By Michael Lidel
Flying. That's what riding the bus felt like. Sailing over the cars and the people below the rise of the bus windows gave me power. I rode the clouds in my mind toward the sun, unafraid that my wings might melt. The possibilities were endless, the horizons of hope vivid in the theater of my mind. My mother's reaction gave me the sense that things just might be all right, and yet, I couldn't shake the feeling that trouble was imminent. I couldn't put my finger on it, so I figured I'd take full advantage of my momentary reprieve from the drama at home and having to live up to my mother's expectation that I be excellent in at least one thing as long as it was speaking, reading, and writing what she called "proper English". With my fifty-cent all day bus pass in hand, and the few dollars I'd pilfered from my mother's purse, I was off to explore the world, and the bus was my spaceship.
l sat in back because the kids in my neighborhood said that was where all the fun happened. On this particular Tuesday, nothing much was afoot. There was the normal assortment of oddballs - the crazy guy wearing a WWII pilot hat calling to his invisible friend to come back, the old lady with one knee-high stocking rolled loosely around her ankle, and me. The intrepid space hero looking for his next adventure.
Being on my own again was fun. I was the middle child in an extremely large family, and time alone came at a premium. l don't mean the kind of alone that came from being the runt of the litter, or the kind derived from being left out of something because somehow you got lost in the shuffle of bodies that filled the household. I mean the kind of alone that allowed you to be yourself, free and comfortable. I used this time to catch my breath, and to see what I could see.
More times than not, my curiosity led to an ass whipping. My mother was a general at corporal punishment. I had no filter or governor when it came to, as my mother put it, putting my nose where it didn't belong, or as I choose to call it, my investigative proclivities. I was as likely to conduct an experiment in the back yard that might or might not get me killed as I was to explore trash I was supposed to empty, looking for a bit of hidden treasure. Such activities invariably lead to one of my mother's commands to "Go out there, and get me a switch! And it better not be one of those little ones, either!"
There were so many things to see in the world. People on the bus, for example. I imagined everybody had thoughts orbiting around their heads like little word bubbles in the funny pages. You could tell by the tilt of their heads or hunch of their shoulders. From my vantage point, I imagined their sadness or excitement or their anger. Even the advertisements overhead showed me things. One mentioned that “a few good men" were needed in something called the Marine Corps. Another was concerned with the planning of parenthood, and still another advertised that a cigarette should taste good. It was all so interesting to me.
I was most interested in spending a little time at the Seattle Center. I wanted to see the Space Needle, my favorite structure in the city. It reminded me of an alien craft settling onto terra firma for the first time. I wasn't allowed to board the ship, mainly because I was a runt unaccompanied by a parent, but also because I never had enough money to justify the trip. The powers that be frowned on little black boys riding the structure up and down for the mere fun of it.
The "7 Rainier" took me from the Rainier Vista projects to its 3rd Avenue stop downtown where I'd transfer to the "Queen Anne" which would drop me off at the gate of the Center. I spent a lot of this time staring out of one window or another, watching the people and buildings rushing by like so many stars lost behind the Starship Enterprise as it blasted up to warp factor five. I'd sometimes catch a glimpse of a friend, venturing a wave and a smile before leaving him behind as I headed out into the universe.
The landscape and architecture always caught my attention; the buildings especially. Like kaleidoscopic mountains changing height, shape and color with every passing second. The sensation was breathtaking and disconcerting; the rise and fall sometimes created a seasick feeling that was exhilarating. I could tell by the change in architecture as we moved north that the bus was getting closer to the Seattle Center. Skyscrapers and departments stores turned into industrial sprawl aspiring toward a gentrified presence. The streets, though busy, were less crowded, giving the illusion they'd be rolled up when the clock struck a certain hour. Each time I passed this section of the city I felt a little less alive because it had nothingness written all over it.
Thankfully, the triple domes of the Science Fair raised their majestic faces, greeting my entrance into the land of possibilities. All the negatives chasing humanity in Seattle were left outside the gates of this magic place.
The air was filled with the scents of cotton candy, popcorn, hotdogs, and caramel cross matched with the perfumes of summer, all conspiring to kidnap the senses for a moment's fun under the sun. I entered and moved through the crowd, living its pleasures vicariously, knowing I could only afford a small portion of it myself. I bumped the hips of mothers shepherding children toward concession stands, brushed past boyfriends anxious to impress their girlfriends at one of the many arcade games in hopes of winning a prize they could exchange for a kiss later.
