I step onto the bus, squeeze myself into the seat next to him. Me: 6 foot 2, 165 pounds, Northern European in appearance. He: (I estimate), 5 foot 8, well over 200 pounds, Central or South American in appearance. I assume that I appear dressed for a “professional’s” day-whatever that means. To me, he appears dressed for a day of physical labor, though I realize this assumption is based upon my own socio-cultural biases and stereotypes. Perhaps he is just headed to the gym, before the start of his day as partner at a corporate law firm. I don’t actually believe that to be the case here, but I’m open to the possibility. My point is, I know next to nothing about this man, nor does he know much of anything about me. We seemingly share little in common- that’s about to change, maybe.
As I sit there on the bus, with him, in the seat next to him, I can feel the bulk of his outer thigh, spreading out of “his” seat, into “mine.” He can’t help it. He is not man-spreading me. He’s simply larger than the individual seat allows for, so he must borrow some of “my” space. I don’t really mind. Although neither of us chose to exist in the first place, we have both chosen to exist in this place at this moment. We have each “rented” our seats, for now.
In the corner of my eye, he keeps to himself, interacting with his smartphone, and I become aware of mine, in my right front pants pocket.
“Shit” I think to myself, for there is no way for me to get at it, without sliding my hand down, in between my own outer thigh and his. We are pressed together, He knows it. I know it. But we seem to be doing our best to not acknowledge it, or each other.
We ride on, jerkily through each stop, shoulders jostling, thighs snug, consciously ignoring each other. Suddenly, it occurs to me that my smartphone is set to vibrate. That might be harder to ignore. I smile to myself as I wonder whether or not I might receive a text message, email notification, or phone call. Any of these would surely create a vibration in my pants that we would both feel simultaneously. For a second, I worry about this happening, and find myself wishing that it would not. But then, a wave of bemusement washes over me, as I ponder what we would do, and how we would react to such an event.
I begin to wish that it would happen. These thoughts transform the ride, making it so much more interesting, changing the experience. Rather than waiting, somewhat impatiently for my stop, I begin to feel a desire to hold it off, to prolong the experience. Every second that passes without a vibrative notification from my pants, intensifies my anticipation.
“What would we do?” I think to myself, trying not to burst out laughing like a crazy person. "Would I just ignore it? Would he? What if it’s just an email notification? " -That’s just a single quick buzz- far easier to ignore, move on from, than a text message notification, which is more prolonged, involving multiple mores code-like buzzes.
And even more interesting, I think,
"What would it be like if I was to receive an actual call?" That could last up to 15 seconds, an eternity in this situation. And what if the caller left a voicemail? We’d get about a minute of peace between the end of the ring and the post-orgasmic aftershock of the voicemail notification buzz. Would he ignore that? Would I? Could we?
“No soy gay?” He might say out of the side of his mouth, in my direction.
“Me neither brother,” I might say back, "but we seem to be sharing my vibrator.”
And with all this in my mind, we ride on, he and I.
He experiencing his phone with his eyes,
we experiencing each others’ thighs.
It is impossible that he is not, that I am not.
Refusing to acknowledge this fact, does not make it any less so.
The bus arrives at the next stop, still no vibration. The suspense is exhilarating.
“What are we going to do!?” Some people push by me as they pass up the aisle, forcing me to press more into my seat-mate, not just with my leg now, but with my shoulder, squeezing him between the right side of my body and the bus window/wall. He acts as if nothing is happening, a quiet endurance.
The bus moves on, still no vibrating buzz. I am making considerable effort to contain my laughter now, a spontaneous occurrence that would surely terrify this poor guy, who is so intently trying to pretend I am not here. We stop, and more people get out. But not us.
The bus rattles on, jerking, air compression brakes popping, squeaking, and hissing. The next stop is mine. Still no buzzing.
“Will it happen?” I actually worry it will not. Then, without a word, he motions that he desires to get up. "DAMN!" Still no buzz. "We were almost there." I rotate my legs away from his, out into the aisle, allowing him to exit our row, then I stand up, it’s my stop too. He exits the bus ahead of me, turns left out the door. I go right.
I feel thoughtful today, and for some reason this experience makes me consider the recent suicide of Cultural Anthropologist, Anthony Bourdain –that’s right, I called him a Cultural Anthropologist. I don’t know why he did what he did. I wish he had not done it. I don’t know everything that went on in his mind and his soul, but I am certain that some part of it must have involved a terrible isolation.
Since news of his suicide broke, I have noted various publications reporting that suicide in America has risen 25% over the past few decades. If that’s even close to being accurate- well, that’s a lot.
People kill themselves for different reasons, but in my view, all suicides involve isolation, initially as a pretext, and ultimately as a dark goal. In the end, we all leave this world alone; it seems tragic to live in it that way too.
I think about this today, in what feels to me, to be a new age, with smartphones and Facebook that ostensibly exist to connect us, I wonder if this is actually the case.
When people talk about being “Facebook friends” it is a self-conscious, self-aware acknowledgment and commentary on the superficiality of their relationship with another person. It is not a compliment, but instead a sardonic joke about the way things are.
The issue of isolation is complex, containing among others, the seeds of social class, bias, technology, but most importantly, fear. The battle with willful ignorance and non-connection is striking and persistent. Even given intense physical proximity, this guy and I found away to ignore each other.
What keeps us apart and alone really? I didn’t actually want to have sex with this man. And I am quite certain he didn’t want to have sex with me either. But I can’t help but think that a fear that we might somehow miscommunicate this desire, on both of our parts, prevented us from acknowledging, sharing, and laughing at what was surely a humorous event that we had in common.
Instead, I treated this experience like I treat my use of the urinal in the men’s room- I pretended the guy next to me didn’t exist, and I had my own experience in my own mind, in isolation. It was fear that caused this, I know. A strange and perverse fear.