May 1999
s m u g
Kristy Nielsen

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"Leave the Driving to Us!"
Greyhound makes it sound Part Two

So, I passed a lovely four days with my sister and her lumpy-bellied cat, Ginger, who was, of course, named by a previous owner. My sister Jennifer alleviates the Fluffy/Mittens/Blackie connotations of the name by calling her Ginger Rogers, Gin and Tonic, or Rij-Nij (Ginger backwards). We tried to imagine her as Ginger from Gilligans island---the one with wardrobe and sauciness. So much sexier than "all the rest" on Gilligans isle. You can imagine that, since thats the kind of gal my sister is, we managed to have a fabulous time despite the social wilderness that is Eureka. Somehow, though, through no fault of my sister (or the slightly misshapen Ginger), I had developed a nasty head cold during my visit.

By Thursday morning when it was once again time to get on the bus, I was equipped with an extra-large roll of Scott tissue, leftover spicy Chinese mushroom soup with a spoon to mail back to Eureka, and a fresh package of cold remedy medicine. (We'd done an interesting experiment the night before. Scientific question: how important is the expiration date on medication? Scientific answer: one buttload. We stopped at a drugstore before my upcoming godawful, interminable bus trip.)

While I checked in my bag at the tiny station, my sister watched the gruff bus driver to make sure he didn't take off without me. The Greyhound employee dispensing tickets and luggage tags was utterly distracted by three teenage girls who were flouncing in and out of the station with various pronouncements:" I am leaving forever! No thats a lie, how could you leave US? But my dad is such a Hitler! We love you! Mark loves you! Think about Mark!" Very dramatic.

It has to be said that they were dressed quite scantily and I had the impression that they were still working on the assumption that it was Wednesday night. After one of their theatrical exits, the station attendant paused and raised his eyebrows at the men in line before me.

"Why didn't they look like that when I was sixteen?" asked the greasy-haired, paunchy-bellied thirty-something man in amber-tinted aviator glasses. "I don't remember 'em ever looking like that."

He typed something on his computer and looked up again, blushing. "There oughta be a law," he said.

Of course there is a law, but I didnt feel the urge to point that out. In fact, as the only female in the room, I was feeling pretty fucking invisible. It's a strange moment when men talk about other women in front of you. Which is not to say that I wanted them to talk about me (or to me), just that their easy discourse insinuated that I didnt exist for one reason or another. I was irrelevant. They'd deemed me sexually unattractive: Ugly, old, lesbian, crazy, crippled, married. Maybe too big, too small, too light, too dark. Now, you might ask, and you would be right on target, why I cared what six hick dweebs thought of me. I was asking myself the same thing. And you are right, thank you very much. It was not up to them to decide my rating on the babe-o-meter.

I decided my invisibility was due to the head cold, which was beginning to feel very flu-like.

My intention had been to sleep for the entire 8 hour bus trip and stretch awake just as we crossed the Bay Bridge, in time to watch the sun set over Coit Tower, refresh my dewy complexion and lipstick, and greet my Welcome Wagon with a big generous kiss.

Can you blame me for dreaming? I know I should have learned that the best laid plans, the road to hell, blah, blah, blah. But when I settled into my gray seat with red and blue racing stripes, I discovered an optimistic streak in myself that I didn't know I had. Maybe it was the time I spent with Ginger who, despite her beginnings as a street cat with indifferent owners, a couple litters of kittens she was made to relinquish, and several physical mishaps, had somehow ended up in my sisters care. She was well-nourished, her image burnished by the new nicknames. She felt safe enough to romp and play unabashedly with a twisted pipe cleaner. She wasn't watching her back.

But I should have remembered, and Ginger should take this to heart, that her little sister Slippers was still living across town, scrapping for food and fighting off every Tom, Tom, and Tom. Message: You can always be returned. All the prizes might be stripped away, the treasured hair shorn, the legs or ankles broken in an "accident". Happily, nothing that drastic happened on the bus. But neither did I peacefully snooze my way along the California coastline. I was returned to my roots once again, and Im not talking dishwater blond but full-blown white trash.

Turns out Eureka has a prison. Perhaps they release convicts exclusively on Thursdays. For whatever reason, there were a fair number of ex-cons on the bus and I had managed to seat myself right in the middle of a nest of them.

