Wednesday, April 26, 2006

are your legs tired...?

I live in one of those fancy parts of town where the buses only stop by every half hour or so. So most afternoons I'm on a tight schedule: Change at work, dart to the gym and 45 minutes later leap off the treadmill just in time to mop off, grab my bags, sprint to the bus stop and climb on board. Without time to cool down or change, I am at my ickiest on these post-workout rides home -- still panting, still schvitzing, clothes damp and an old sweatshirt laid down between the blue plastic bus seat and the backs of my bare thighs. I'm not a stinker but just in case I'll pick a seat near an open window.

While I marinate in sweaty gym gear, the iPod is shuffling along, and I drift between daydreams. To the other commuters, ignoring one another (as is The Law), I'm just a sweaty splotchy frizzy pigtailed girl, staring dully at protesters outside the Turkish embassy. But on the inside... on the inside I am starring in "Guys and Dolls," owning Chopin's second piano concerto, or having the best sex of my life, depending what the playlist yields.

A few stops before the end of the line, an older woman labors up the bus steps, leans heavily on her cane with a deep sigh, then pivots and tips backward into the seat across the aisle, spreading into the space with an airy thud. She's heavy-set, dressed in purple velvet from head to toe, bright eyes peering through the shade of a broad-brimmed hat. The woman beams smiles all around as she addresses her fellow citizens. A chit to her left, a chat to the driver; nobody pays attention. Their dismissive silence is a judgment: "Crazy."

I'm turned halfway around in my seat struggling with a stuck window when I feel something poking at my sneaker -- one, two, three times. As the rubber foot on the chatty woman's cane nudges my big toe once more, I turn around with my eyebrow cocked and loaded.

"You have very long legs!" she chirps in a thick French accent, grinning from ear to ear. I am caught completely off-guard; a half-assed smile is all I can muster while I grasp for an appropriate response. "Oh... um..." I stammer a bit, almost point out that I'm only five-foot-three, so how long could my legs really be, then I think better of it. (I'm still working on my compliment acceptance skills.) Another passenger grins sympathetically -- "That's what you get for sitting up front" -- so I shrug and say, "I'll take it!"

The French woman accepts my humor as a green light and launches into a monologue. "Oui, very nice legs indeed. Strong! Long! I see you do much exercise!" It's not as weird as it could be, I guess. Coming from a man, or from someone younger, the attention might cause me to change seats. But this lady... she's a little eccentric maybe but she's not crazy. Maybe a little crazy. But more importantly, she's one of those precious jewels who makes it her business to spread warmth and cheer in the form of compliments wherever she goes. (D.C. locals, you know the sort of person I mean.)

You know, commuters work hard to look absorbed in their lives; you don't realize how bored they are until something interesting happens on the bus. As Frenchy loudly waxes lyrical about my gams, people start to pay attention. The woman next to me discreetly plucks out her left earbud. A young man across the aisle and a few seats down emerges from his nap one eye at a time. Their heads are turning now, one by one. They're all listening to this lady, trying (but not really) to pretend they're not interested in the spectacle, and each of them is stealing glances at my legs. It's not that there's anything much to see down there. My lower limbs are a bit doughy, really... white, vaguely bruised, scarred-up knees and three-day stubble. But the woman won't stop talking about them. Even I can't help but check out my lap, if only to see what all the fuss is about.

Finally she switches gears. "Pretty smile, too! Very bright. Your eyes, they are smiling eyes. It reminds me of some classic paintings. Like a Renoir, maybe..." Happy to have changed the object, if not the subject, I continue to flush and blush and stammer thank-yous each time the woman pauses to breathe, which isn't often. She never stops smiling. Every single person seated toward the front of the bus is grinning at me now -- except the driver, who's scowling in his rearview mirror. But even he, like the others, is enjoying my flattered embarrassment. They are laughing at me and with me; kindly, sympathetically. It really is rather funny.

Two stops later the lady yanks the cord, gathers her bags and hobbles off the bus, still smiling from ear to ear. I call after her, "Have a nice evening!" Talk about a mood boost; I feel like I just had a V8.

Just before the bus reaches my stop, a man across the aisle calls out to me, "She was quite a fan!" I grin sheepishly and turn pink again, while five other people chuckle in agreement. The bus stops a moment later and as I stand to leave the guy adds, "Another minute and I was sure she'd have asked for your number!" And with that the entire front half of the bus cracks up. It's a rare moment of fraternity in a place where, most days, the only sign we're even cognizant of other humans is the fact that we avoid stepping on one another's toes.

I wonder if the French woman knows the sort of power she wields. I stepped on the bus starving, wet and cranky; I stepped off still damp, still hungry, but feeling like a million bucks and change. For the first time in a long time I slowed my sprint to the apartment to a stroll so I could chat with one neighbor. I held the door for another. (Actually I always hold the door, but I did it cheerfully this time.) I hope I see Frenchy again soon; I want to tell her how much I love her hat.

28 comments:

I-66 said...

