You can’t tell by looking at her now, but up until she graduated from high school my roommate’s left canine resembled a fork tine. Only in width, of course. It was no snake-like fang, no spit-whittled candy cane tip protruding out of her mouth and drawing even with the edge of her chin.
I wish I could say I had the chance to witness this in the tooth, but alas, I’ve only seen photos. My roommate’s mother so graciously shelled out for a veneer in time to send her daughter off to college with a socially acceptable dental aesthetic. However, beauty is not without its sacrifices. She’ll never be able to bite into an apple again. Not unless she goes at it from the right side of her mouth. And just imagining how unattractive that would look, she might as well have foregone capping that spire in the first place.
Oranges aren’t a problem for her, though. She’s big on citrus. Gone in 37 seconds, those Cuties. In that aspect she is, in fact, almost serpentine. No skin off this fruit, though. Nope. I’m not much for oranges myself and unless she indulges the odd whim and slices up an apple, I know how many are going to be in the crisper the next time I open the fridge.
While the dichotomy begins in the kitchen, it is analogous to our lives outside of the apartment as well. Peeling away the last of the produce metaphors, couples and singles are equally as polarized. Sure, it’s not necessarily an antagonizing division like Crips and Bloods, Greasers and Socs, Republicans and Democrats; but as she’s a year and a half deep into a long distance relationship and I’ve never gotten past four dates with anyone, we’re in the midst of both living and aspiring to live very different lifestyles.
At the crux of this divide is the meet-cute. While real life may not always be feature film-worthy, the spark in every relationship is ignited through some embodiment of this Hollywood convention most often seen in romantic comedies. My roommate already had hers in a Starbucks back when we lived in Minneapolis. Even though I scoffed and told her that the barista in question “flirts with everyone," that iced coffee both quenched her immediate thirst and commenced to fuel the flames of their still thriving love and their ever-insatiable loins.
Consequently, she's far less motivated to venture out of her routine than I am mine. Her boyfriend might be 2,000 miles away most of the time, but she can call him on the phone or even look through her web cam and into his eyes without so much as ruffling the covers on her bed. Who knows whom my first (relationship - let's be serious people) is going to be. A barista, as well? A fellow member of my neighborhood 24 Hour Fitness? The guy who I've often seen in the lobby of my building at work? The guy who has the same sweater as me? Who I know has seen me too and not just on the day when we both showcased our kindred fashion sense? The guy who I now know as "Miles" who works on "the fifth floor" as I finally introduced myself to him in the elevator a couple weeks ago? Is it HE? Can it be him? Please?!
Perhaps. Perhaps there will be a green apron hanging on my bedroom doorknob one day. Perhaps a pair of abs even tauter than my own will stand behind me in the shower. Perhaps a man named Miles – or David or Alfonso or Gael García Bernal – will be honored to introduce me as his "boyfriend."
"Quizás," as the Spanish say. “Quizás, Quizás, Quizás," as many artists hath sung (the cover). But even more encouraging, albeit less musical, is my roommate's sage advice:
“Love isn’t hard to find – you just can’t look for it.”
Despite the hillbilly tusk guised beneath her porcelain facade, despite our conflicting priorities, it is her wisdom that fuels the hope for my own meet-cute, a hope that drives me out of my comfort zone and into the world – or, in some instances, onto a Los Angeles County bus.
A failed starter may have had a strong hand in altering my commute last Fall, but it was the anticipation of a previously unexplored setting, an uncharted demographic that overshadowed any overwhelming displeasure at the impending and inevitably substantial car repair bill. My bed might be half empty, but my glass is three-sixths full. Thus, it was with a smile on my face that I fed $1.25 into the fare box and settled into one of the front few seats. Perpendicular to the driver and parallel to the door, I had an optimal vantage point, a perch from which I could be both ogler and oglee.
Only one feller caught my eye the first day – and he appeared old enough to have to have been old enough to use that gender indicative noun at the height of it’s vernacular relevance. I’d max out my credit card to wager he may very well have been drafted to fight in the Korean War. George Clooney and Colin Firth I could (man)handle; but this gentleman is out of the game. Whatever his team, only Regis Philbin, Barbara Walters, and Betty White are left in his fantasy bracket. Even then, that wildcat of a “View” matriarch might snap his bones as easily as if it were Sally Field’s Boniva-reliant skeleton. In bed, I can’t imagine that those hips don’t do much more than lie, not anymore.
