Friday, December 12, 2003

I made eye contact with a heavyset middle-aged woman at the Union Square bus stop and I could tell by the way she looked back I was gonna hear it. It started with when's the bus coming, oh I saw one not too long ago. How long? Two minutes. But that was the 3, maybe the 2 will come. Then she said she'd been at the Blue Water Grill for a holiday dinner and she didn't really want to go because she had a church activity but her boss said please go, I'd very much appreciate it, so she went and the food was terrible, just terrible, but the people there were so nice, they made up for it by being so nice, someone ordered the cold seafood platter and it came with lobster on top but the lobster was waterlogged, from the ice you know, I'm a bit of a foodie, so she ordered sushi and it was not good but they were so nice, she didn't really want to go and her boss had asked her why not and she said she had a church activity and he said why would you rather go to that and she said because it's a church activity.

Of course, I nodded, of course.

He said I'd really like it if you came. She doesn't get along with her coworkers, they're all so young besides they don't really seem to like her, they don't really talk to her but for some reason people were very nice tonight she said, very very nice.

Warm, I said.

On the bus now. She in the seat in front of me.

She told me she likes to travel, have you been to France? And I had to say yes, she said where, I said mostly Paris, she said I was back in Paris five days, I was there in March, I like it alright, I really prefer the country myself. I was in Lyons. Do you know Toulouse? Have you been to Perpignan? Annecy? I had the most delightful time there, swans on the canals, it was Christmastime, the people were so nice. Aix-en-Provence? Yes, I said. Her eyes widened. Then she went to Geneve, they were jousting in the old town.

I don't like the bullet train!

You like to look out the window.

I miss it going by so fast.

Where else have you been in the world? I have friends in India they say come stay, you won't pay for a thing, of course I would pay I would not go over and just not pay but still. They tell me stay here. You could teach. You could teach English to the kids and she held her hand out flat to indicate "kids." I would go except the plane, I don't know what I would do, if I could break up the trip in half.

You could probably do that.

I can't sleep on the plane. I'm up the whole time. At home in my bed, one two three. On the plane I drink water, I'm very careful with the jet lag. I walk up and down the aisle drinking water, up and down the aisle. In Paris I was exhausted. At three o'clock the concierge at the hotel said you better not fall asleep, don't fall asleep. She wags her finger. But I fell asleep and the next day I was fine.

Are you Irish? What's that accent, it sounds like an Irish brogue. Have you been to Ireland? Have you been to Spain? Barthelona. It was so nice. You can take a bus into the Pyrenees! Little towns, they call them pueblos. In a little town I went to mass the mass was in English, Espagnol, Italian… French! Spanish. German!

I wondered if she'd list a few more languages, why not. Maybe Esperanto. Maybe invent one too. She said when I went to Denmark I studied with a tutor every day after work, I wanted to say hello and goodbye and thank you, they were so surprised!

So surprised when you spoke.

So surprised! Danish is the strangest language. But the strangest of all is Finnish.

There was a mad gleam in her eye from time to time and an odd, mincing way she said some words. Like nice. And she said them with the trace of a sigh too.

"Are you a writer?" she asked.

"Yes," I said. "That's… um, that's quite a… lucky guess."

"I wasn't guessing!" she said.

Do you write on the computer, she asked. She said she used to edit herself as she wrote but now she writes first and edits later. One bad habit she got rid of, she said. On to the next one! she said. I love Pennsylvania she said. Bethlehem. This time of year. They have a little trolley train you take, you get on, you get off, it's free. You go to the tent of Pennsylvania Dutch arts and crafts. They have a star.

She tells me about her favorite Japanese tea room.

You get the rice with the adzuki beans.

She tells me about the café she loves, Le Gamin, where it's always hugs and kisses and the café au lait is better than Paris. They're so nice. She tells me about her favorite sushi.

"I can tell you're a real writer. This is being imprinted in your brain. You don't have to write anything down, you remember."

"I try."

She laughed.

"All anyone can do is try."

And finally we were at 86th Street. She shook my hand and left.