Sunday, April 21, 2024

Not Even Not Zen 350: Biomythography - Note 91: Strange Bedfellows, Part III

Strange Bedfellows, Part III

One Bus Ride

My book was Lucky Starr and the Pirates of the Asteroids. My bus was Metro 31, a smelly but efficient single decker. My ride was going to take me from the bus stop at school all the way to Friendship Heights, the border between DC and Maryland. I clung to the bus handrail, standing, with a book bag hooked over my right shoulder. In my left hand, I flipped the pages of Lucky Starr. 

The bus jerked to a stop at Tenleytown. A dozen people got on. Another burst of a dozen clambered in, too, a lot more than usual. I had to guess there had been some sort of event downtown and it must have ended not long ago. I sighed and tried to let the fresh faces slip past me. 

Although a seat had opened up for a moment, I missed it. I had to remain standing.

Of course, everyone getting on had to find places to stand, too, but there was room. For a minute or so, I drifted between asteroids with a ray gun wondering what to do about the bad guys. Around me, the other passengers settled into their positions. 

"What does the pink triangle mean?" asked a brash voice, a woman. "Is that a civil rights pin?"

"No," said the man holding the rail across from me. "It means gay rights."

Usually, no amount of talking would rouse me out of a book, even if the story was kind of crap. This time, though, a hush fell across the bus that was so dramatic, I looked up. My head turned first to the young, attractive black woman who had asked the question. She wore a fashionable tan jacket, big earrings, and she looked sort of rich or at least well put together. A few feet from her stood a thin man in a denim jacket. He looked disheveled in a deliberate way. 

"Are you?" the woman asked, her eyes going wide.

"Yeah," said the man. 

While I replayed the entire conversation in my head, trying to understand, the crowd of black women from Tenleytown backed up the aisle. They pressed as far away from the man as they could. A few seconds later, the nearby white riders and one Chinese-American man took their cue. They retreated from the gay protester in the opposite direction. Even people in their seats shuffled their feet as far away as they could from touching the gay, brown-loafered feet. One brunette woman twitched in her spot. After a moment of agony, she got up and dashed to the front to join the black women. A younger brunette, curlier-haired college student leapt into her spot. 

In a few seconds, I was the only one left. Every other passenger had moved as far away from the gay man as they could. 

I glanced forward. The prettiest black woman stared at me with wide-open eyes and made a frightened, come-hither motion. In other circumstances, I would have swooned to see the gesture aimed at me. But not then.

I glanced to my side. The gay man, in his denim outfit and close-cut beard, stared at me expectantly. Expecting what, I wasn't sure. 

I took a step. I shuffled a second step, too, towards the black women. But then I glanced to my side again. The gay man looked so disappointed, I stopped. Now I didn't know what to do. 

Here, I should probably mention I was thirteen and didn't know what 'gay' was. It seemed to be something bad. I gazed to the back of the bus, where the white men and women had clustered. All of them seemed a little wild eyed. They were giving me warning looks. About what? Something. I was the only one who didn't know.

We came up on the next stop. Most of the bus riders kept staring at me to see what I would do. Enough time had passed, though, I had begun to feel impatient. I figured that, whatever these people were up to, it didn't matter. Pretty often, I had discovered, it really didn't. And this guy was clearly just a guy. 

I backed up a step. After a moment, the gay man stood a little closer to me and I noticed he smelled kind of perfume-y, for a guy. And sweaty, too, like he had just marched for a mile or two, which he probably had. But he was in a jean jacket. And I was in a jean jacket. 

Then he leaned even closer.
Was he trying to scare me? Was he trying to get me on his side? What were people being so weird about? Fuck them all. Fuck every single one. I opened up my book. The Lucky Starr series is not very good. I started shoveling through the prose like a post-hole digger within sight of the last fence post in the row. In the silence, someone cleared his throat. The bus stopped. More people got on. Slowly, in my dim awareness of the outer world, I heard the normal noises of the bus resume.   

When I got home, I asked my parents as I came through the door, "What does gay pride mean?" 

My father turned sort of pink around the ears and wouldn't answer. That was a response I hadn't expected. He lit up another cigar and wandered off, mumbling to himself. 

"Do you know what it means?" I asked my mother in the living room. 

"Well, it's men who may be a little confused," my mother said, not quite knowing how to put it, "but they deserve rights, too. Everyone does."

"Well, yeah."

"Why do you want to know?" she asked. This was maybe the beginning of her suspecting I was gay (although also still in dire danger of getting girls pregnant) for the next few years.

"Because I didn't know," I answered. In retrospect, that was probably not the most helpful response to her ears. But it was the truth.

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