I rode the bus home today, my stomach full of carefully tied knots. The sickness that had started the evening before had blossomed this morning, sending me home from work after just one oft-interrupted hour. The cold of the walk to the bus stop on a rainy winter afternoon had sharpened me. Waiting for the bus, I spoke with a friend on the phone about his new baby and the difficulties therein.
When the bus arrived I moved to the back, and I slipped as it took off. As I worked to keep my balance and from falling on the gentleman in the seat on the right side of the bus a young man with a crumpled ‘Silence the Violence’ poster and a stack of 7 CDs in a variety of neon colors asked me if I wanted to buy any music from him today. I declined and found my seat, slippery shoes and all.
As the bus roared down the slick streets the young man who’d tried to sell me his CD and his friend continued the conversation that they had interrupted to pitch me on their music. One did almost all of the talking, his language a kind of urban patois, studded with repetitive elements that were not a rhythm so much as a scratch in the record. I wondered, as I listened to him, if he had a stutter, but the more I listened the more clear it was that this was an acquired way of speaking.
He spoke passionately about the politics of Bay Area music, and the politics of radio, and the necessity of commerce in song in order to be commercially successful. His theory seemed to be that if your music sold something then radio was interested in you. Shoes, liquor and sex seemed to be the predominant commodities. If you weren’t into selling things then it wasn’t likely that radio would be interested in your music. His partner seemed to have little to say, but when he spoke his voice was deep and slow, without the rapid-fire repetitive elements of his companion.
I stopped following the conversation, because their language became too difficult to comprehend, and I couldn’t tell if they were talking about ‘sexy girls’ at their shows or ‘sexist girls’ at their shows. The bus stopped outside of Walgreens and a bunch of people got on. Two children came to stand in the hinge of the bus, a young adolescent girl with the size of puberty, and her little brother. I watched the little brother try and perch himself on the rounded cushions meant for standing passengers to lean against, thinking that it was a holdover of his younger days, but that he had become too big now to lift himself up. Across from him his sister threw her threadbare Green Bay Packers jacket on two empty seats and with more agility than I would have given her credit for performed the maneuver that her younger brother had been unable to manage himself. Their mother, preceded by a third child, the youngest, came through to the back of the bus calling with a hard voice and harder words for the two children to join her. The girl grabbed for her jacket and disappeared behind me.
The two young men interrupted their conversation to try another pitch on the mother, who gave them only a gravelly laugh in return. Another mother followed, this one with her baby strapped to her chest and covered in white and pink blanket. She too was asked to buy music, but I didn’t hear her reply.
Behind her six or seven Latino boys in varying stages of adolescence filed into the bus. They filled up the hinge pocket of the bus. Their clothes were not fancy, but well taken care of; their pants neatly pressed, jackets and sweatshirts stainless in the way that I associate with immigrant families. I listened to them speak to one another in Spanish that I could not understand, between the ease of their speech, the slang that they used and the ambient noise that comes of riding on the bus. They moved in the pattern of the pack, sparring and jabbing with their mouths, with their words. They were not dangerous to one another, but neither would they let each other rest. Listening to them speak I wondered if the children that they would have, children they could not even imagine, would speak Spanish as well, or if the thing that now glued them so closely together, their shared culture expressed in the language they shared, would become diluted by the passage of space and time, so that their children were left with an ignoble inheritance known as Spanglish.
The bus stopped at my corner and I stood to disembark. The two less-than-successful music salesmen got off before me, and I didn’t know which had been the speaker and which had been the listener. The young men were bathed in the sweet stink of weed which trailed behind them as they stepped off the bus, into the street and then onto the curb. I enjoyed the moment of unexpected nostalgia and excitement that the smell of marijuana brings before turning my nose toward the corner and headed for the apartment, intent on releasing the demon I’d kept bound in my belly for the duration of the bus ride home.