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.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

lettuce give thanks for this bounty I'm about to consume

A few weeks ago, while out for Thai with a friend, I elicited a few head shakes by ordering dinner with my proprietary blend of self-effacement and high-maintenance demands: "Hiiii, I'm going to be a little difficult here. Sorry (shrug) -- neurotic. Okay, I'd like the seafood grilled, without oil. That's no oil. No fat. And steamed broccoli, please. Also without oil. Sauce on the side. Thank you. Make that extra broccoli, thanks so much." (I always wrap it up with an apologetic smile -- 'I know I'm a pain in the ass. Please don't drizzle ipecac on my meal.')

When the food arrived my friend's eyes grew wide and she breathed, "Wow... there's enough food on that plate for three people." Indeed, the broccoli was piled high; it was just what I'd wanted. I told her, "Give me 15 minutes," and I tucked in.

When it was all over she stared at my empty plate and shook her head slowly. "I wouldn't believe it if I didn't see it with my own eyes." To which I replied, "Yeah, not the first time someone's said that to me. How 'bout some frozen yogurt?" It's possible this friend only hangs out with me for the freak value.

A few nights ago I met my family for dinner at the same Thai restaurant and ordered essentially the same dish. My Mom and my sister offered me bits of their own coconut soups and noodle dishes, but I politely declined, stating that "Really, I'd like to be alone with my vegetables now."

And then yesterday, when I met John for lunch before heading home for the Passover seder, I loaded up a styrofoam container with an admittedly obscene quantity of salad bar veggies. I did so in anticipation of a fattening meal many hours away; lunch would have to keep me full for a while with as few calories as possible. John has known me a long time; this wasn't the first time he'd watched in amazement (and a little bit of disgust, though he claims to love me just the same) as I scarfed down more comestibles than his 6'2", 185-pound body could ever pack in during a single sitting.

As we were wrapping up the meal, chit-chatting about some recent drama in my love life, his gaze suddenly softened and he said to me, "Honey, give me your hand." I reached across the table and he cupped my paw between both of his, squeezing gently with a tender look in his eyes. "There's something I need to tell you."

"Oh, shit," I thought, "here it comes. We finally make nice like old friends, and I get a little loose-lipped, and finally he's going to break and run, tell me he can't handle the idea of me with other men. I knew this would never work. I shoud've known you can't be friends with an ex."

John continued, "In the last six months or so -- since about the time you came back into my life last fall -- I have not..." and here he paused and swallowed hard. I held my breath for two seconds while he collected himself.

"In the last six months I have not... um... eaten as much salad as you just scarfed down in the last eight minutes. That really was amazing. Really, just... I honestly don't know where you put it all. Just thought you should know; I'm inspired."

And then we busted up while I slapped him on the arm and scolded, "What the hell are you trying to do, give me a heart attack?" and he shot me his trademark 'Gotcha!' grin and we both enjoyed a hearty laugh.

But I sort of have to wonder... could I be a vegeholic?