A misfired projectile in Tiffany’s airspace

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Photo by christine.ricks

100 Muni StoriesJesse told a two-minute version of this story at Muni Diaries Live! two Fridays ago, and there was no question that he was the crowd favorite of the evening. People couldn’t get enough of Jesse so we asked him to write his story in full here for you.

I was heading home from work, a task that takes about 45 minutes and one transfer. In the afternoons, I prefer to take the 1-California, as it has consistently proven to be the gentler, cleaner, more Asian cousin of the consistently troubling 38-Geary. Little did I know that this was to be no ordinary ride home. This was a bus ride that, even years later, is still burned into the memory portions of my brain (those are somewhere in the upper middle, right?). When dealing with Muni, I suppose one should always expect the unexpected.

As I approached the bus shelter, I heard a loud, angry voice taking someone to task for being a “Lazy-Assed Cracker.” Soon it was revealed that the man attached to the voice was a tall fellow who would sporadically refer to himself in the third person. His name was Leroy. Leroy seemed to be pushing 60, though I suppose he could have been younger. One thing was for sure; Leroy was not new to the streets. He was crusty in a way that is almost special. It seemed that Leroy had maintained a long and devout abstinence to water, since Y2K was a genuine threat. Leroy’s hands were swollen, coated in years and layers of sedimentary funky junk and it dawned on me that Leroy’s claws have quite possibly touched many of the same public surfaces that mine have over the years (I resolved at once to stop biting my nails). His T-shirt advertised the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics and was so timeworn that maintaining its structure must have been accomplished through ancient magic long since forgotten.

I had no idea how the little man opposite Leroy had trespassed upon his wrath but I knew enough to not tread those waters and choose instead to stand (translation-“hide”) on the other side of the Muni shelter, safely out of sight. The minutes ebbed on and Leroy’s petulant rage seemed to subside, when the bus finally arrived. I presented my payment to the driver, followed quickly by the lazy-assed cracker and, to my slight surprise, Leroy. Sharing a Muni shelter with a homeless person isn’t all that rare. Depending on the neighborhood, the shelters are routinely treated like three sided housing units. Sharing the front door of a bus with a street dweller is a considerable rarity, especially on the 1 California. Due to their characteristic lack of money, most of the San Francisco homeless is content to sneak in the back door, content to avoid a possible conflict with the driver.

Leroy, on the other hand, had pride and spirit that wouldn’t be stopped by simple issues of monetary obligation. Behind me, I heard Leroy bellow, “BUS DRIVER! I AINT GOT NO MONEY! GIMME A RIDE!” The driver must not have objected and, as I sat down, I pondered how that tactic would work, should I decide to employ it on my next bus ride.

As we all settled in, I noticed Leroy slide into an aisle seat, next to a well-kept, 40-something woman, whom I shall call “Tiffany.” Tiffany was WASPish and tightly wound; her hair pulled back behind her ears and her prim cardigan tied neatly around her shoulders. She clutched a small purse close to her chest, and nothing else. A few tasteful rings adorned her fingers, nothing too flashy, not for Tiffany. Whether she was coming or going was hard to tell. Perhaps her car was in the shop that day and she was, for the first time, alone in the wilds of San Francisco’s Municipal System? When Leroy settled in, her demeanor stiffened and she clutched her purse slightly tighter. Tiffany gazed hard out the window; determined not to notice Leroy. As it soon became obvious though, Leroy had noticed Tiffany. The bus lurched onward.

You might not think that Leroy and Tiffany had many common interests or things to talk about. You might think that their distinctly different stations in life had afforded them drastically different stories to tell; experiences to draw from. You’d think these things and you’d be right to think them. Leroy, on the other hand, ignored such thoughts and launched into a conversation on the one topic that, surely, every man and woman blessed to live on God’s green earth could come to wax poetic about: malt liquor.

Loud and proud, Leroy proclaimed that Tiffany looked like a woman who “enjoyed her malt,” despite the foolish assumption I carried around; that certain white women of money existed exclusively on a diet of Weight Watchers, Pilates and Pinot Noir. Once Leroy started, there was little stopping him and on he went, pointing out those stores along the bus route that were best equipped to handle Tiffany’s seemingly unquenchable thirst for malt liquor. Tiffany, who was still staring fixedly out the window and possibly raised on a healthy diet of non-confrontational, middle-class denial, offered only the slightest of encouragement to Leroy’s diatribe; a small nod every once and again; her upbringing, perhaps, keeping her from naked displays of outright rudeness.

