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As Suzanna's Grandfather

A Role I Enjoyed

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, November 29, 2000.

I am so annoyed with the election hoo-hah that I cannot stand it anymore, so I need to relax and think pleasant thoughts. So do we all. I've been to the gym a lot this week, comparing the ways Cathleen Harris, Karen Hughes, and Linda Tripp resemble each other as I lift weights. I take the bus.

I ride the Boulder bus a lot. As a child, I hated it. It was full of large, smelly people who glared at me a lot as if afraid I was about to vomit on their shoe, which was not, I admit, entirely out of the question. Buses in 1955 Massachusetts were not designed for comfort, safety, or utility. People drank booze in the open, people would bring their dogs aboard, and everyone smoked. Wheelchairs? Are you outta your mind? Where da hell we put wheelchairs?

And there was a status to riding the bus that has gone away. It was a low status. It meant you could not afford a car. My family could, but because my father grew up riding the bus, as many did in the Depression years, it was good enough for me. In any case, my grandmother took the bus a lot when she took me out. But my memories are of dark, gruff, scary people looking at me. An enlightened, godlike guy like myself overcomes the past. When I ride the bus, I make a point of smiling at any nearby child and looking away, thus conveying safety and disinterest. By and large, most kids will look at me a little longer and then return attention to their toys or Mom. At least I know I have not provided them with a bad experience. This week on a cold day, a little girl boarded with her significant female oldster, child complete in elf hat and pacifier. She was around two, and mother and child shared the couch seat across from me. She had deep red hair and pale skin and huge eyes beneath her hat. She sounded exactly like Maggie Simpson on the pacifier. And she vectored right in on me and stared. I did my bit. I smiled gently and looked away. Unfortunately, the couch seats demanded that a certain amount of time was spent facing the opposite couch, and every time my huge head returned to home position, there was this little girl staring at me. Specifically, staring at my hair emerging from my cap, which was pushed up on my head and sprouting from the area available to expose the eyes when pulled completely down. I smiled at her. Nothing. I gave a wave. Nothing. Her eyes, expressionless, were targeted in on the gray hair in the middle of the dark blue cap. The young mother was staring absently out the bus windshield with her right arm around the daughter. She caught me making a stupid face at her daughter. "Say 'hi,' Suzanna," the mother suggested. "And wave, this is our stop." The little girl briefly dropped her gaze to my eyes, burst into a smile and still on the seat waved as the bus stopped in front of Alfalfas. I waved back. Mother and daughter got off. I exited a few stops later.

The next day or the day after, mother and daughter boarded the same bus I was on but at a different stop. Daughter with the bright red hair was hard to miss. I was there without my cap. They sat in the couch seat behind the driver. I was back two rows on the same side. Daughter saw me and stared, looked puzzled. Too young, I think, to have memory of me, she pointed to my head and, turning to her mother, let forth a barrage of sounds that were clearly words to her, ending with an ascending "eh?" Mother patted her head and pulled her daughter's hair from under her parka. The little girl was still vectored in on me. Mother whispered something to her, then looked up as people boarded the bus, smiled and said loudly over the hubbub to me "I think she misses my father. He had gray hair like yours." I smiled back, not knowing what to say. She whispered again to her daughter and with one final glance over the shoulder, the little girl sat down and I couldn't see her any more. They got off again at Alfalfas. This Thanksgiving, I worked, had a quick dinner with friends, watched football, raged at the newscasts. For a few minutes this week, though, I had a walk-on as Suzanna's grandfather, who apparently made an impact in their brief time together. It still feels good.