It was early Spring in Los Angeles and the day was perfect; temperature in the high 60’s, an easy breeze drifting across the city. The conditions were ideal for sitting outside, listening to music and maybe even taking in a show. I have lived in Los Angeles for decades and learned to appreciate the colorful absurdity that is L.A., and the bizarre streak that runs through many of its inhabitants. As a purveyor of public transportation, I know that freaky things happen while riding the bus, but just as many occur while you wait.
The bus stop was sparsely populated; just me and two teenagers from the local high school who were engaged in some serious kissing. It was the middle of the day and I anticipated a long wait, so I sat on the bench and made myself comfortable. I put on my headphones, turned up the volume and sat back to enjoy some Cherry-Coloured Funk. A minute into the song, I became aware of someone sharing the bench with me.
First, I smelled him. He exuded an overwhelming scent of sage, as if he had spent the night in a field where it burned around him. Underneath the sage was the unmistakable stench of urine and battered skin, stained by the soot of sleeping rough. Beyond the filth I could make out the slightest metallic tinge of blood. I could barely stand the odor, but felt I would have to retreat with caution.
I took off my headphones in preparation to rise slowly from the bus bench and then I heard him. His breath came out in a purposeful rhythm; four quick exhales and a grunt, then three quick exhales and a grunt, two exhales and a grunt, one exhale and a mischievous growling laugh. He repeated this strange musical number, again and again, to an audience only he could see. I listened to his song for a good five minutes before I dared to move or to look at him.
When I turned toward the peculiar musician, I saw a gnarled man sitting next to me, completely unaware that I was beside him on the bench. He seemed lost in his song, smiling broadly and looking thoroughly pleased with himself. His face was so thickly coated in grime that I couldn’t see his skin, but his bright and wild eyes were open wide. He had a mane of brittle brown hair that may have once been curly, but now looked as if one good gust of wind may cause it to break apart like scraps of scorched paper. He wore an old tweed suit jacket with holes at the elbows and a collar hanging on by mere threads. A bow tie was secured around his dusty neck, but he had no shirt. His pants gave the slightest hint of a black and white checked print; the hems were torn and frayed and his feet were bare.
He tapped the ground with just his big toes, methodical and focused. Then suddenly, in a frenzy, he turned toward me, gave me a wicked grin and leapt off the bench toward the street. He landed almost gracefully on the balls of his feet and slowly shuffled to the cross walk. He stopped. He stood there completely still, face tensed in deep concentration, hands balled into fists at his sides. A few minutes passed. He raised his head to the sky in triumph and started to dance across the street.
It was a subtle dance but it stopped traffic. He shimmied a few feet then paused and shook his leg. He did a quick sway of his hips and shook his other leg. He twirled twice, stopped and shook his bum. As he danced and shook, shit tumbled out of the legs of his pants onto the cross walk. He was in rapture.
At the end of his interpretive dance, he bowed deeply and dashed through oncoming traffic with a shriek of delight.
Susan Richardson is living, writing and going blind in Hollywood. Much of her work focuses on her experiences as a partially sighted woman in a sprawling urban environment. In addition to poetry and creative non -fiction, she also writes a blog called “Stories from the Edge of Blindness”.