Bemoaning The General Lack Of Self-Awareness In Tight Quarters

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There are two coffee shops and a Subway that I have to choose between when I go on my Bilbo Baggins adventures out into the city hinterlands beyond the banks of my moat. No matter which of these places I might randomly choose to patronize, I always find myself having to listen to a half dozen, or more, deep and personal conversations that have no place in the public discourse. And every time I’m subjected to stories of sexual escapades, bawdy conquests, medical procedures, as – yet unhealed surgical wounds, etc., I am gobsmacked by the general lack of self-awareness or common decency that people have anymore.

What they tell you about some of your senses taking over, in response to the damage or loss of others, is 100% true. In my own case there are a couple of very weird and – in some ways unfortunate – changes in my hearing that began to take shape not too long after I started my visual rehab and recovery. In particular, I began to hear all of the voices around me very clearly and could discern – by unique frequencies I suppose – who was saying what to whom in a roughly 20 foot wide circle all around me.

I can’t “see” which person said what, mind you, or even necessarily which table it originates from, but I can hear it as if they were talking to me directly.

Sounds cool right? Some sort of fucked up “spidy” sense right? Let me assure you.. it might sound really cool on paper but it gets really old incredibly fast.

And so it was that I found myself walking into the coffee shop the other morning to grab my favorite almost – healthy breakfast: Angus beef/bacon/egg/cheese sandwich on an everything bagel…toasted with butter, hash browns / tater tots, and a small hot black hazelnut coffee with a double chocolate donut for dessert.

I know what you’re thinking… that it sounds like a damn fine breakfast.. and it was. Being able to eat it in peace without having to hear a 20-something young lady – to my left – bragging to her two friends about how she had tricked a guy into having sex with her… in gory detail… made the first few bites really difficult to choke down.

About the time I almost had those three tuned out, the senior ladies to my right started cackling about their healthcare. The first one was complaining about how much trouble she was having with her bunions lately, and how disappointed she was with her quack podiatrist not doing enough about it. Not to be outdone, her partner – in – lamentations started in about how hard it had been to keep her oozing diabetes – related sores from getting infected and that she was quite sure her visiting nurse was a complete idiot that shouldn’t be allowed to provide medical care to her cat let alone her poor defenseless legs.

I tried to find my happy place… rocking in silence to a Sting song coming over the piped – in commercial – free local FM radio station… and almost had this sensory overload beaten until a couple of grizzly looking, visibly hungover 30-somethings, walked in.. scoped out the 20-somethings.. and started hitting on them – hard – as if Armageddon was a little over 12 minutes away and they were running out of time.


My appetite was beginning to wane… and it occurred to me that perhaps some of this cultural erosion of common decency and fundamental self – respect could somehow be blamed on the invention of the cell phone. I mean.. think about it.. back in the old days of rotary and push button phones these sorts of conversations more commonly took place in the privacy of your own home and were rarely overheard by random strangers on the streets. In order to know about a person’s sex life, or their oozing legs.. Or even about their mangled and disfigured toes.. you actually had to know the person and have an intimate enough relationship with them to be privy to such private and personal information.

Quickly enough, though, I gave up the folly of trying to find a place to lay blame other than at the feet of the wicked. Inventions, after all, only see a manufacturer’s production floor when there is enough of a demand from the ass hats and morons of the world to make it worth their while to produce.

Lest we forget.. there was that guy years ago that got stupid rich selling pet rocks.

No… this crisis of human decency isn’t about gadgets or baubles or gizmos. This is about generations of bad parenting, generations of shitty educations and shitty schools. And it’s also about generations of people not giving a fuck anymore about anything or anybody but themselves.

Maybe those half-cocked 30-somethings were on the right track.

[Image courtest of Boston Globe]
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The Early-Bird Drunk And The Snapped Backpack Strap

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If there was ever such a class as “Impaired grocery shopping on the weekend” I am quite certain that the first session would start off by telling you to – whenever possible – get in, get out, and get back home before the early-bird drunks rouse from their Friday (or Saturday) night stupors. I learned this the hard way recently at the expense of my favorite “big shop” grocery shopping backpack.

I got up at the usual time – roughly 6 a.m. – and dawdled ’round with the dogs while getting enough coffee in me to brave the huddled masses that awaited me at the big grocery store in the heart of downtown. I wasn’t in any hurry because it was cold and cloudy and I didn’t have anywhere else to be that day.

With my empty backpack draped over my shoulder, I caught the number 10 inbound and made it down to the store at around 10:30. The place was already packed… it was “poor people pay day” (the 5th of the month which is the day food stamp money hits the EBT cards) and it was already a complete shitshow.

