About one's judgement of people from a bus seat.
This is what I live for.
I’m a professional people watcher. My salary is comprised of dirty looks and OCD. Rewarding job. The more you do it, the more efficient you go about the tricky business. It’s not exactly something to be proud of, so you do it in such a way that a.) The people around you don’t suspect anything, b.) Your subject doesn’t notice, and c.) You assure yourself that you aren’t as freaky as you think.
You’re gaping at someone near the front, those seats reserved for the grocery-shopping grannies or the ladies with duplex, heart-shaped bottoms and chubby joints, and while you’re near the second door, bored of staring at the back of someone’s bald, shiny head, you’re staring at the person sitting on the granny seat. Those are usually the interesting-est folks.
This isn’t optimal for you. The granny seats aren’t horizontal like your and everyone else’s seat, and it faces the window. You’d think the middle, front-facing seats were the best place to sit for a people watcher, all hidden. No sir. They do this really annoying thing where every ten or so seconds, they cock their head towards their audience (you) and their eyes flick from person to person because they, too, are something of people watchers, and amid the eye-surfing, they finally level with one taker from the crowd (probably you), and then their stop comes up, and they make for the front door but there’s human traffic, so they cut time and make for the back door, and as they pivot a swift 180, they find someone from the audience has been staring hard at their ass (always you).
So you move up to the granny seat section, and you sport a limp so they think you deserve the granny seat better than the guy holding on to the metal bar with four university math textbooks in hand. This still isn’t optimal for you.
This time, you’re staring unmistakably at the person opposite you, and since you figure, hey, where the hell else am I going to look? you allow yourself to do it, but they know that feeling they get when someone’s looking at them, because they can see the darkness in their peripheral vision where the whites of the eye are replaced by the subtle weight of iris, and their radar sensors can only keep them from avoiding your persistent eye contact for so long, so the person looks back at you, and then you unfocus your eyes, and shortly after you make your eyes wander thoughtfully and brood a little so the person supposes you weren’t concentrated on them, but rather the article you read this morning in the Globe and Mail, and when you’re sure they’ve looked away, you go right back at it, and they’ve pulled out Sudoku so you’re safe, and then you feel invasive towards this innocent, much more wise person who’s not staring back at you like a raven, so you withdraw from your vigil and stare at your feet ashamedly.
Here is the foolproof solution: shades. There’s something bitchin’ about a pair of sunglasses that makes you seems ten times cooler than everyone around you, because your eyes are hidden and there’s no emotion on a face with sunglasses, and you’re cool as a cuke. You’ve got to get shades with a strong tint if you’re going to watch the people, because if they’re weak enough, everyone will know you’re full of shit when they see your piggy black eyes swivelling madly, doing the full body scans of everyone, including the sixty-year-olds who really don’t need to be checked out.
But, weak or strong, there’s one thing that a pair of shades guarantees. No one stares at you. It’s just too risky. How do they know there aren’t eyes behind your glasses making sure they aren’t gaping at you? They’ve learned over the years, they’ve trained themselves to remember, that there’s always that possibility. They’re smarter than that.
Cripes, this is what I live for.
You come to realize that the worst thing someone can do to you on a long bus ride is to smile at you. Nice gestures set a laborious precedent. They require actual maintenance. This usually happens in and around the granny seats, while you’re doing the usual pan across the good-natured workers on their way to their jobs, and your eyes settle, momentarily, so momentarily, upon a sort of chubby, twinkle-eyed Russell Crowe type, and you’re going to move down the line of other interesting faces when he smiles the ‘just doin’ m’job’ smile, and you think God, I can no longer deal with human kindness, so you flash a horrible, crooked rabbit grin.
As long as this sweet, chubby man is on this bus, you will never get to look at him again, or anyone really, because if you’re sighting down the line of the other folks, he’ll find it fishy that you’ve conveniently omitted his presence from your consciousness, but you cannot look at the man again, you cannot gaze idly past him again, your mouth hanging open stupidly, because this guy will most likely feel obliged to smile again, and that sloppy second (no sexual connotations here) is unbearably awkward, for you, for him.
This sweet chubby man is really a bum, as he’s made a contract with you, and it’s only 7:30 in the morning, a point where you don’t have time or energy to make friends, and you spend the rest of the ride smarting, resenting him for making you feel bad about yourself for not being able to return such friendliness, so you become impossibly interested in an ad for an online college above the sweet chubby man’s head.
What you have to realize is that not every person on the bus is a sob story. Faces are funny things. When you think someone’s glaring at you, they’re really only swayed by the sun’s rays. When someone looks like they want to hang themselves, they’re only thinking about how they forgot to return the milk to the fridge back at home.
You’re thinking this, of course, in retrospect, while you're getting your pyjamas on, as an end-of-the-day moral. What did I learn today type of thing. Not while you’re ogling twenty or so people.
And when you are in a state of ogling, you’re thinking all sorts of nasty things. Hateful things, because it’s ten times more satisfying to hate than to adore. You look at the opposite granny seats, but there isn’t much interesting there today, so you look out into the rest of the bus, the normal seats, and you see a dyed black-haired kid and he’s got guyliner and a Panic! At the Disco shirt, and since you realize you waste too much energy hating this stuff, you move on, but there isn’t much else, so you go to your last resort, to your immediate neighbours, and you realize this is extremely invasive, so you pretend your craning your neck to look out the window, and you take your half-second chances to get a good look at these people.
This kid beside you, he’s got a slight little figure, and he’s has suede, metrosexual shoes, a grey fedora and a crisp, vertically striped shirt, and you know that somewhere along the line, Clinton told him that vertical stripes have a slimming effect, and he has the face of a cat, with hard, burnt out eyes. He’s looking down on the notebook in his lap that spells ‘PARIS’ and has a watermark Eiffel Tower on it, and he’s writing in it with a purple pen, and you reckon he’s writing nice and big and clear and slow just so that you will be tempted to read over his shoulder (you are) and read his stuff, the fluffy, pretentious bastard. This looks like a journal entry to you, and you catch something about how people on a bus make a collectively bad smell, and then the last lines slap you in the face.
Now there’s a dumb chick on the next seat staring at me, and I want to tell her to mind her own business and that it’s rude to stare.
Ladies and Gents, this is what I live for.