

Since then, I’ve come to wonder how many girls he tried to pick up at bus stops, and did anyone ever go with him?

I’ve never shared this story before because I was so embarrassed about having fallen for some random older man at a bus stop in Little Rock.

Pick-up Line-?

I don't have a lot of bus stop stories, maybe because we always lived close enough to school that we walked.  So, my story is not a school bus stop story but a city bus stop story.

I had dressed up slightly, in that I had on a denim skirt instead of jeans.  I also had my fabulous very vintage looking green coat on.  Every one wanted to know where I got the awesome coat and then nobody believed me when I told them it had come from Target! 

Whoops...I'm wandering again... I was listening to my portable CD player, as I do whenever I ride a bus, because it usually keeps people from talking to me.  I was just standing there, and this guy was standing sort of off to the side from me, and I realised he was talking to me, I have no idea how long he had been talking to me. I pulled the headphones off my ears and said, "I'm sorry, if you were talking to me,  I didn't hear a word you just said."
"I was just saying that you have a very Jackie O vibe about you." I had no idea what to say to that, first of all anyone who has met me for more than 5 minutes knows that is absolutely not true. All I could do was smile and say thank you.  There was some small talk about my coat...and then the bus got there thank God for small favours! I put my headphones back on and didn't get bothered again the entire way home!

Practice Makes Perfect

I was a kid who liked to keep to myself on the bus. Waiting at the bust stop I was always closer to the back, but not the last person on. No. That was reserved for the bullies and the people who kept walking farther and farther backward so no one would get behind them and they could be the last person on.

The bus took us all the way around the city, so we had a long bus drive. It would take us to the outer edges of the city and pick up some of the kids from my class. They all generally ignored me, which was ok. I just sat at the window watching the city go by and enjoying the scenery.

I was young, maybe about second or third grade, I honestly can't remember. The bus would always travel this long stretch of road that was practically empty except for one building at the corner of a four-way stop. Everyday we passed it, and everyday I tried my hardest to pronounce the word displayed in flashing lights at the top of a tall post. It had a weird combination of letters in it and I just wasn't quite sure how they all fit together. I didn't have a whole lot of time to try and pronounce the word, so I had to try and practice while we drove by it, stopped for a few seconds, and then went on our way again. By the time we got to school I had promptly forgot all about the word and didn't think of it again until the bus ride home.

For months I practiced sounding out the word, but it didn't come out right. I would wait for the moment the bus started to accelerate before trying with all my might to catch a glimpse of the sign and remember the combination of the letters. I knew there was a "Q" and  "U" right in the middle, and those were the letters throwing me off. I didn't want to ask anyone because I didn't want anyone to make fun of me for not knowing the word. Plus, I wanted to figure it out on my own.

It was a cold, cloudy day when the bus took off from school one afternoon. It had been a bad day for me and I just wanted to go home and put it all behind me. I was sitting in the seat, looking out the window and not talking to anyone, when I felt the bus accelerate. I knew the sign was coming, but I didn't even want to try and figure it out. I was just going to ignore it. The bus started to slow down and I stole a glance at the sign, I couldn't help myself. At this point it was out of habit. Yet, for some reason, all the letters fit. For one brief moment the sun poked out from behind the clouds and lit up the sign, and I knew exactly what they said. After all these months, it finally clicked! Gone were all my thoughts of the bad day. Gone were the kids on bus chatting with their friends. Gone was the world around me. All that existed in that moment was that sign and I. Without hesitation, I excitedly stood up, threw my hands in the air, and yelled the word as loud as my little voice would go: "LIQUOR!!"