I stopped at a hotdog vendor's stand, taking in the scent of mustard, meat and ketchup. The vendor, a fat, sweaty-looking character with a stain-spattered apron, looked down at me across the counter top with an eyebrow raised quizzically.
“Ya want l should give ya the 'two for fifty cent' special?" he asked.
"Sure!" I exclaimed.
The thought of a deal that would let me keep money in my pocket made me smile, but my earlier sense of impending doom returned, looming forward. I thought about it for a second or two, and then accepted his offering after placing the two quarters in his sweaty palm.
"Enjoy" he said, turning toward his next customer.
I dispatched the hotdogs quickly, as was the habit I'd learned trying to survive around my brothers and sisters, not caring in the least that ketchup and mustard created a collage of stains my messiness had masterminded. Hotdogs with all the trimmings were a treat for me given that condiments were a luxury back then. The meat was a bit gamy, but l ignored it as I licked mustard off my fingers, and then proceeded to wipe my face with the sleeve of my shirt.
With my stomach partially satisfied, I went in search of an affordable diversion. I liked the bumper cars and shooting the air rifles, but stayed away from the scary rides like the Wild Mouse, a roller coaster ride that jerked and dipped every which way. I settled on the Moon Walk, a bouncy house ride constructed out of a rubber and nylon tubing filled with air creating a trampoline-like platform.
A long line of kids waited with their parents, sometimes hanging out in groups of two or three. I walked between them, approaching the booth to buy my ticket. I tasted hotdog residue at the back of my throat. A bit of a rumble created strange warmth in my belly; a sensation quickly forgotten in my expanding enthusiasm.
Finally, I was allowed to enter. The interior of the ride was spacious, exhilarating, and frightening. Kids jostled each other as they bounced helter skelter over the expanse of the cloud-like ride. I crawled in and tried to stand on my feet, but was defeated by my lack of balance. I tried again and stood wobbly legged, lifting one and then the other until I gained my equilibrium. The noise level – screams, laughter, squeaky rubber, increased my excitement, sending energy surging through my limbs. I bounced on my heels, six or seven inches high and then a foot or two. The thrill of momentary flight was electric, so I tried to bounce higher and higher. No one minded landing on their butts because of the soft material catching their landings. I enjoyed myself immensely until my belly began to bubble, causing me to clench the muscles against the pressure building up. A familiar sense of foreboding flashed across my mind. The sensation expanded inside me, roiling like the tumult caused by a pot of boiling water. I surreptitiously released a small cloud of methane into the air of the bouncy house, hoping no one would notice I was the culprit. Releasing gas didn't affect the bubbling in my guts. In fact, it made things worse. I panicked because the muscles of my nether region refused to contract. Doom was imminent.
I tried to move myself toward the exit, but I was tossed to and fro by the momentum of the other kids jostling about. l was bounced first in one direction and then in the other in my haste to depart. My haste was for naught. In the midst of all those kids, my bowels evacuated. What was inside flowed outside. There was no fanfare, no trumpets, and no "timber!" It was simply there, on the insides of my legs, sliding into my socks - last night's dinner, this morning's breakfast propelled by those damnable special hotdogs.
I hurriedly left the ride, and the laughter of the children behind, trailing a most foul odor. Surrounded by strangers, I left with the thought that I had to make it all the way across town in order to get home. The entire crowd gave me a wide berth. I slunk toward the Center's exits, my crab-like gait attracting more unwanted attention. A group of older kids noticed the smell surrounding me, calling out insults l gave little attention to in my rush to get past them. My sole focus was to get home. I was mortified. l tried to shrink into myself but I couldn't hide from the embarrassment, and the eyes following my every step. Of course more people looked around, wondering where the unpleasant aroma was coming from.
The "Queen Anne" arrived on its return trip downtown and began boarding people. Most of the people were constituents of that part of the city – white, well dressed, middle class people. I slipped in at the rear of the line, quickly showed my pass to the bus driver, and then made my way to the back of the bus. No sooner had we gotten under way than complaints started about the smell.
"Wow! What is that smell?!"
I looked up toward the driver wondering what his reaction would be. Of course, I hadn't been identified yet, but it was just a matter of time.