How could I know? I did a quick visual survey and saw that the make-up of characters on the bus was roughly the same as on my previous trip, except maybe there were more loose men in the middle section. But then it was a weekday morning. I thought maybe they were commuting. Or at least going to job interviews. I half-expected to see the young woman overdose victim from my first trip cheerfully returning to San Jose after her hospital stay. "Because I'm all: what was in that stuff I sniffed? My head, like, flipped out? And Im all: Whoah! "

I took my cold medicine, put my coat down as a pillow, and folded myself over onto the seat (head toward the aisle, of course and one foot looped through the handle of my duffel bag) to go to sleep.

The bus driver came on the speakers and gave us the rules. This driver was just as all-business as the previous dude, but looked more like George Jefferson crossed with Lou Gossett, Jr. He thanked us for choosing Greyhound for our travel needs. The sun warmed my butt, the bus took the curves, the cold medicine took effect, and I fell asleep right away.

After not too long, though, I realized that a conversation going on behind me was entering my dreams.

"Man, I ain't never going inside again."

"You know that's right."

"How much time you do?"

"Five years, man, counting jeuvy."

"Shit, I did three years in lock down alone. Fuck jeuvy."

It is about this time that my drug-induced dreams begin to feel like a really bad chicks behind bars flick. I forced myself awake, but continued lying with my head on the arm rest because it was the perfect position for eavesdropping. The guy in the seat behind me was leaning toward the aisle talking to the guy parallel to him. The conversation started pretty low, but built steadily, perhaps because no one complained or moved away. Or maybe just because they were rolling farther and farther from jail and getting high on the movement.

It was not uncomplicated. I was fascinated, of course, with what recently released cons talk about, how they relate to each other. And I felt sorry for them. For years, "Forward" was a place completely unassociated with their lives. "Future" was some show on TV. But I also felt a hesitancy, a slight cramping of fear. I had learned that the bus is not necessarily a safe place. And I was pretty sure of one thing men want when they get out of jail. Despite my recent sexual invisibility, I hypothesized that my womanhood would not escape these gentlemen.

As inconspicuously as I could, I eased my butt out of the air and down to the seat. Just that movement caused their conversation to stop. They spooked like deer! I got into a comfortable, non-butt-oriented, eavesdropping position and sat very, very still. Presently, the conversation picked up.

The guy behind me was socially dominant. He had a nonchalance that assumed the talk would be directed toward him, and it was. In my mind I called him Buddy because, well, I dont know why---it just suited him. Across the aisle was the younger one, Latino, who hadnt done as much time. I called him Raoul. Diagonally in front of me was a subservient suck-up who kept laughing and smiling and seemed awfully pleased to be an ex-con if it meant he could hang with guys as cool as Buddy and Raoul. I called him Frank. Behind Buddy and Raoul was a mostly silent older dude with a scarred face. When he did contribute to the conversation, it was with the harshest comments, the most cynical and ugly. I named him Tex.

At first they set about establishing the basics: who knew whom, what stories were already known, length of incarceration. To my chagrin they did not fess up to their crimes. Tex did admit that hed been in several times, this last one being the shortest, almost, he said, like a vacation. That provoked a few laughs.

Then they turned to what they would do when they got to wherever it was they were going. Buddy cracked his knuckles loudly. "Im gonna give her the best thirty seconds of her life," he said.

"Hey, you sure it still shoots?" Raoul asked.

"You better believe it. Oh yeah, it works. I shot it yesterday. It still shoots."

This lead to an awkward silence and I realized that despite the macho bullshit norm of guys talking about getting some, these men had been exclusively in the company of other men until this morning so that talking about shooting it yesterday was bringing up homophobia and the need to establish their virile, hetero selves. Raoul opened the door. "Man, I dont care. It will just be so nice to have a woman."

"Give my hand a rest," Tex said quietly.

"Eighteen to eighty, blind, crip, or crazy. I do em all," Buddy boasted. For some reason I found this less creepy than the perv at the Eureka Greyhound station leering at high school students.

At a rural crossroads in wine country, a young woman who knew Raoul boarded the bus. They caught up on people they knew in common, with Raoul speaking a little too loudly, proud, I guess, of his affiliation with a female. I couldnt figure out if theyd gone to school together or what. It sounded like they'd been in jeuvy together, if jeuvy is ever co-ed. Maybe they'd participated in some sort of social service program. If so, it hadn't been very successful because most of the people they chatted about were in detention somewhere or another.