You know… of all the things I miss since this last stroke, it has to be my short-term memory that I miss the most; everyone knows that you need to avoid grocery shopping on the 5th at all costs… and of course I had completely forgotten all about it. Worse still? It was fucking Saturday.


If you have ever watched one of those shows on TV where someone has won a timed shopping spree, where are you only have a limited amount of time to fill up your entire cart before the buzzer rings, you can picture what grocery shopping is like in the inner city on the 5th. It is total chaos, mayhem, and rampant assholery on steroids. It’s like everyone’s in a hurry, acting as if they are the only humanoids in the place, and appears to have left everything they have ever known about left and right lanes and oncoming traffic out in the parking lot.

It’s a little like some horrible mutation of carnival bumper cars where all the drivers are tripping on fucking acid.

It took nearly an hour to scratch and claw my way through the store, and half that again to stand in line at the register, but soon enough I made it through the sliding doors and across the shopping finish line with all of my fingers toes and limbs relatively secured.. more or less. Congratulating myself for surviving, I walked around to the side of the store where the shopper’s under-sized bus stop bench was waiting patiently for me to sit my wide ass down and collect myself for a few minutes before I had to start digging for the quarters I would need for the number 10 bus headed outbound from shopping hell.

Once I got close enough to see the bench, alas, I was instantly filled with dread. Waiting for me there was a visibly shit-faced man.. About 20 years my junior.. who brightened at the sight of me as if I was his long-lost crazy uncle. I felt, welling up inside of me, like I was about to have an out-of-body experience.

He stood up, grinning from ear-to-ear (and smelling like a bartender’s swill bucket that hadn’t been emptied for a week), and asked me if I needed any help with my bag. I politely refused, telling him that I was all set but thank you anyway, and sat down with my bag at my feet.

Undaunted, he began to tell me how much I looked like someone he knew (although this person’s name escaped him at the moment) and began to admire my beard by way of telling me how much trouble he’d always had with that funny little bald spot in the middle of his chin… “it just would never grow enough hair there for the beard to look legit “he told me.

This went on for a good 10 minutes… him changing subjects faster than I could think up an acknowledging facial expression (or properly placed affirmative “mmm hmmm”). I was never in polite, nor did I treat him unkindly or dismissively, but I did find myself squelching a snicker when- from out of nowhere – I was reminded of the teacher’s voice in those Charlie Brown cartoons. You know the ones, right? Where her voice is the sound of a muted trumpet?

Yeah.. that’s where I went.

By the grace of God I finally saw the bus pull into the store parking lot and weave its way down to the bus stop. I excuse myself, told him the bus was coming, and stood up so I could dig for my quarters and begin to sling the 80 lbs or so of groceries onto my back. My new friend jumped up, grabbed one of the straps to help it over my shoulder, and tore it off of the main body of the backpack.

The thing about city buses is that they are on a strict schedule, and by strict I mean they can do whatever the hell they want and We, the Sheeple have to like it. Those of us who rely on the system have learned, the hard way, that they can take their sweet assed time getting to us, but they will not wait for us if we aren’t ready to board when they pull up and open their door. Failure to comply means you’ll be waiting an hour for the next one.

I mention it here because I had no time to waste, fussing around with straps or drunk people fucking up my bus mojo. The more badly he felt about what had happened, the harder he tried to help make it right… And the less time I had to be patient with him and play nice about letting go of the damned bag so I could get on the bus and avoid sitting with him for another unbearable hour.

I gave the driver a “please give me a second to wrestle my bag away from this drunk alligator” look and politely told this guy that it was no big deal… I could fix it when I got home… and that I hoped he’d have a nice day. It took him a second, but he came to understand that I was politely telling him to let the fuck go and back off.

He did, and I escaped… although my poor bag proved to be irreparably damaged and had to be replaced.

Note to self: Buy your damn groceries on a weekday, and never ever ever on the 5th.

[Images courtesy of Cordelia’s Guide]
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Kindred Strangers

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[Authors note:Before you decide that I am utterly daft for such an oxymoronic title as “Kindred Strangers”… although I have been rightly called daft many times… bear with me – you just might be using this expression yourself by the time we are done here.]

I needed to pick up a few supplies the other day, as opposed to a full shop, and decided I would walk down to the small – chain low-end grocery store about a mile away. Thinking I would get a little exercise, I figured I would bring my small backpack with me, do a quick in and out, and be done in time to catch the next number 10 outbound bus. It sounded like a great idea as I was leaving the house but by the time I got there I realized this was not going to be a quick in and out.