Quite a well-written return, Miss D. Welcome back to the blog :)

Sweet said...

I love experiences like that. Isn't it amazing how kind words from a stranger can change your mood like that?

Kayla said...

You have shapely legs.. long legs?! not so much ;)... 5'2" does not equal long... Wait, were you wearing platform sneakers?!

El Guapo in DC said...

No one ever comments on my legs anymore...

EG

Washington Cube said...

First of all, glad to see you posting again. Secondly, to El G...::nudge:::what a card. I adore people like the French woman. It's better than t.v.

P.S. You should have complimented her back...or asked her about France...or something. She may have surprised you. Once a Russian woman started up something like that with me on a bus, and we wound up having this lengthy discussion about St. Petersburg and Russian poetry.

smallpricklyfruit said...

"Your eyes, they are smiling eyes......Like a Renoir, maybe..."

Let's hope that she was referring to Pierre Auguste Renoir (1841 - 1919) and not Bobbie Jo Renoir (1969 - ) Her parents are brother and sister and she does self portraits.

Anonymous said...

Reads to me like Madame already had your number.

Weren't you one of the ZZ Top girls?

Vixen said...

This was beautiful. It's amazing how one person's comment can utterly ruin or bless your day.

Claire said...

Very cool. Sounds like she gave a boost to the whole bus, not just you.

Big Pissy said...

Awwwww...that was so cool!

Hope you run in to her again.

East-West Girl said...

I second Big - Definitely awww and definitely cool!

I love moments like that, they really do make the million dollar moments in life. Glad you had such a nice ride!

Velvet said...

I smell a lesbian. And by lesbian, I mean, carpet munching lezbo. Okay, I'll behave.

You know, I used to be all nice and cheery like that woman. I'd say hi to everyone, nod and wave, compliment, give lost people directions. Oh wait, that wasn't me. That was Kelly Ripa. Sorry.

Anonymous said...

Of course, now I remember where we met before. It was at the "Luncheon": You, bored, wanting to be somewhere else (you're not even drinking) -- Me, turned away from the others, distracted from my drink, trying to tell you something with my eyebrow. A shame Pierre-Auguste left your legs out of view...

Geisha said...

This reminded me of an incident in my local shop - usually a grim place with a huge queue. A man with two young daughters went into the loo. The youngest girl banged on the door and shouted 'I want a piss too Dad'. The long miserable queue burst into laughter and much joshing was directed at the *blushing* father when he emerged.

Not the same as being complimented but it certainly cheered up the queueing shoppers

Rothko said...

I've noticed it's good to ride the bus late at night - the 42 from Adams Morgan to Metro Center, for instance - you get more in the way of random conversations than you do during business hours. Random conversations are good. DC needs more people like Frenchy.

Anonymous said...

I know that woman! I used to see her on the bus almost daily, for years, when I worked in Friendship Heights. Excellent post, you really captured her well.

waloper said...

This is the first time I've read your stuff (recommended by Merujo)
and it is good. I'll be back.
waloper

Barbara said...

Did she get off the bus near the intersection of Wisconsin and Mass? I know a rather crazy French woman who fits that description who lives near there.
I have been thinking a lot lately about how conversation between strangers gets started...

the deal said...

Hey! Welcome back. Missed your wit.
Hope to start posting some more myself. Thanks for the inspiration.

Paulo said...

I meant to tell you how much I love this post. You are as brilliant as ever... and gorgeous, too, apparently.

~Paulo

Merujo said...

I usually keep my hair pulled back, despite it being just below shoulder length. I do this because, when it's down, it tends to look very dramatic by virtue of being wavy and full of blonde (costly) highlights. I do not have a body that goes along with drama hair. At my old job, when I left my hair down one day, someone at a staff meeting said, "My my, don't you look like some extra from the Broadway production of The Lion King." And everyone laughed at me. I just didn't need that, so I keep it pulled back.

On Thursday, I had my hair down because my hair bob thingie broke, and people complimented me on my hair all day. I did not know what to say or do. I'm not good at taking compliments, as I assume that people are actually mocking me. I have to work on this...

Janet said...

I love this story. She may or may not be a lesbian. (I'm leaning towards "not"), but even if she was, we all need excessive flattery every once in a while to keep us smiling.

Indiana Jonesing said...

Damn this was good. All the way around.

Gordon said...

Those crazy French.

Anonymous said...

"Hey Ma'am you sure look nice in that top." Good to see that compliments, and compliment man, are alive and well in DC

DF

Anonymous said...

Is that really what you've been listening to on the bus? I didn't have you pegged for classic pop (if you'll pardon the oxymoron.
"I pardoned the not-oxy one, so why not?"
Touche.
"That wasn't French was it?"). The legs though, they are classic indeed.

Shannon said...

There are angels among us. Loved this one. Great writing!

me said...

Such a true post - I've met these people before too (the extraordinary bus people) who shake everyone out of their slumber. They touch you, wake you up, remind you that you are part of the human race.

Next time I meet one I'll thank them.