I was standing at the bus stop on Queen City Avenue a few afternoons ago, and the sun was blazing down. The temperature was in the 90s. The bus was late.
I didn’t really want to go downtown, but a friend wanted to talk to me about a writing project she was working on and I’d already canceled two times before. To do it a third time would be beyond rude.
It was almost too hot to smoke, and I don’t know why I was wearing blue jeans on such a hot day. Just as I remembered that I left my damned reading glasses on my desk back home, the bus turned the corner off Boudinot and onto Queen City.
Getting on the bus, I was thankful that the air-conditioning was working. I paid my fare and took a seat upfront to the left.
To my right was an older woman. She was heavy with short black hair and black-rim glasses. Her long-sleeved dress was also black. She offered me a prayer card.
I replied, “No thank you.”
The bus stopped at the next stop. Four people got on, and the woman also offered them prayer cards. They all took one.
Directly behind the woman was a man wearing a Cincinnati Reds baseball cap. He was older, too, but skinny with a blue T-shirt. His face was thin, and his hands were shaking a little. He was singing.
“Precious memories, how they linger/ How they ever flood my soul/ In the stillness of the midnight/ Precious sacred scenes unfold.”
He wasn’t singing loudly or off-key, so I thought, “What the hell? If the bus driver doesn’t mind, I don’t either.”
The woman in the seat in front of the singing man kept passing out those prayer cards for those getting on the bus.
When the bus approached the bottom of the hill on Queen City Avenue, a young woman got on. She was carrying a purse, two small plastic bags and a large plastic garment bag with the logo “Macy’s” on it. Obviously her hands were full.
She jumped on the bus, promptly dropping everything except the garment bag. As she bent over directly in front of me, I couldn’t help but notice her thong. It came out from under the shorts she was wearing.
Dramatically, she picked everything up, then started looking through her purse for bus fare.
She found a buck and two quarters, which fell to the floor. Again, she bent over in front of me. Again, I saw her thong, hiding her buttcrack.
The thong was pink; the skin around it was soft and white. Was I turned on? I might be old, but I’m not blind.
The woman passing out prayer cards cleared her throat. I looked at her. She was looking at me. I think she was judging my behavior. She started shaking her head no, no, no.
Yes, I was looking at the thong. Yes, perhaps for a minute and a half I was being a dirty old man.
The young woman paid her fare, gathered up her bags and purse and almost fell into the seat next to me. She had on a red tank top. It occurred to me that red doesn’t really go well with pink.
She was pretty: black hair, blue eyes and a small nose. She noticed me looking at her and smiled and wanted to know if I had an extra cigarette. I asked how she knew I smoked.
“I can smell it on ya,” she said as I handed her the cigarette.
More passengers got on the bus. The woman with the black-rim glasses kept passing out prayer cards, but she kept eyeballing me. The guy in the Reds cap was still singing.
“Precious memories, unseen angels/ Seat from somewhere to my soul/ How they linger, ever nearing/ And the sacred past unfold.”
Then he repeated the chorus.
The girl wearing the pink thong touched my hand and whispered in my ear. “Kind of like being in church, ain’t it?”
As the bus started to approach downtown, a lot of passengers pulled the chain to get off. As they exited, I couldn’t help but notice what was left on most of the seats — those prayer cards passed out by the woman who was now judging me.
My cell phone chimed, informing me I had a text message and also reminding me that I’d left my glasses at home. I asked the young woman wearing the red tank top if she would mind reading me the message.
“Something’s come up, can’t make it downtown. I’ll be in touch later,” she read to me, which basically meant I’d taken this ride for nothing.
The young woman wanted to know if I knew where Macy’s was downtown. In that garment bag was a dress that her sister had purchased but now was returning. With time on my hands now, I told her I could walk with her there. She seemed pleased.
As I pulled the chain for us to get off the bus, the older man in the Reds cap was still singing and the woman with the prayer cards was still judging — still shaking her head at me like I was about to do something evil with the girl wearing the red tank top and pink thong.
Before I exited the bus, I thought about telling the old bitty I would pray for her, but I kept my mouth shut.
CONTACT LARRY GROSS: firstname.lastname@example.org