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Pink Fleece and Yellow Bus

She stood in the bus circle, waiting to board, resplendent in her brand-new pink and grey checked fleece jacket that she had just gotten the night before. It was long time coming.
"Please, mom," she whined. "All of the girls have one!"
"But we don't have the money. Why can't you wear the jean jacket? There's nothing wrong with it."
"I do wear it," she said, sulking. "I just want the pink one."
"I'll see what your father says," her mom replied.
Later that week her mom came home from work with a plastic bag from Mervyn's, and she knew that she had won the battle. The jacket came out of the bag, with the tags still attached, smelling like cloth-making chemicals and popularity. It was soft, and pretty, and had a nice collar, and a baby pink zipper pull, and was just like all of the other jackets worn by all of the other girls at her school. This time she wouldn't look like she was from the poor side of town. This time, she wouldn't look like she was dressed in an older woman's hand-me-downs because all of the clothes in her size were intended for adults. This time, she would fit in.
She went to school that day and never took the jacket off. She walked to the bus stop in it, she wore it all the way in on the bus, she wore it to each of her classes and didn't take it off inside or at lunch. She was especially careful not to spill anything on it, because if she did her mom would have to wash it, and it wouldn't be as soft anymore once it was washed. She was careful. She was proud.
She got on the bus and sat near the middle. Too close to the front, and you looked like a goody-two-shoes; too far in the back, and you ran the risk of smelling like smoke or bottle rockets when you got home, and then you had to answer uncomfortable questions from your parents when you hadn't done anything wrong. The middle was fine.
Her bus stop was towards the end of the route. It took nearly an hour and a half to get to her house on the bus. It was a big school district with only one junior high. They had already passed through all of the close neighborhoods. Now they took a jaunt through the rural areas, where the people lived whose parents didn't have enough money to buy houses in town. That's where her stop was. After her came the final area, a brand-new housing development where all of the rich kids lived. Gold-plated assholes, her dad called them. She tended to agree.
Suddenly, there was a very strong aroma of nail polish. Christy must be painting her nails again. She hated that girl. Christy lived with the rich kids. Christy always had new clothes in the latest fashions and plenty of money to spend on nail polish and Aqua Net hairspray to make her hair roll up in the front like the cool girls all did. Christy was also terribly mean and nasty.
She heard snickers. Turning around in her seat, she saw Christy sitting a few seats back and Donnie, that annoying skater kid, sliding into the seat next to her, with a bottle of red nail polish in his hand. Those gold-plated assholes stick together, she thought.
Something red caught her eye against the forest green vinyl of her bus seat. She looked down. There was a smear of red nail polish on it, where she had been leaning a minute before, with a few pink fleece fibers stuck to it. She craned her neck around, but she couldn't see her own back, so she took off her new jacket for the first time that day.

There was a giant, red X painted in nail polish on the back of her brand new jacket.
She turned around so the other kids couldn't see her cry.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Middle Name

My first name comes from a crystal silverware commercial my mom saw on TV when she was pregnant with me, but that's not my story today. Most people are a bit skeptical when they hear my middle name. They think I am making it up, or better yet, trying to make them guess. It always makes me smile when I tell them and see their reactions. You see, my middle name is just a letter. T. Just one little letter, which just so happens to be my favorite letter, if I had to choose one. There is a story behind that middle name of mine.

I am the third oldest child with two older sisters. When I was born, my parents had split decisions on how many children they would have after me, so they talked about what to name me. My dad's first name starts with a T, and my mom's first name (or at least what she goes by most of the time) starts with a T. The story goes that my dad didn't think he was ever going to have any boys, and my mom didn't think she was ever going to have any more girls, so they decided to put the letter T for an initial as my middle name as a sort of reminder for them both.

Needless to say my parents had seven boys and one more girl after me, making a total of eleven kids in our family. The middle name story is sweet, but didn't really hold true after all those kids. In high school when I got tired of people asking me what the T stood for I decided to become a bit more creative and I told people that it stood for "The Greatest". For some reason it stuck. My friends would pass me notes in school addressed to Crystal the Greatest. I've had autographs of famous performers address them to Crystal the Greatest and I once even sang in public under the name of Crystal the Greatest. To this day, I am still fondly known as Crystal the Greatest to my friends and family. It makes me smile.


If we go a week with no one adding anything on this topic, I think we'll move on to the next topic!

So exciting...

Thanks to everyone who's posted so far!

There are still spots. Write to .

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

And for that name which is no part of thee

Name. I did not like it as a child. It is Heather. I have never considered changing it.

Parents name their children. My parents are reflected in my name. If I had been a boy I would be Leonard Robert III. Can you imagine such a thing?

I study linguistics, even now, 10 years into a different career, I always include linguistics in my course load of continuing education. Linguistics is an interesting mistress. It is the escape hatch from language. In very complicated ways it teaches you that words are everything and nothing. 'We are such stuff
As dreams are made on.'

Words are a construct. They are sounds put together. The sounds only have meaning because groups of people unconsciously accept their combinations and associate those sounds with some type information. There is actually no absolute truth.

Let me give you an example:

MorphologyThe structure of word forms and patterns
Morphemes are composed of morphs

Morphs are composed of phonemes
 Phonemics The perception of sounds within a language
Phonemes are composed of phones
 Phonetics The pronunciation of speech sounds within a language
A phoneme is the smallest contrastive unit in the sound system of a language.

This is a simple chart to explain how words are created. We assign specific information to phonemes and these  phonemes are combined to make morphemes (we call them words or parts of words). Phones on their own are given multiple meanings by different cultures around the globe. Your phonemes are only meaningful in your context.

With all of that in mind, words have no 'absolute' meaning. They only have a 'percieved' meaning. They are assigned phones collectively understood to mean something.

