Welcome to a new feature on the blog, “Letters to People I Hate,” in which I write letters to people who have displeased me to the point where I vehemently opposite-of-like them. We start with a person all of us are all too familiar with:
“Dear Person Sitting Next to Me on An Otherwise Empty Bus,
Thank you for sitting next to me during our little journey together from State Street to Damen Avenue. Life in the city can be lonely, never more so than on public transportation. Riding the bus or the El can really make you feel like cattle being herded to the slaughterhouse. Especially on a hot summer day like this when people are sweating and the morning’s deodorant has started to wear off. A condition with which you are clearly familiar.
I appreciate that you did your best to keep your giant duffel bag-sized briefcase out of my lap. You didn’t succeed, sadly, and it kept hitting my leg every time we hit a bump. But that’s not your fault. Chicago Avenue has a lot of pot holes, right?
Besides, it gave me a good chance to look at your briefcase and consider it. It’s quite thought-provoking, really. I mean, it’s supposedly a briefcase, but you wear it with a long shoulder strap like a messenger bag. Can we really still call it a briefcase? At one point does one thing become another? So I pondered.
It’s also strikingly huge. I count at least five large pockets. I have luggage smaller than that bag. I’m assuming there’s a laptop in there somewhere, or maybe a desktop PC. I admit, it’s been delightful contemplating why a person clearly commuting to and from his office needs such a giant bag every day to simply ride the bus.
What else might be in this black, faux-leather Goliath? Perhaps a change of clothes. And a second set of clothes in case those clothes also get dirty. A water bottle. A second water bottle that actually contains water with which to fill up the other, empty water bottle. A frozen pizza. A slightly smaller briefcase. Or maybe you’re a literary man and you have a few books. A hardcover of War & Peace. The entire collection of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman. The Story of the Vivian Girls in the Realms of the Unreal. Clearly you need lots of room for books in that briefcase. That RedEye you’re currently reading won’t get you through the entire commute.
Perhaps I’m being too judgmental. You’re probably going camping after work and so needed to place a tent, a sleeping bag, a sleeping bag mat, a week’s worth of canned food, firewood, and all manner of anti-bear devices into your briefcase for your jaunt into the wild.
Anyway, my point is, I enjoyed speculating on the contents of your excessively large briefcase. Much as I enjoyed the warm presence of another human being, the sour smell wafting from your armpits a nice reminder of our human physicality, and the inexorable nature of our mortal decay. You invoked a sense of mono no aware in me, not to mention existentialist dread, and for that I am thankful. You made me philosophical and that’s nothing to provoke my gag reflex at (which you also did).
Now, I don’t mean to be rude, but at this point I should perhaps point out that the bus is largely empty. Most of the people got off at the Blue Line stop at Milwaukee and the rest got off at Ashland. The only people left are you, me, that older black lady near the front, and the hipster guy in skinny jeans with the Chinese character for “neck” tattooed on his neck. There are six completely empty sets of seats just within my range of sight. I know there are even more behind us. There is a set right across the aisle from us.
If you sat in those seats, you would have two whole seats to yourself! As would I. Wouldn’t that be nice? Room to breathe, room to stretch, room to set down that inexplicably massive briefcase of yours.
I would move there myself, but you see, I have the inside seat. I’m against the window. You have the aisle seat. It would be easier for you to move. If I am the one who makes the move, I have to somehow squeeze past you and that obscenely over-sized mutant messenger bagcase of yours. That would be uncomfortable for both of us. It would be far easier for you to do it.
You’re still not moving. At first I thought it might be because you were so wrapped up in today’s RedEye. That guy with the bag over his head sure is funny. Pray tell, what cutting witticisms about the White Sox pitching roster has he dispensed today? But no, you’ve stopped reading. You put the RedEye in one of the dozens of big, bulging pockets of that absurd, absurd bag. You’re just staring ahead now. Staring ahead at row after row of empty blue seats. Seats you could be filling with your fat ass as we speak.
Is it that you feel some sort of loyalty to me? Some connection after our fifteen block trip, like Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock at the end of Speed, based not on common traits but a shared, harrowing experience? But we just passed Leavitt. Our adventure is almost at an end. It’s time we parted ways. Why not part ways now, before it gets too emotional?
Why aren’t you moving? Are you afraid of hurting my feelings? Do you worry that if you move away I’ll quietly, desperately wonder what’s wrong with me? That maybe I smell? Maybe I’m ugly? I appreciate that, I really do. But you needn’t worry about me. I’m a big boy. You won’t hurt my feelings. Go. Be free. Spread your wings and fly.
Okay, seriously, what the hell is wrong with you? We just crossed Western. My stop is soon. I want to spend at least one city block on this damned bus having the ability to move my elbows, instead of having them locked against my body by a dirty bus window and that hideous abomination in the face of God you call a briefcase.
Hell, this is my stop. All right, jackass, I’m getting off now. Yes, you’re going to have to move. Oh, NOW you’re moving to an empty row of seats. Now. When I’m getting off the damn bus. NOW? Not fifteen minutes ago at Ashland? Now. NOW?
I hate you so much.