Leroy finished complimenting Safeway‘s surprisingly good selection of malted liquor and everyone on my end of the bus, who had been watching/listening (when you’re on a crosstown bus, these little dramas are just as good as General Hospital), gave a start as he suddenly rose from his seat, making to leave.

I imagined the relief that was undoubtedly spinning through Tiffany’s brain. I pictured her returning home to a lovely three-bedroom flat in Lower Pacific Heights. Her house is spacious and quiet now that her three children have all grown and moved out and on with their lives. Her eldest is finishing at Berkeley and lives not far away; still comes for dinner on the first Sunday of the month. She stands in the foyer for a bit, relieved to find herself safe and secure. She’s flushed and winded and a survivor of a great adventure. Once behind her firmly locked door, she would check to see if the car was finished at the mechanics. She’d call her husband and he would pick it up later, after work. She’d never have to go through something as terrible as that bus ride again. But still, she’d done well? Hadn’t she? She had endured that filthy man and his crazy talk for nearly 20 blocks and not lost her temper. Yes, she had done well and now she deserved something special. Perhaps she would treat herself to a glass of wine or a Kenny G record and later, when her husband came home, she would let him have sex with her.

Whether or not Tiffany ever found herself in the limp embrace of her Financial District payday, I’ll never know. I was forced out of my daydream when it became obvious that Leroy had no intention of leaving. Instead of heading down the aisle and back out into the world, Leroy leaned full over Tiffany and opened the small, rectangular window near the top of the bus. The violation of her personal space seemed to jar Tiffany severely and she clutched her purse ever more tightly to her chest, as if trying to force it through her ribcage. Had she known what was coming, she might have put it to better use.

Leroy then straightened up, and, still standing, there came a rumbling from his throat. All of us leaned forward, incredulous witnesses to something about to happen. He can’t be doing what I think he’s doing, we all seemed to think, in turn. The noise from Leroy’s throat crescendoed until finally he, and for lack of a better phrase, “hocked a loogie” from his seat at the aisle, across Tiffany, and out the window.

Half the loogie sailed, straight and true, at and out the open window. The second half, on the other hand, broke from its intended flight plan and with a “smack” hit Tiffany squarely in the face, directly above her left eyebrow. The world seemed to stop and slow. We froze. The little hands on my neighbor’s watch stopped ticking and the wad of phlegm dripped down Tiffany’s forehead. She made no move to wipe it away, apparently paralyzed with shock. Outside the bus, birds stopped chirping, and, in the distance, far away, a baby was crying.

Just as quickly as our world had stopped, it started again. Several men were on their feet, yelling and berating Leroy, who had slipped unceremoniously back into his seat. I looked around and noticed the Lazy-Assed Cracker still sitting down, trying not to pay attention. He had escaped Leroy’s wrath earlier and apparently had no desire to cross that line of fire again. I also remained seated, content, in this story, to be the voyeur and not the exhibitionist. By this time, someone had provided Tiffany with a napkin and she was dabbing, cautiously, at the hepatitis that dripped down her face. Her eyes were glassy and she looked on the verge of either passing out or vomiting. The men who came to her aid were now getting physical with Leroy, attempting to arrest him from his seat. Tiffany spoke then, for the first time, and her voice was weak and sing-songy.

“It’s okay,” she said to the men, meekly. “It’s okay…he…he apologized.” The dubious assertion of Leroy’s phantom apology was soon answered by none other than Leroy himself.

“BITCH!” said Leroy, the fire from his earlier bus shelter tirade rekindled. “BITCH!” he said again. “I DIDN’T APOLOGIZE!!” and with that, Leroy was thrown from the bus, upon its next stop.

Everyone settled back down into his or her seats, armed with a new story to tell. Tiffany was left alone. Some of the men congratulated themselves on a job well done, talking about it as if they’d slain a dragon and not just thrown an old man off a bus.

When you live in San Francisco and ride the bus, stories like these are the rule and not the exception. In the four years I’ve been here, I’ve watched a homeless woman shit herself out of spite and had to chase another man who was attempting to steal my laundry. Now, I’ve seen a man spit on a lady’s face. It’s all just part of life in the big city, I suppose.

When I left the bus, two stops later, Tiffany was still dabbing at her face with the napkin, counting the blocks until she’d be home, alone, and safe.

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