"Does somebody's baby need to be changed?"
The smell was so aggressive that a number of the passengers began to gag.
“That just nasty!"
I sat quietly, looking around with the rest of the passengers, pretending innocence.
Before long, people moved, one or two at a time, toward the front of the bus, opening windows as they went. I knew I couldn't move because the smell would follow me, so I sat silently, embarrassed. When we were three or four blocks from our destination, the bus driver pulled over, shifted into neutral, and sat there for a moment. My thoughts raced, knowing he'd soon be headed in my direction. He was a large man who filled the seat he was sitting in. Would he be sympathetic and concerned, or would he be unprofessional and disgusted, ready to belittle me when he discovered I was the culprit. My throat tightened, and I could feel water beginning to cloud my vision as tears burned. The driver got up and walked toward my solitary perch.
"Listen kid." he said. "You gotta get offa the bus. I can't have that stink botherin' the other people."
Grabbing my elbow, he escorted me, like a condemned serial killer on his last day, to the front of the bus, and then unceremoniously booted me off. As soon as my feet landed on the sidewalk, I heard applause erupt inside the bus.
Poop was smashed across my backside from having sat in it for so long, and I was still only halfway into my journey home. It was easier to navigate the downtown streets without attracting too much attention because of the scarcity of pedestrians as I crab-walked across 3rd Avenue. I walked across the street, waited for the bus driver to finish his cigarette, and then repeated the same trip on the "7 Rainier" with the same results as on the "Queen Anne". This time, however, most of the people were from my neighborhood – Black, Asian, Hispanic, and Native American people. Their comments, especially those of my contemporaries, were aimed at me instead of around me.
"Boy, ain't Eloise taught you no better than that?" inquired a lady who apparently knew our family.
"Dooky pants! Dooky butt!" yelled a little Korean boy sitting between parents who didn't bother to admonish him.
"Lord, hamerey! That boy's guts is rotten!" exclaimed an old lady grasping her shopping bags.
No one on this bus demanded the bus driver kick me off the bus. I was their entertainment, free entertainment, never mind the smell. Like a Triple Crown contender, they rode me for all I was worth until at last, I decided I was close enough to walk the rest of the way home.
I left the bus to the sound of, "Oooo. Lord! Thank God", "Don't go! Sit back down. You stinky little rodent!", "Let that boy go somewhere so he can change his diapers!" Laughter followed me and I dared not look back. When the bus passed by, like spectators passing a gruesome accident, the passengers’ faces stared, glared, and laughed out the windows at me. Sending me on my way under a cloud of ridicule.
I walked the last few blocks up the hill to my house, passing a few of my friends who immediately turned their noses up when the fragrance of my messiness hit them.
"Damn, runt, what happened to you?"
"He shit his pants! Can't you smell it?"
I moved passed with my head lowered, veering around to the side of the house where I stripped naked on a patch of grass. I looked to make sure no one was watching out of the windows, and then turned the water hose on myself. Using the cold torrent of water, shivering like a puppy pooping a peach pit until I was relatively free of the grime. Then, I bent to the task of digging a hole near some bushes that guarded the boundary of our house and the one next door. I was not about to take those filthy clothes into the house, risking annihilation from my mother for defiling her air with my stench. Instead, l chose to bury them. After they were buried under freshly layered dirt, I thought l could still smell them.
I entered the house through a side window, walked over to a pile of clothes waiting to go into the washing machine, and picked a shirt and a pair of pants to put on. The door opened to expose a beam of light back dropping my mother's presence.
"Boy, what are you doing in this musty old room?" she asked, coming into the room to stand next to me.
"Nothing" l said.
"Nothing my ass." she said. "You're in here up to something."
When she noticed what I was wearing, she said. "Those are not the clothes I sent you out of this house with. Where are they and what happened to them?"
The ghost of a scent caught her attention, causing her to scrunch her nose in distaste.
"What did you do, boy, shit on yourself?"
"Yes. ma'am." l said after some deliberation.
"Well,” she said. "Shit happens."
She hesitated, her brow furrowing as if a thought had just occurred to her.
"Oh, by the way." she said. "We need to talk."
She turned and left me alone.
|Michael Lidel 630414 (pictured with his beautiful wife)|
P.O. Box 777
Monroe, WA 98272-0777