December 9, 2016
1.) Morning commute.
It snowed while I was sleeping, and in the morning there was fresh snow on the path, the hedges, the cars, and the branches of the cherry trees that grow halfway under the freeway.
My bus was half an hour late. For the first time in months or years, the people at that bus stop actually talked and laughed with me.
Until today, one of the women seemed to have been making a point of never, ever, not ever making eye contact with me. This morning in the snow, she looked right at me, smiled, and in the course of chit chat, made a joke: “In Seattle, there’s a reporter for every snowflake.” At one point I almost asked her if she’d seen Moana, but then I thought “No, no–too much, too friendly.”
Another guy called King County metro and then shared the information with the rest of us. He laughed and said, “We should have expected this, right?” and then asked if anyone wanted to share an Uber.
When our bus finally trundled up, the driver called out through the open door, “I can’t believe you’re all still here!” That was the friendliest he’d ever been too.
I enjoyed thinking that none of us would speak again tomorrow, but that our silence might be slightly warmer.
I’ve been listening to podcasts at work that are about government, politics, history, and current events. It is all part of the big self-education plan, and I can half-consume a lot of information through my ear buds while I do my work.
But when I need to get away from Trump and the dizzying array of bad news and worse omens, I choose stories that are less sweeping and more specific. I either listen to true crime podcasts, or Mental Illness Happy Hour.
Mental Illness Happy Hour is basically long, informal interviews with people about their life stories. The guests on the podcast have all been through a lot–often abuse, addiction, violent crime–and they still have a lot to work through in their daily lives. But at the time they are giving the interview, they also have a lot of wisdom to share and a lot of power. They’ve all survived and grown to a point where they can own their stories and help listeners by being honest and vulnerable. The show is darkly funny a lot of the time.
This morning I was listening to a MIHH guest talk about how she was followed off of a bus by a stranger, and then raped and beaten within an inch of her life. She survived because the bus driver had thought something might be a little off and had called the police just in case. It made me realize that MIHH is just the flip side of the other kind of podcast I’ve been listening to–true crime stories.
The true crime cases are 90% young women disappearing and meeting terrible ends. It should creep me out but I find it comforting in these grim times, to hear a specific sad tale of how one life was snuffed out. How the universe was extinguished in that case, for that one irreplaceable human being. I enjoy the attention and brain power that the podcast devotes to the details of the mystery, as the narrator circles the empty space where a life once was. There is so much love, just ordinary love, in the voices of family members that are interviewed. It takes my mind off the country, the big picture, myself, the future.
As you listen to the true crime podcasts, there’s often a lot of incidental domestic violence, abuse, and mental illness swirling along the sidelines and in the background of the main story. Today I realized that its only luck separating the MIHH guests who tell their own stories from the true crime subjects whose stories are pieced together by others after they are gone.
Even on the scale of individual lives, far from the sick, theatrical grandiosity in Washington D.C., it plays out like Hamilton: Who lives, who dies, who tells your story.
3.) Afternoon commute.
After work the snow is already gone, because this is Seattle. It’s still chilly out though, and I start pacing a little on the sidewalk while I’m waiting for my bus. I turn on my heel to walk back the way I’ve come when I hear behind me, “Ma’am! Ma’am!”
I turn around and a black man about my age is bundling up his stuff and preparing to leave a bench. He’s saying, “Come back, you can sit here! I’m leaving!” I feel sad and awkward, because there had always been enough room on that bench for me to sit down if I’d wanted to. He seemed to think I’d taken one look at him and stalked back in the other direction, unwilling to share a bench with him. I say “No, no, I’m just pacing!” But I’m a little ways off from him and I can tell that my voice is getting lost in the sound of idling bus engines. He kind of gives the “roger that” body language you use when you don’t know exactly what someone said but you figure it’s not that crucial.
I go stand halfway up the block from him, and I’m thinking “Oh well, that’s another awkward incident to add to my collection.” He’s still standing near the bench, facing away from me and smoking a cigarette. After a few minutes I think, “Oh what the hell.” I walk all the way up to him and say at close range, “I was just pacing before. That’s why I turned around like that.”
He says, “Oh ok. You have a pretty dimple.” This strikes me as quite generous because in my coke bottle glasses I kind of look like Steve Forbes, dimple or no. Also, this man has TWO deep dimples so it’s like my dimple has just been complimented by a dimples expert. I say, “Thanks, you too!” and scuttle back up the block without engaging further.
Seattle freeze mostly preserved for another day.