Which, to bring this all back around, leads me to never see words as profound or meaningful. I can't say that any one word in any language has more or less meaning than any other. I don't really believe in words. They certainly exist and transmit meaning between people. They encode many of our thoughts and I sometimes resent them for that reason. Our thoughts are constrained by the 'words' that we have available.

I am lucky. I can think the world in a few different languages. I know that my thoughts are different when I use different morphology and syntax to represent them. But ultimately, that leads to the terrible beauty of no truth to hold onto and there be dragons in those waters.

Too much knowledge is dangerous. I know that all of the truths we hold self evident are not. I know that we construct our world, our gods, and our distance from our animal reality. My name means nothing. It just is and there is no point in really caring about it.


No-Name says, "No cheating on your taxes."

Lots of people invent imaginary friends at some point during their childhood, even if it‘s just to pass the time on a particularly boring rainy afternoon. I was no exception. Except that my imaginary friend was actually an imaginary older brother. And he stayed with me for almost four years.

Though it was long ago, I remember the day that he entered my life. I remember that I was seven years old. It was the summer before 2nd grade, and I was where I could usually be found on a summer day - on the creaky little swingset in my parents’ backyard.

I had passionate feelings about the swingset. Swinging was fun. I enjoyed it. But it was also serious work. I would often swing from just after sunrise (when my mother slipped outside to water her plants and sing to her rose garden) to right around dusk (when mosquitoes and a fear of the dark drove me back indoors). Hands aching and rust-colored, with chain-link indentations molded into each palm, I would fix myself a glass of chocolate milk or sneak a few good-sized lumps of rock salt from the box in the highest kitchen cabinet (I had a salt addiction. Still do.) and retreat to my bedroom to continue whatever fantasy my imagination had spun while I was swinging all day long.

That particular day, my imagination had conjured up a big brother. I could picture him as clearly as if he was a real person. He looked just like my actual brother (tousled brown hair, olive skin, dark eyes framed with mile-long lashes), only older. Taller. Stronger. Quieter. He stayed beside me all day as I worked my swing, pushing me higher when I needed it and swinging right alongside me when I found my pace.

When I finally headed back into the house for the evening, my invisible brother was close behind. I didn’t ask it of him or make a conscious effort to imagine it. He just stayed with me. He followed me from room to room, watching over me silently like a bodyguard. He stood nearby and observed as I stole my little portion of rock salt and pocketed it. I could sense his disapproval, but I ignored it and walked - new brother in tow - to my bedroom. Once safely inside my room, I retrieved a chunk of salt from my pocket and popped it into my mouth, sucking purposefully. My imaginary brother watched and frowned.

“What?” I said defiantly. “I can have some if I want to. Mom and Dad never use it. They won’t know that I took it.”

His silence was condemning, and I became furious. I had created him, but it never occurred to me that I should be able to control him. He had a mind of his own. We began to argue, me defending myself aloud and him responding with mute reprimand.


A knock on my bedroom door, followed immediately by my father’s face peering between door and frame.

“You okay in there? Who are you talking to?”

It never occurred to me to lie. I was a skilled thief, that was certain. I could sneak rock salt into my pockets on a regular basis without my parents ever suspecting a thing. But when presented with a direct question, I found it impossible to come up with anything but the truth.

“My big brother,” I replied.

My father, being the wonderful man that he is, was unfazed. “Oh, okay. What’s his name?”

Because humans have a natural instinct to want to name things, I knew that he needed a name. But like the ability to control my imaginary brother’s actions or lie to my parents, it had not occurred to me that my creation needed a name. At least, not until someone inquired about it.

“No name,” I told my father, meaning that I had not decided on (or discovered) his name yet.

My dad smiled at the space beside me, behaving as though he could actually see the invisible boy in my room. “Nice to meet you, No-Name. Be nice to Jennifer.” And he was gone, shutting the door gently behind him,

And that was that. My father unknowingly named my imaginary brother, and for years he was a very real part of our family. Always looking out for me. Guiding me to do the right thing. My own strange version of Jiminy Cricket. I’m convinced that even my parents gradually began to think of him as real.

We’d be at the dinner table, and I’d be pushing tomatoes around on my plate. I hated tomatoes when I was a kid. Absolutely hated them.

“Eat your tomatoes,” my mother would command.

I’d avert my eyes and keep playing with my food.

My mother would squint at me, sigh, and say, “No-Name says to eat your tomatoes.”

And I’d eat them. Every bite of them.

No-Name stayed with me until sometime around the middle of 5th grade, when I became too distracted by friends and crushes and “growing up” to need a protective, imaginary older brother any longer.

I still remember him, though. I think back on those years fondly. And to this day, every time I’m tempted to do something that I know I shouldn’t, or every time I hop onto a swing (You’re never too old for swings, you know), I can picture No-Name there beside me. Just as he was when I was a kid.

Good ol’ No-Name.