He was quite dapper, though, in his double Windsor and his crisp, charcoal-colored suit and shiny, black dress shoes. I felt almost homely, staring down at my own collared, but cotton shirt, my blue jeans, and my busted, dirty green Chuck Taylors. We were on a bus, but he stole the room. I was riveted, at least; but I can’t imagine the collective admiration waned as he sprung up out of his seat, spry like the She Wolf, potentially still a Hot Topic himself, after all.
My prime position was available once again the following morning. Apparently, like movie theaters and churches and classrooms and – well, most any enclosed space in which the seating is arranged in rows – few people prefer to sit towards the front of the bus. Works for me! It made for easier viewing on my part having the other riders clustered together in the back, neatly arranged and all visible with just a slight turn of my head. So contained, they were, it was as if I was (people) watching them through the impenetrable glass of a television screen, not the abstract social barrier provided by the tinted lenses of my sunglasses.
Who’s guest starring today? I thought, taking a closer look at each individual passenger. Ooo! Hello over there. Intrigue ensued as I scanned all six feet of the reasonably attractive, seemingly Swedish 20-something gent situated directly across from me. Not – bad. Blonde ain’t mah usual pref – err – ANCE, but still – MMM! My lips crept slyly upward, the facial equivalent of rubbing one’s hands together mischievously as I was doing in my head. What else, what el – WHOA.
The spasmodic widening of my eyes may not have been evident, but even the most over-sized shades could not have contained the soar of my willfully expressive eyebrows. Shit. Shit! I hope I didn’t offend him. Sorry, sir,I directed a silent apology to the middle aged man on my right, the man with two metal pincers in place of his hands. I bet you get that a lot.
“Yeah,” I imagined his response, "But it took ME a while to get used to these and I’m the one carryin’ ‘em around!” Genial chuckling would undoubtedly ensue, prompting him to proffer his right claw for a hookshake and a formal introduction. Fortunately, though, the bus driver slammed on the breaks, jarring me out of our fictive exchange and into the realization that I was still staring at the man for whom I had begun to invent an identity despite not yet having exchanged even a nod of hello.
He didn't seem to mind, though. In fact, he didn't appear all that aware of my physical presence – much less my fully limbed guilt – preoccupied as he was attempting to click his Blackberry into a protective, hard-plastic casing.
Hmm...Yeah...Yeah, I suppose he can't use an iPhone. ASSHOLE! You're an asshole, JJ. Unfeeling AND pretentious. Eesh. Should I help him? Should I ask if he wants some help? Is that rude? Is he going to think I think he can't do it himself? WHAT AM I SUPPOSED I DO?!
“Do you need help with that?” I finally decided to ask, the effort behind my casual intonation only slightly transparent. "No," his gaze darted up towards mine before dropping, just as quickly, back into his lap. "I've got it."
It wasn’t as harsh as it reads, his denial. Definitely clipped, though. So, no. No, apparently I should not have offered my unsolicited assistance. Loud as my involuntary facial reactions might be, in the end it was still my mouth itself that beckoned the entrance of my foot. G - D IT! I began to grumble, but my self-flagellation was cut short, my inner monologue rendered speechless as a tangibly astronomic male presence climbed aboard.
"Get Villaraigosa on the phone!" He shouted, pointing past the bus driver towards the car idling alongside. “That man is talking on his cell phone. He should be TICKETED!"
“Good morning,” he turned to face the rest of us, grinning broadly. “Good morning everyone! Good morning. Natalie got booted off of “Dancing With The Stars” last night,” he continued, despite the absence of any reciprocal greetings. “Should have been Aaron Carter if you ask me.”
We didn’t. We did not ask him for a “DWTS,” update. I for one am not even a fan of the show; but I suppose I would have heard it from Sherri Shepherd later that morning on “The View.” Alright, okay, lighten up, self. You always say you wish people were more open and engaging of strangers. Oh – OH –
Okay. He chose the seat one away from my own, opening his paper with a great, RUSTLING flourish. “Jerry Brown,” he began speaking to no one in particular. “He used to date Linda Ronstadt. Back when he had hair and she was skinny.”
