Sunday, August 26, 2012

BUS STORY # 303 (A Tale Of Two Gangstas)

Untitled illustration downloaded from a post on the website for A City Mom by Kim Strickland by busboy4
Untitled illustration downloaded from a post by Kim Strickland on her website A City Mom .

“C’est la vie,” said the old folks
“It goes to show you never can tell.”
-- Chuck Berry, from “You Never Can Tell”

On the way home, a guy boards the bus with his wife and child.  He’s black and decked out gangsta -- all black clothes, oversized shorts, crooked hat, tattoos everywhere.  His wife is Latina.  The child is in a stroller which he and his wife lift up the stairs and maneuver into place by the bench seats behind the driver.

His wife pulls the child out of the stroller while he holds it to keep it from rolling. After they get settled in, the guy sitting across from them gets up, goes over near the till, picks up a bus pass from the floor.  The woman says, “That’s mine.”  He goes to give it to her, and gangster dude grabs it and hands it to her himself.

He doesn’t say thank you. He doesn’t say anything.  He doesn’t even look at the guy.  In fact, he doesn’t even look at his wife when he folds his arm in and cocks the card toward her.

My initial reaction is “What a jerk.”

But the lack of anger in his expression, in the very grabbing of the pass, nags at me.  Something doesn’t fit.

Maybe he just doesn’t know any better.  Maybe he didn’t have anybody to raise him right.

The whole action, from the grab to the handoff, now seems almost disinterested.

And then I think: he’s a gangster, a tough guy.  Last thing an aspiring tough guy does is show any softness.  Like, for example, showing appreciation for the thoughtfulness of strangers.

The whole action -- expression and gesture -- is practiced. Stylized.

It isn’t for want of being raised right.  Somewhere, there’s a mother or grandmother mourning a lost child.

The next morning, a guy boards the bus with his wife and two children.  He’s black and decked out gangsta -- all black clothes, oversized shorts, black do-rag, tattoos everywhere.  His wife is Latina.

He finds a pair of empty seats for her and the younger child.  Then he tells the older child -- a girl who looks to be five or six -- to sit next to me.  She does, and he starts to take the seat in front of me.

“You wanna trade seats?” I ask him.

He looks at me, pauses, says, “Um...sure.”

I get up, move to the aisle, and step back.

“Thank you,” he says.  He almost looks me in the eye when he says this.

“No problem,” I say, and quickly look away.  I take the seat in front of him.

Afterwards, I hear him talking to the girl.  The words, the tone, are exactly what you’d hope to hear from a loving and attentive father.

Here’s the story: when I saw him board, saw how he looked, saw his wife and kids, I remembered the previous evening, and I said to myself, “Here we go again.”

“You can’t judge a book by its cover,” my grandmother used to tell me. And since I was raised to know better, I’m feeling a bit chagrinned.

But my grandmother also used to tell me, “Birds of a feather flock together.”

So I’m feeling less chagrinned now.

If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, quacks like a duck...that’s not my grandmother’s.

But it tells me the second guy only looks gangsta.

There is a saying in Spanish: No sólo hay que ser, sino parecer -- it’s not enough to be [in this case, a gangsta], you have to look like one. But I think the norteamericano version is more like no es necessario ser, sólo a parecer -- it’s not necessary to be [a gangsta, etc.], just to look like one. (What that says about us I’m not getting into here.)

Ultimately, I tell myself that, even though I was a little slow on the uptake, I have succeeded in looking beyond the cover.

I’m still not too old to listen to my grandmother.  Or to Chuck Berry, either.


The untitled illustration at the top of this story was downloaded from the post, "My kids dress like gangstas, and it's my bad," by Kim Strickland, from her website A City Mom. (This aptly-named site is not a public transportation blog, but is a good read.)


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