Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Benign Nemesis (The Devil of Small Things)

It happened again. I caught the 8:12am bus, the 4F northbound on Lyndale, and there was that kid in the back corner seat again.

I honestly can't tell whether it's a boy or a girl. I think it's a boy so I'll refer to him as "he." He's a teen in high school, probably busing up to the Nicollet Island school, and he lives farther south than I do so he's always on the bus first.

He wears blue jeans and some kind of fleece pullover. His eyebrows are slanted down in the middle, or they perk up on the ends, in the manner of a mythical sylvan-dwelling creature like an elf or nixie. He has a little pug nose, and his brown curly hair refuses to be styled. He keeps it clean and it stays in its wiry waves on top of his head. He has a thin purple metal earring in his left ear, and as of today he's wearing sandals without socks.

This last bit is important because he needs to keep his foot up on the armrest of the seats running perpendicular to his. In the back of our MTC busses, the last section of seating has two parallel rows with their backs to the sides of the bus, like people on a subway facing each other, and then a back row at the very back, all forming a horseshoe shape. He always sits in the right side (facing forward) of the very back seat, always propping his left foot up on the arm rest. He has only taken that stupid, annoying foot down once in all the time I've seen him.

It doesn't matter who sits in that seat in front of him. I've seen all sorts of customers take that seat: pretty young women, ragged immigrants, big burly tough guys, tidy businessmen; both genders, all ethnicities, all socioeconomic strata. The teen takes his nasty-ass foot down for no one, whether his ratty, dingy running shoes are dripping slush in the winter, or his funky bare toes rub the sleeve of a hapless rider in the summer.

He has a bookbag next to him, it takes up all of the seat to his left. It doesn't have to, it could sit on the floor or on his lap without a problem, but he keeps it on the seat. Once, when the bus was particularly packed, a woman wanted to sit there as there were no other seats. This young man rolled his eyes at her and glowered, and after a couple moments finally hauled his bookbag to his own lap. He needed her to know how much she was inconveniencing him. Anyone else would have smiled and scooted over, not just because she was pleasant-looking but because that's the decent thing to do. Whatever else may be said about Minnesotans, the vast majority do not begrudge you a seat on the bus when you indicate you need to sit down. The exceptions to this include crackwhores and transients whose sanity (and, consequently, social skills) is deteriorating, and then this surly, privileged teen who thinks an awful lot of himself.

Today he was reading Tailchaser's Tale. In the past he has read Inkspell and a Bleach manga. So he likes escapist fantasy and Japanese entertainment. There, we have something in common. We could have a conversation about these things, I could guide him to some prime literature, but I wouldn't. He is incivil and rude, selfish and inconsiderate, and most of the time I want to chop off his foot with a machete. It really gets on my nerves to see him prop his dainty foot up on the armrest, to see riders have to slouch forward in their seat to avoid contact with his foot.

But what do I do? I've thought about a little "hey, kid" advice, but the nature of Minnesotans is such that the offended party might turn to me and assure me it's quite okay, they only need the edge of the seat, the kid's not bothering them. Or someone else may tell me to mind my own business. But what do you do when something's happening that pushes one of your buttons? And what do you do when it happens every day?

I've tried to catch other buses. I get a sick feeling in my stomach when I know I've missed the 8:03am 4G bus, and I wait nine or ten minutes for the 4F to arrive, and I wonder whether the kid will be in the back of the bus, socially awkward and passive-aggressive. There was a long stretch when he wasn't, and I experienced tremendous relief. I was able to relax and listen to music or read or just stare out the window without the nagging, buzzing irritation of having to purposely ignore this snot-nosed little twerp.

I spent a whole busride attempting to transmit, telepathically, the message into his head that he should put his stupid foot down. I stared at the side of his face and visualized the sentence forming inside his skull. It was fruitless, the offending ped remained braced against the armrest, though he did look up nervously a few times all throughout Uptown. Apparently I can emanate tremendous loathing, but I can't focus it into a sentence. Oh well, practice makes perfect.

One savage winter day, I caught the bus after the 4F, and his 4F bus actually broke down. Our bus was already full of people suffering the sub-zero weather, and then his bus had to wait outside and board ours to compensate. The teen was wearing some strange royal blue skull cap, almost shaped like a tulip, that fit closely to most of his head and had a drawstring on one side. I've never seen that before. But he had to stand in the aisle, holding the handrail and occasionally glancing longingly at the far rear right bus seat, long occupied by more charitable, more deserving folk. In the midst of my glee at him having to stand I noticed one more unfortunate thing about him: he seems to stoop. He never stood upright but seemed to have a hunched back around the shoulders. This kid seems to have the deck stacked against him, and he lashes back in a few pathetic ways. It's frustrating to feel such irritation and such sympathy towards someone like that.

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