It had only been a few weeks since I last visited that store but everything – literally everything – had been moved around and rearranged.

By the time I had finally found everything I needed my bus was long gone. With 30 minutes to go before the next one would show up, I set my backpack and cane inside the covered bus stop, settled into one of the three narrow bench seats, and hunkered down for my restless rest. For what it’s worth, bus stop seats are nowhere near wide enough for the typical wide- assed people… such as myself… that normally find themselves needing to sit in one.

Someone needs to look into that problem.

About 10 minutes later a partially paralyzed gentleman… roughly my age.. Approached the bus stop from behind me and a little to my left. Instinctively, I began rustling my stuff around and gave him a quick “good morning” before offering him my seat. He chuckled and told me it had taken him nearly 20 minutes to get himself in a standing upright position and walk the three blocks necessary to get down to the bus stop, and that he needed a few minutes to rest before trying to bend himself into a seated position.

After a few minutes of polite silence he asked me what time it was, explaining that he had brought some bananas to give to the bus driver and wanted to make sure he hadn’t missed her. He explained that the driver had told him she’d come by a fabulous new banana bread recipe but hadn’t had the time to go grocery shopping to get all of the ingredients she needed.

I gave him the time – about 20 minutes to go before she would arrive – and remember thinking to myself how cool that was. I mean, let’s face it, most of the drivers I have interacted with seem nice enough… despite the numbers of assholes they have to interact with everyday… but how many of them make “real” personal connections with card-carrying members of the inner – city Assholes Society?

We sat there for another minute or two – neither one wanting to be the first to break the silence – when it occurred to me that I should ask if he’d made her promise to give him a piece in exchange for donating the bananas. He told me she had offered but that he’d had to remind her that his doctor told him he should not eat foods like banana bread because of his weight and his cholesterol. After a brief pause he added that it had been poor lifestyle choices that had lit up to his stroke in the first place, and had gotten him where he was today.

At that, I started laughing and the one-upmanship floodgates of War Story exchanges spilled over.

I told him that my own “poor lifestyle choices” had likewise repaid me in kind with my own strokes and that my doctors had given me much the same advice. I suggested, however, that men like us and at our ages had earned the right to draw a line in the sand and decide for ourselves just how much we were willing to give up in the name of longevity if all we got in exchange for our troubles was to live long enough to wind up drooling in a nursing home bed somewhere – in diapers – not even knowing who the fuck we were anymore. We both busted up laughing at that, and he started dabbing his face, saying that he hoped he wasn’t drooling while he was laughing. I smiled and reminded him that it was okay because I wouldn’t be able to see it anyway.

And then it was belly laughing guffaws all around.

Right about that time, and before we had barely composed ourselves, some punk in his early twenties pulled up right in front of me on his bicycle and asked me if I had $0.75. I thought to myself, “Of COURSE I had $0.75 numbnuts… I’m sitting at a fucking bus stop waiting for a bus that only takes quarters you dumbass.” I could have said no but I couldn’t resist the temptations so, as I reached in my pocket for 3 quarters and handed it to him I asked him to tell us – my new friend Rick and I – how his life was going to improve once he had the money. He told us that he just wanted to buy a cup of coffee and figured his chances of getting enough money to do that we’re better if he asked a couple of people for $0.75 rather then ask one person for a dollar fifty… and mumbled something under his breath about how unwilling people were these days to help somebody who was down on his luck.

That poor unsuspecting bastard had picked the wrong two old guys to be lecturing about being down on your luck.

Before I could stop him… not that I would have seriously tried… Rick leaned forward as best he could muster his body to do so and ask the kid if he had ever considered getting a fucking job. I couldn’t help myself and started snickering, but Rick kept going. He tried to soothe the kid by suggesting that he wasn’t trying to be an asshole so much as he was just trying to understand.

I have to give this kid props… he didn’t even blink an eye before launching into his obviously- rehearsed speech about having once had a job that he was fired from because he had to miss work to attend his weekly PO meeting (that’s parole officer for those of you fortunate enough to have never been on the wrong side of the law).

I tried.. I really tried to bite my tongue.. but as soon as I heard that all I could say was:

“There’s nothing worse in life then pissing off your PO”

And then Rick and I completely lost it.

When the bus lady finally showed up, we must have looked like a pair of siblings who kept making each other start laughing all over again, no matter how much each tried to get the other to stop, until their bellies hurt or one of them pissed himself.

