Jacob Lawrence, "Bus," 1941
Jacob Lawrence, Bus (1941)
Can a Game Be Literature?

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September 26, 2002:

I saw him on the bus one morning with a teenage girl in braces.

Bus: shoulder-to-shoulder in the morning commute. Heave and lurch. Sometimes we act like waves, sometimes we act like particles.

Girl: adoring look, sits unsteadily in his lap, drunk, nodding. With a jerk she snaps her head up, breaks into a metal grin. "I can't believe they didn't card me!" Pink morning light sparkles like ruby from polished steel teeth.

Him: lank hair swept back. Mid thirties, I think, but looks older. Smells, doesn't shower much. Puts his hand over her mouth. If you watch closely you'll catch him sneaking nervous glances at the passengers.

Me: stare him dead in the face, wait for him to notice.

He does. He recognizes me. He snaps fully awake. I have his complete attention. Eyes wide. What will I do? He doesn't know me well, but, he knows that I now own him, from greasy receding hairline to rancid piss-stained tennis shoes.

What will I do? Nothing, of course. She has every right to choose her lovers. She'll find out about him some other way. She wouldn't listen anyway, if it came from me.

Summer. Law library, 15th floor, Pac Bell building at 90 New Montgomery. My coworker arrives late. "Don't be so chipper today," she says.

What? Don't be what?

Everyday I struggle to put one foot in front of the other, to lift the fork from the plate, to stay inside on the 15th floor without hurling myself into space. I move to where she can't see, face pressed against thick cold glass, looking north-west toward the Tenderloin. She's there somewhere, I think.

What? Don't be what?


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