Published in Washingtonian magazine
Certainly, as one of those philosophers we studied in college suggested, there must be a supreme being who moves us through contrived scenes for his own amusement? Why else did I have to justify my favorite color? What other reason was there for a woman to put her finger up my nose? What else explains the Metro on a weekday morning?
Here we are in this high speed playhouse, bleary-eyed and morning-mouthed – hair sticking up, defenses down, thrust before an audience hungry for something more interesting than the pattern of dandruff on the shoulders in front of them.
So, like the fellow plucked from the crowd by a bad comedian, we sheepishly perform.
A demure woman has taken the stage – falling asleep on the ride home and missing the last stop, then gliding, mouth agape, past the amused, disembarking Shady Grove crowd. A well-heeled man walks down the aisle with an envelope stuck to his rear. A large woman has tucked things in inappropriately, pulling up several layers in the back way beyond the point that she intended and that anyone else preferred.
I’ve performed. I once tripped and burst Kramer-like into a crowded car, catching myself, then trying to act as if it was my normal boarding technique.
And then there was this nose incident. As I rose for my stop on a hot day, a woman standing next to me in a crowded car moved her hand to adjust her shoulder bag and, plink – her pinkie slipped into my right nostril – intimacy only rivaled in awkwardness by the ensuing three minutes I shared standing next to her, uncertain whether to offer her a tissue or a cigarette.
There is often just such unwanted familiarity. People are always flying awkwardly into each others’ arms or laps during sudden movement. I once saw a sheepish man inadvertently lift the dress of a woman in front of him with his umbrella, then blush for three stops. One man, drooling a bit, awoke to a smiling crowd smiling entertained by his seat partner, who had been making extraordinary faces as his head dropped to her shoulder..
There is also plenty of improv with challenging partners
“Why do you put so much of that pink stuff on your face?” a lad bluntly asked a woman bearing hours of gaudy fussing. “Do you know you have a very shiny head..” a burly, red-faced man wearing several woolen hats said to the self-conscious-looking guy next to him. He then turned to the cowering car and selected a bulky young man, uneasy in his tan fedora “What are you, a park ranger?”
I’ve reluctantly been cast. I was among those singled out by a man who burst into the Metro car praying and asking individuals if they’d been saved, placing his hand on the heads of those like myself who seemed uncertain.
Then there was the man in the bright mustard sports coat who settled in next to me on my ride home one sunny, upbeat day.
“What’s your favorite color,” he blurted out.
Feeling magnanimous, I decided to chat. “Blue,” I whispered cheerfully, hoping to participate but make the conversation more intimate.
“Blue? Why?” he nearly shouted.
I responded but began to feel less charitable as both the size of the audience and his energy level grew. He asked me how many vegetables are blue and, in fact, whether anything from the earth was blue. I smiled and ignored him. He repeated the queries.
“I don’t know,” I finally muttered.
What?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” I shot back, beginning to recognize that he had me right where he wanted me.
I just smirked, which incensed him
“You don’t <ital> really like blue, do you?” he muttered “He doesn’t really like blue, does he?” he asked the growing audience. “So, why did he say he did?”
The chime rang for Takoma and I bowed out five stops early, scowling at the sky.