[Images courtesy of Johnny Melton & K Child Photography]
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Greyhound Dreamin’

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It may not seem like it but maintaining one’s Urban Hermit status requires a great deal of effort and commitment. To be good at it… hell,to even qualify for Hermit Club membership consideration, one must hold the bulk of humanity in a general state of great disdain. It has been my experience that the easiest way to achieve true Hermit Zen is to stay as far away from humanoids as possible…. and, on the rare occasions that you find yourself having to interact with them, you do so with a healthy arm’s length distance between you wherever possible.

And so it was that I had been invited to my niece’s wedding a while back that I immediately found myself conflicted. On the one hand, it was my niece and she was getting married! On the other.. in order to attend, I was going to have to take a bus down to Boston so I could catch another bus up to mid-coast Maine, wait around outside the bus station in Portland for a little while, and then catch a carpool ride ) by way of the airport to pick up another carpooler) and continue up to the wedding destination.

When I finished reading the invitation they began to rise up in my throat… .. like “Jack’s raging bile duct”… my dear old friends Apprehension, Anxiety, and their sidekick Anguish had come home to roost. It was palpable and they could barely be restrained.

There was no saying no so I just submissively resigned myself to my fate and set about making the arrangements.

Acquiring the boarding passes at the local terminal in town was painless enough as was the trip down to Boston. I sat in the back row, right next to the bathroom entrance, with a lovely young lady on my right and a nice enough fellow (albeit overly chatty and who was quite sure I gave two fucks about every gory minute detail of his personal life) on my left.

Boston… on the other hand.. is an entirely different human shit show all together.

For those of you fortunate enough to have never graced the bus terminal at South Station let me assure you that it is an experience you should never intentionally endure. Unlike most airports, which usually have strictly enforced rules of human behavior and some modicum of a shutdown period overnight, South Station doesn’t really ever shut down. More accurately, it just sort of ebbs and flows. Every single person there is pissed off or put out or is just having some sort or another of a low-end traveler’s meltdown.

The people are rude, the ticket agents are less affable than your favorite zombie on the Walking Dead, and – whatever language that is that’s coming out of the public address system sounds more like something the local residents in Swahililand could comprehend than anything that remotely resembles the gibberish they want us to believe is supposed to be the King’s English.

Having barely avoided physical assault when I got off the bus and lined up to get my bag, I was reminded of those Thanksgiving dinners during my childhood when you had a better chance of getting stabbed in the hand than actually getting the last drumstick. Once I cleared the pig pile and headed for the door to go inside and find out what gate my bus to Maine was departing from, I foolishly side a breath of relief thinking the worst was over. But when I got inside I was already being bumped into, pushed aside, and stepped in front of in order for other Travelers to improve their position in the waiting line of the next gate.

In full – on survival mode now, I pushed forward and positioned myself and my bag in a way that no one could go around me and I held my ground. If the person in front of me even leaned a little forward I was scooting up 6 inches so that they had no choice but to keep moving forward. To make sure my imaginary bubble was intact, I looked behind me every so often to make sure there was no confusion as to whether I could be fucked with any more.

Nobody else tried.

Once boarding began on my northbound bus, I started thinking ahead to being seated and the bus rolling out of Boston with that nightmare behind me. I imagined, since we were heading to Maine, that I might even get a nice window seat with no one sitting next to me and a chance to look out the window and find my happy place.

Alas, my hopes were quickly dashed – the bus was packed full.

Karma being the bitch that she can be, I got the very same seat all the way in the back in the middle right next to the toilets. I even got the same chatty fellow in the same spot to my left. Unfortunately, however, the lovely young lady to my right had been replaced by a guy that had not showered in several days and reeked of garlic and onions. To make matters worse, he neither spoke nor understood English… ignored all of my attempts to politely ask him to move the fuck over… and was out cold and snoring – loudly – before we even made it onto the I-93 Northbound ramp.

He tossed and he turned and he moaned – for two and a half hours – and he groaned and he flopped himself over onto my shoulder as if I was some sort of fucking Michelin Man that he fancied as his own personal fucking neck pillow.

I wish I could say that this was my first experience with having my personal space so violently violated but I cannot; in close quarters – by any mode of public travel – I have had my personal bubble popped on trains and on planes and… yes… even on buses.

If there is an upside to the hell I went through to make sure I had a front-row seat at my niece’s wedding it is this: She made sure my drinks were covered throughout the reception… but even after all this time hence, I still don’t feel as though I have showered enough to wash off the memory of that bus ride.

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