Laughing raucously, he turned towards me – as I should have expected he would. “Now he’s bald and she’s fat,” he removed his hat, “And I’m still thin with a full head of hair!”
I mustered a polite smile before returning my gaze forward, back to the apparent Swede whose own stare, not surprisingly, was fixed firmly to the floor. Bastard. I thought-spat. Pretty, pale bastard, safe all the way over there. Eesh. Be careful what you wish for, I guess. I might be outgoing, but this man is enigmatically buoyant. I sighed, inwardly. Al – RIGHT. Alright. Maybe he’s just lonely. OR CRAZY. Lonely or crazy or – staring at me?
Slowly and with mild apprehension, I turned back to face him.
“I’m just trying to read your buttons, there.” He motioned towards my bag. “Obama, eh? Are you happy with him?”
“That’s why I’ve got the button,” was my toneless reply. J – J – I scolded myself. Simmer DOWN. There’s no need to be so defens –
“How do you feel about the public option?”
– ive. MAN, he’s pushin’ it. “It’s far too early to talk about the public option – on the bus.” That was good, JJ. Dismissive, but not too hostile. Should squelch –
“My brother has two sons in Afghanistan, is it too early to talk about that?”
Mother – FUCKER. “Way to drop the war.” Deep furrows gouged my forehead, companions to the resolve withering glare radiating from beneath my sunglasses. “Now how can I argue? Especially as we’re on the morning BUS.”
“A terror plot was foiled in Boston today. And he says there are no terrorist threats. How about Roman Polanski,” He challenged, turning to another page in his newspaper and pointing to a photo of the infamous filmmaker. “Do you support him? It was 30-years-ago, right? Just rape of a 13-year-old girl. ANAL sex between her and a 50-year-old man. No problem, right?"
"Yes,” I cut into his self-satisfied cackling, snarling in disgust, “Because support of Obama translates directly into support of Roman Polanski.” Gloves? WHAT gloves? They – are – OFF, old man. “Do you just ride around on the bus all day, inciting drama?"
"I just ride the bus,” was his retort. “I'm an environmentalist and I'm a Conservative. Always have been. All these SUVs on the road, their carbon footprint is as bad as a jetliner. And it's the LIBERALS who are all driving them.”
I EXHALED audibly as the bus crawled to a halt. Thankfully, for both of our sakes, he jumped to his feet before my fury had a chance to detonate.
"I'm proud of my military service. Always have been," He BELLOWED at the man to my right, making an assumption as to the provocation of his prosthetics.
“I know you’re sistahs,” he addressed a pair of black women, his barefaced disregard for social graces continuing to spew from his unfiltered yap, “But are you sisters?”
Finally – FINALLY – the rear exit doors snapped shut, leaving the remaining passengers and I awash in palpable relief as we all watched him head up the street, his jaw flapping soundlessly as he appeared to yammer on to the poor sucker who had the misfortune of sharing his stop. Tittering laughter soon chorused throughout each row, replacing silence as our collective expression of bewilderment. Heads shaking, smiles spreading, the lusty blonde, the man to my right, and I all locked twinkling eyes, bonded, for a moment, by the unexpectedly absurd start to an otherwise average October morning.
It wasn’t exactly the kind of passionate encounter I had hoped would ensue during my limited tenure as a client of the Los Angeles County Metro System, but it was certainly a more enriching social experience than I could ever fall privy to whence behind the wheel of my own car during my regular, lone commute. And while I don’t anticipate boarding a bus again anytime soon, while it’s highly unproductive and nothing short of dangerous to ogle shirtless, male runners on my way to work, while his newly apparent affinity for trucker hats and the second opinion of a friend of mine at work have led me to believe that the tastes shared between Fifth Floor Miles and I do not extend past layers and into same-sex sensuality – my verve for interpersonal exploration continues to surge.
I can’t plan for love. I can’t schedule a meet-cute. All I, all any single person can do, is strive to be whole before we become half – of a couple.