Gradually, Buddy, Tex, and Frank joined the conversation, now trying to impress Tina (thats what Raoul called her) with various tales of jail life. And my but things got interesting!

They were no longer spook-able deer, but snorting, head-butting, rams after the ewe in heat. In fact, I blew my nose loudly and shifted around in my seat without causing the slightest disruption in their boasting. I adopted an eavesdropping position that also allowed a little spying.

First there were the various and vivid descriptions of prison food, mostly comparing it to animals, excrement, or pulverized insects. Tina was suitably grossed out, but too tough to be fazed.

My boy Buddy steered the discussion to where they all wanted it. Funny, I'd thought it would have been Tex. "And then theres the women in jail," Buddy said, in a faggy lisp. Frank erupted in hysterical laughter, then shut up when the others looked at him silently.

I'm quite sure that at the local singles bar, based solely on looks, Frank would be most popular with the ladies. He was the tallest, broad-shoulder-est, with thick, blond, Robert Redford-esque hair and a nice face. But could his social standing get any lower?

"You gettin' conjugal visits?" Tina asked Buddy.

"I wish," Buddy said. Then, sort of sideways and confidential-like he added: "Not married."

I think Raoul felt responsible for Tina even existing, like hed conjured her up out of their collective lust. If she hadnt known him, shed be sitting somewhere by herself, not flirting with Buddy. Raoul put his hand across the back of the seat, behind Tina. "Im sure its not like you didnt have no candidates," Raoul said. Frank couldnt help himself. He let go with another high-pitched whinny.

"They're everywhere," Buddy said, coolly. "Shit, one time," he leaned forward slightly and the rest of them pulled in closer like they were on elastic. "One time, I went for a shower and when I came back, this quote 'guy' had made up my bed, folded all my clothes neat. Straightened the shit out of all my shit. Asked me if I was looking for a wife."

This time, Frank restrained himself, but Tex let out a small bark. "How was she?"

"No way," Buddy said. "No fucking way in hell I'm going in there."

Frank looked wide-eyed over the seat back, his mouth hidden, fingers tense on the armrest. Raoul looked out the window, shaking his head like he didnt believe it at all. For what it's worth, I believed Buddy when he said he didn't go in there. But I wondered about the myriad of other things people can do to get each other off.

"What chu know about it?" Buddy asked Raoul.

Now Tina laughed. "Yeah," she said. "Do tell."

I could see Raoul wrestling with how to handle this. Overeager denial might be suspicious (see Frank, above), but showing knowledge could indicate an unattractive cynicism (see Tex, above). I think he made the right choice: he aligned with Buddy.

"You ever see 'em in the shower?" he asked, speaking directly to Buddy. "Man, sometimes you swear it really is a chick, like some kind of fucked-up mirage. Theres no leg hair, nothing swinging in the breeze. Some of em even got little titties!"

"Shit, some of em got big ones," Tex said.

"Yeah, I seen that," Buddy said, wearily. "You know how they do that, dont you?"

Frank was laughing so hard I thought he was going to wet his pants. He stomped one of his feet down every few seconds. "Tell her," he said to Buddy. "Tell her, man!"

Now moi, I was slunk down in my seat at this point, listening as attentively as ever but just a teensy bit worried about where this would go. Afraid I'd be spotted---the interloper in their midst who kept surreptitiously wiping her nose and occasionally even wrote shit down on paper.

Miraculously, the bus driver came on the speaker just then and announced that we would be making our lunch stop at Willits in five minutes. Tina jumped up to go to the bathroom at the back of the bus and my goody two-shoes self silently chastised her for that big no-no. She was supposed to hold it and use the one at the McDonalds! Meanwhile, the fellas around me were having an interesting strategic meeting about whether or not the lunch break would be long enough to fuck Tina. They didn't seem to have decided who the lucky guy was and I wondered if they thought she'd fuck all of them in twenty minutes. And skip lunch.

Which might be exactly what happened because I didn't see any of them during the lunch break and when they re-boarded the bus, they were carrying uneaten food. Tina moved from sitting next to Raoul to behind Buddy. They all seemed relaxed and quietly ate until the next smoke break. I'd eaten my obligatory McDonalds food and had expected to be rewarded with the answer as to how these men in prison managed to look like women, even while showering. I suspected now that I'd missed the conversation and would never know. I can't tell you how disappointed I was.

