July 15th, 2003

Me 2012

Paper-reading Lady

I caught the bus at the corner of Gillham and Armour this morning, the one that only goes a quarter-mile. I usually walk the distance instead, but I was running late.

A man in a postal uniform takes this bus daily, and boards at the same stop. He got on just after I did, and sat a couple of benches behind me. I was sitting right up front, in the seats that run parallel to the bus sides -- since I was only riding for a quarter mile -- next to a pretty woman in a suit and scarf. She was reading a newspaper.

From his seat, the post office worker said to her, "Hey there, paper-reading lady!"

She lifted her head from her paper, and gave him a Look. Now, he had delivered his words in a jovial, friendly voice, like a man speaking to an old friend. She gave him the sort of Look one generally reserves for leering men saying things like "Wha's yo' price, ho?" "Excuse me?" she said, in a tone aimed to chill bonfires.

"I said, 'Hey there, paper-reading lady!'" He was still perfectly jovial and pleasant.

"I believe this is America."

"Sure is."

"I mean, the United States." She stretched out "united" into "uuu-nighted" for further empasis.

"Yup."

"As long as I've bought this paper, I'm entitled to read it wherever I want. On the bus, on the street, in a restaurant, in the bathroom, wherever I want."

As she was speaking, I was covering my mouth to conceal the huge grin growing on my face. Across from me, another woman was also trying not to smile too widely, while a seat further back, I could see a woman whose grin stretched from ear to ear.

The paper-reading lady rustled her paper in irritation. "The nerve of some people," she said, to no one in particular.

"Oh, absolutely," said the woman across from us, smiling. She held out her umbrella like one proffering a weapon. "Would you like to teach him a lesson?"

The man said, half-laughing, "Careful, there! She might do it!"

But the paper-reading lady had gone back to her paper. I pulled the cord for my stop. As I was stepping off, I heard the postal worker behind me say to her, "And how are you this morning?" in the same cheerful, unperturbed manner he'd worn this whole conversation. I didn't get to catch her response.

But, just based on her manner, I'd have to say "irritable."
Me 2012

The Postman

I have a little bit more background information on the scene I described in my previous entry. Perhaps a week ago, I heard this same pair in the midst of another conversation.

In this case, the postman was eating a banana on the bus, and the woman was lecturing him for this. I'm afraid I can't recall her exact words, but she was going on at some length, and in some detail, on how generally reprehensible it was to eat bananas on the bus. Her general tenor and demeanor suggested that eating bananas on the bus was leading to the decline of civilization as we know it. I do remember that she remarked, "You think just because you wear a uniform, you can do anything?"

The postal worker did not say much in response to her: he was busy eating his banana.

I am predisposed to like this man; he's been friendly and good-natured.

However, I found myself wondering about the woman, and the relationship the two of them appear to have.

At first, I thought perhaps they really were friends, and her seeming tirades were, in fact, a running joke. But her tone has borne no hint of either irony or amusement. To all appearances that I can detect, she is sincere in her self-righteousness.

Given that she means her rebukes to be heartfelt, I had to wonder at the postal worker's continued attempts to be friendly. When a friendly overture is rebuffed, my natural inclination is either to give up, or to explain, if it appears my intent was misunderstood. The postman did neither: instead, he pursues the same course of action he might've had she smiled and been pleasant in return. That disconnect makes me think he is baiting her: he knows she thinks poorly of him, but he won't leave her alone anyway.

That conclusion made me re-think my predisposition to like him. After all, it is at least a little rude to continue to talk to someone who is so plainly signaling that she wishes to be left alone.

But -- even with that in mind -- I still find his unswerving good humor admirable. Perhaps it is a little unkind of him to bait the paper-reading lady.

But maybe the paper-reading lady really needs a little baiting. Perhaps, as Gen put it, he'll get a smile out of her, one of these days.