ON THE CHINATOWN BUS TO BOSTON
Here is a diary fragment that may well become a column. I figured I’d put it up to make a more bloggie blog.
I start writing this on the Fung Wa bus between Chinatown NY and Chinatown Boston. There is an empty seat in front of me and one behind me, but a young woman – out of breathe—has decided that the seat next to me is worth taking—at least she isn’t fat. The guy ahead of me has the system figured out. Sit in the aisle seat as people enter. They’ll be unwilling to climb over you. Then, if someone insists on sitting next to you, you shift to the window seat.
Ahead of me, and a few seats behind me, cell phones go off like carbombs in Iraq. Makes me wonder about the idea of space. Sara often complains that I don’t respect personal space. I reach over people, climb over seated folks legs, bump and touch. Yet she’s constantly on the cellphone, no matter who’s around or being left out of the one-sided conversation. Isn’t that personal space? Aural space? Psychic space?
Why do people download ringtones? It’s like riding with the car stereo turned up and the windows down. It’s a proclamation. LISTEN TO THIS! you tell the world, while the world is only annoyed.
My cellphone vibrates—and not often. I like it like that.
My thoughts have been taken over again by Julien, a former friend who got angry at me for writing a column where I called him too L.A. Even though I sent him email to apologize, wrote a whole column to apologize, and sent him my favorite truck-driving record, he refused to accept any of that. THAT pissed me off.
Over time the piss offedness reduced—but I was never happy. When my book about Mongolia came out, I sent copies to everyone who helped me with it. Julien had made some useful suggestions so I sent him a copy. I enclosed the same any-help-you-could-give-me-promoting-the-book-would-be-appreciated letter I enclosed with everyone else. I was reluctant to send it, but if it helped patch things up, okay. If not, well it was the right thing to do. He did help me with the book.
So what happens? I hear that he threw the book away because I didn’t write a personal letter thanking him for his help. I don’t know. This made me so furious that I recently turned down an invitation to a friend’s wedding because he’ll be there. I refused to see a move that I’m in because it was made by a friend of Julien’s. I’m losing it.
It’s weird too, because I hear he doesn’t care—that it’s affecting me more than it’s affecting him. 20 years of friendship and he doesn’t care. Now I’m getting pissed off again.
This trip is for a 20th wedding anniversary party. Michael Gilbreath, who I knew at Beloit and was even my roommate in Chicago for a time, He met his wife in AA—but there will be booze at the party. 36 people, 22 drinkers. That’s a good ratio if you ask me. I’ll be early—what else is new—I arrived at the bus station in time to catch an earlier bus. The rain seems to have let up, but I won’t be so free to get around. Ah well, I can write, if I find a place to plug in.
I wanted to transcribe the conversations (she’s scared of it… cause… you know) that take place on the cellphones, But I can only hear the buzz of the voice, and not the words. I had a plan when the guy behind me was talking. Just put the seat back—in his lap—and then pull it forward when he gets off the phone. This I did… and found out it was the guy TWO seats back who was talking. The poor squished guy behind me was innocent. G-d, sometimes I can be such an asshole.
Several people on this bus are now talking. No one on this bus is talking to anyone else on the bus… whoops there’s one conversation, in Dutch. Lately I’ve been thinking a lo about isolation. I’ve been blaming it on technology, the internet, the cellphone, all these ways that people can interact without actually having another person present. But now I’m wondering a bit. At the last drink club, I saw gangs of college-age girls, and other groups of college-age guys. They were bar-hopping or otherwise on the town. They were talking to each other, gabbing with the bouncer, together. Yeah, they took breaks to come outside and gab some more on their cellphones. No more girls than boys. So maybe I’m wrong… nah, they came out of a bar that cranks the volume so high it’s impossible to talk. They did not come out to talk with each other. They came out to talk on a machine.
The Dadaists refused to talk on the telephone, though they would communicate by mail. Somehow they felt the phone more dehumanizing. I feel it all dehumanizing. I know, here I am typing on a bus, not talking to the person next to me, but I too am dehumanized. Besides, she’s sleeping.
Since the beginning of this year I’ve been in Boston, Providence, Baltimore, Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Portland, Seattle, Bellingham and Vancouver. In all of these cities I found a hunger for… grouping? I don’t know what else to call it. But whether it was punks, Jews, writers, readers, Chihuahua owners…