Stranger behavior III

Another year, another batch of observations to build on this an this.

Stella settles in to her seat on a flight to the West Coast for work.  Her boss is in the row in front.  She turns her attention to the younger gentleman in the seat beside her.  He’s visiting from Holland.  His chin is pierced and he wears leather, which is less of a statement for the Dutch.  He is a parachute technician and is reading a book on meditation.  They discover a shared interest in yoga and he recounts how he expanded his lung capacity through yoga practice more effectively than through athletic training.  He shares the theory of the book he is reading: that the ultimate form of meditation is orgasm.  Stella is on a work trip.  She is European and yet British.  She is discussing orgasms with a stranger, seated behind her boss.  Her fellow passenger has much to say on the subject.

It is raining in Columbia Heights.  A heavy rain.  People use umbrellas, hoods, newspapers to shield themselves.  Valuing dryness over oxygen, one woman has completely enclosed her head in a clear plastic bag that appears to have no ventilation.  Stella recall TV public announcements from her childhood where children engaged in games with plastic bags meet a sorry end.

No weekend should include a trip to the IKEA returns counter, but sometimes it is unavoidable.  Stella waits her turn and observes a woman returning cabinetry, which is the wrong color.  She didn’t know the cabinets were white until she unpacked them, thus incurring some sort of repacking charge.  The IKEA representative points out that the color was marked on the box: WHT.  “That doesn’t say white it says WHT.”  It is an abbreviation, the IKEA rep helpfully points out.  “I don’t speak abbreviated,” the woman retorts, in a way that seems aggressively racist.  As if to indict those evil Scandinavians who came over here, shortened perfectly good English words, and slapped them on the side of boxes designed to confuse the natives.  Damn them and their affordable, well-designed furniture.

On the bus, a woman sits with her leg stretched sideways, taking the foot space of the seat next to her.  She has recently had surgery on her knee.  The scars of ACL repair are visible and she is fully equipped with an immobilizing brace and crutches.  She is vulnerable.  Stella watches anxiously as the bus fills and people eye the empty seat next to her longingly.  Eventually, a young woman gets on and defiantly but carefully slips herself into the limited space beside the healing knee.  But before she is firmly seated, the bus jerks forward and she lands on the tender knee.  The victim screams in pain and is lost for several minutes in her anguish, close to tears.  The perp sits next to her, embarrassed but silent at first.  She then starts repeating I’m sorry, I’m sorry as though the repetition would excuse her selfishness and banish the agony.  Stella is nauseous.

It is rush hour on the Metro, but parts of the platform are sparsely populated.  A man waltzes alone.

It is rush hour on the Metro and droves of people leave Dupont Circle riding a long and steep escalator.  Stella stands to the right, i-pod immersed.  A brassy New Yorker is climbing the steps in the fast left lane, but runs out of steam.  She squeezes in on the step behind Stella and moans about the people who pushed past her.  Once the group has passed she steps back out to the left where there is more room.  Predictably, a new group of fast laners start piling up behind her.  Stella removes her headphones because the woman has a lot to say at this point.  “What’s their problem?  What are they gaining?  A couple of minutes?”  Stella turns round to defend the rights of the left laners with her usual cutting style, “They just want to walk fast.”  “You look like Sarah Palin,” the New Yorker comments.  Stella turns round and realizes the buxom visitor has so little space that her breasts are pressed up, one on one, to Stella’s butt cheeks.  It’s an intimacy that cannot be avoided, even by leaning forward at a 45-degree angle.

4 responses to “Stranger behavior III”

  1. Dave says:

    Wow, that last one is spectacular.

    My sympathies are with the woman who doesn’t speak abbreviated. Is it too much to ask that corporations communicate with us in comprehensible, ordinary language rather than in code? (I don’t speak venti, either.)

  2. LP says:

    OWWW. The ACL girl story is making me squirm. And not to blame the victim, but: What was she doing on a bus? It’s days like those that one must spring for a taxi!

  3. Marleyfan says:

    I loved this, it was like I could be watching a movie or being a voyeur to your world.
    Thanks for the gift of this post!

  4. Rogan says:

    Nice post Stella. I love vignettes like these, observations from stories’ middles.