It Ain’t Over Until…

I’ve got a streak of mean.

Yesterday I had to take the bus to work because the chariot was in the shop. I love to ride the bus because you meet all kinds of friendly persons from the lower socio-economic stratum. They’re far more interesting than rich white people.

So, anyway, I’m sitting on the bus near the driver and we stop for a wheel chair person. The bus has a lift platform that pushes out and down for the chair to roll up on. When the chair person rolls up on the platform, it pulls the bus over a fraction of an inch to the right, and the curb is too high at that spot so the platform is still in contact with the sidewalk and it won’t retract. After several unsuccessful tries, the bus driver, a short, black, female dynamo wearing black leather racing gloves, gets up and orders everybody sitting on the right side of the bus, maybe thirty people, to stand up and move over to the left side of the bus to shift the weight of the bus to the left so the platform will lift up enough to retract. The driver has to explain the concept several times before everybody gets the idea, but once they do, everyone cheerfully gets up and moves over and the bus shifts to the left just enough so the driver can operate the lift. Then everybody sits down and we’re on our way again, the whole bus laughing and talking about the experience.

About three stops later, the wheelchair person gets off the bus, again using the lift platform. But two other persons get on at the same stop, and they sit – you guessed it – on the right side of the bus, so the lift won’t retract again. This time all the people on the right side of the bus see what needs to be done and they all get up and move over to the left side of the bus again. All except this one fat lady. She had stood up on the previous occasion, so it’s not like she doesn’t know the score. She just doesn’t want to get up again, so she stays in her seat reading her book, no doubt thinking that the weight of one person won’t make any difference on a loaded, 40,000 lb mass transit vehicle. So she’s the only person on the right side of the bus.

The driver keeps trying to operate the lift, but it’s still stuck on the sidewalk. She tries and tries and the thing beeps and clicks and groans, but it won’t retract. The fat lady stays in her seat, reading her book. The bus driver keeps trying. She can’t see the fat lady because of all the people standing in the aisle, but everybody else on the bus is looking at the fat lady, waiting for her to get up, but she keeps on reading.

Finally, I get tired of it and I yell, “Hey, lady, get up and move over!”

The lady looks up and everybody’s watching her and she’s watching everybody back, and I can just see what she’s thinking: “If I stand up and move over, and the lift works, everybody will think it’s because I’m so fat.”

So she sits there for a minute more, and the lift still won’t retract, so finally, very reluctantly, she stands up and moves to the left side of the bus. At that instant, the lift pulls free and the driver is able to retract it.

So I says loud enough for everybody to hear, “Yup. It was her.”

Like I said: I’ve got a mean streak.

Just goes to show, though, that it ain’t over ’til the fat lady stands.


[i]for Brent Stalker[/i]

If the dead could rise
To take your part,

And you lie
Bleeding in their stead,

The silent covenant
Between you bred

Of comradeship
Would not falter.

Do not rage your solvent heart.
Do not rue God’s bleeding altar.

Memorial Day 2002

I’d nearly forgotten that room
but lately, things appear
in the narrow, dark space
between door and linoleum:

Fingertips of palm fronds;
fragments of jungle fatigues;
love beads we wore under them.

Acrid, burning wreckage
of a helicopter delivering mail
and Christmas dinners to a hot LZ.

Foul, strange aroma
of mama-san improvising
meals out of fish heads and rice.

Thunderous roar of F-4 Phantoms
climbing in tandem, urgency in their contrails,
distant varumpf of bombs in mountains.

Sing-song complaints
of mothers moved
from ancestral villages,
their children clinging
to them like jungle vines.

Startled starlings erupt
into the safety of an empty sky
at my best friend’s funeral.

Rifle reports from the gleaming
honor guard, me on my way to war,
him, on his way to a cold permanence.

His mother’s sobs in the frozen air,
my exhaled breath in January sunlight.

Today is memorial day.
There are picnics, parades,
Wal-Mart is having one of their biggest sales,
and the car dealer in town is offering double rebates.

My hand is on the doorknob, and I hesitate,
wondering if whatever lives in this room
is tame enough now, the pain lessened
enough for me to bear.

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