At the break, there was a line each for the two unisex bathrooms loosely attached to back of a gas station. As if by design, the lines split into two groups: jail-associated and non-jail-associated. I hesitated, then joined the jail line, which was shorter. Tina had once again used the bus toity right before we stopped, so I was the only woman in the line.

"Thats a nasty cold you've got," Buddy said, and I nodded, feeling Rudolph-like. "I'll try not to breathe on you," I said.

The people in the other line looked away and I felt wicked, very visible, and glad about it.

When the bathroom became available, Buddy motioned me to go ahead of him and Tex, who were still smoking. As I entered, the person in the next room flushed and filthy water frothed out of the drain in the floor of mine. I took the wad of tissue out of my pocket and wiped off the seat. I thought Tina must have traveled this route before and had anticipated the condition of these facilities. I still felt wicked, but quite aware of my conspicuous deficiency of necessary worldly knowledge.

I'm sure Ginger and Slippers would understand. While I tinkled, I thought that if there were an earthquake, a nuclear war, or some other disaster (natural or un), I would be dependent on Buddy, Raoul, Frank, Tex, and Tina to survive. I know how to make a fire and I'm sure I'm as good at dowsing for water as the next guy, but when it's post-apocalyptic time, you need a posse, whether you like them or not. You can't say: "Why yes, I'd like to share some of that fire-roasted antelope rump, but only if you watch your language. Oh, and someone seems to have forgotten my wine goblet. What's up with that?"

Back on the bus, mollified by food, cigarettes, and sex (?), Frank returned to the discussion of chicks with dicks. "Are you going to tell her or not?" he asked Buddy.

I could tell I wasn't going to get any sleep on this leg of the trip either. Buddy smiled sleepily. "You really want to know?"

Yes! I screamed silently. "Yeah," Tina said. "Why not?"

"They give us these little Ban deodorant bottles." As soon as Buddy began speaking, Frank commenced to giggling and this time I was glad because the noise blocked the story from reaching the gray-haired woman in front of me who looked to be knitting food for starving children or something else equally pure.

"If you pop out the roll-on ball, theres an opening there." Buddy was describing this in a calm, almost scientific voice, but even Tex, Raoul, and Tina were prone to shrill little giggles. "What they do," Buddy said, "is stick their dicks into the hole, and then push the other end of the bottle into their rectum so that the dick is tucked back and hidden."

He actually used the word rectum and for some reason that was what shocked me most originally. Then I began to get the full picture.

So did Tina. "Oh. My. God," she said.

"Ow," Raoul whined, clasping his hands between his legs. Buddy shook his head grimly. "Think about it," he whispered. "Can you imagine walking like that? Sitting down?"

There followed a long conversation about how it would feel to do a lot of things, complete with an imitation by Raoul of a black rapper with a deodorant bottle so affixed to his body.

At the next podunkville stop, I was looking out my side window when I saw Tina walking toward a small grocery carrying her duffel bag. No one had said good-bye to her that I heard. I looked behind me. All the guys were looking casually forward, silent.

Tex picked up a plastic bag with chips and pop in it. "Hey, she left this," he said.

Frank grabbed it and began down the aisle, but the bus took off before he could get to Tina. He shrugged and began to paw through the goodies.

"Hey," Buddy said. "Maybe that belongs to this lady here."

He meant me. This lady here. Everyone knew that it wasnt my food. It seemed like a peace offering or a gesture of inclusion. I could accept it and become a cohort of sorts. But I declined, holding up my mineral water and cough lozenges as an apology.

Buddy nodded and I felt I knew what Jodi Fosters character meant in Silence of the Lambs when she says that Hannibal Lecter won't come after her because he'd somehow think it would be rude.

The rest of the trip was pretty anti-climactic. I could tell you about the huge, unwashed man wearing overalls with the size sticker still glued to the butt. He was on his way to Ohio to visit his children. Or the knitting lady who was afraid the bus would be late because if she didn't call her daughter within ten minutes of the arrival time, the daughter would call the police to the station and send EMS to the woman's apartment. There was a cute kid who said a cute thing. But really, nothing could compare.

Buddy got off the bus in Santa Rosa. I watched him stretch his arms overhead, make fists, and shake them at the sky with his eyes closed and mouth set in a determined line. When he looked back, I waved good-bye and he held up his hand. I swear, he had the sweetest smile.

in the junk drawer

feature car
ac/dc gun
compulsion vise
posedown cheese
and such
and such
blab fan

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