Sunday, 8 July 2007

Two Bimbos and a Noisy Drunk

It was a hot day towards the end of September, and I’d had a long, hard day at work. I was on the train home, and the train was packed with students and commuters. There were so many people standing up that they were virtually kneeling into the laps of those of us lucky enough to have seats, pushed forward by the great heaving sway of humanity all around them.

For most of the way home, I usually managed to read or do work, but on this particular occasion I had finished my book and had no work to do. So I indulged in another favorite activity: I studied my fellow passengers, as discreetly and unobtrusively as possible.

Two young women in particular attracted my interest. They were dressed in clothes that I found vulgar in the extreme: ridiculously short mini skirts, high-heeled platform shoes I was glad not to have on my own feet, and flashy, low-cut blouses of brightly-colored synthetic material. Their jet-black hair was bleached blonde, and their make-up was, to say the very least, not tastefully done. One girl had plucked her eyebrows to thin arches and painted her eyelids a glossy robin’s egg blue, while the other was wearing white lipstick and false eyelashes. I sat with my already- finished book, pretending to read it, but really studying them furtively. Two healthy-looking, potentially gorgeous young women who’d turned themselves into cheap bimbos. Jesus, but youth was wasted on the young!

All of a sudden, a man standing about fifteen feet away from me began to bellow at the top of his lungs, obviously either drunk or insane – most likely both. His Japanese sounded northern, and very rough, and he was slurring his speech, so I could barely understand one word in ten. There was suddenly a ripple in the crowd of standing commuters: people were trying to distance themselves from the drunk, obviously giving him a wide berth. More people than usual got off at the next stop; some of them probably changing cars to get away from the shouting man.

He was a powerful-looking fellow; his voice was hoarse and very deep and he obviously bore someone a great grievance. In the middle of his long tirade, he would frequently interrupt himself. You stupid bastard! he cried out over and over. You’ve messed everything up! You’re no good! Nothing but trouble!

The luridly-dressed girls, who had been absorbed in conversation, found like all the other commuters that they had to raise their voices to make themselves heard over the man’s thundering invective. Suddenly one of the girls stood up. You ought to shut up – you’re nothing but trouble yourself!! she announced in a loud, clear voice.

The entire car quietened down – even the shouting man grew quieter. I am certain that I was not the only one who was amazed at the girl’s bravery. Inwardly cringing, we all waited for a huge explosion. The man spoke up again, and he wasn’t shouting this time. I was only – he began defensively, but the girl interrupted. You’re very loud! she said sternly. We were all minding our own business, and you started yelling and giving us all a headache! We’ve had enough of it! Again, the whole compartment held its collective breath, waiting for the boom to fall.

To my astonishment, the man got quiet. Instead of bellowing, he now calmly attempted to explain himself. He was sorry if he caused his fellow passengers undue distress – (he repeated this several times) – but he had his reasons. He carried on for another three minutes, his volume now down to an acceptable level, describing the vagaries of his job, an unfair boss, and a less-than-ideal family situation. Then to everyone’s great relief, he abruptly got off the train, barely managing to keep his balance as he tottered and swayed onto the platform. He never looked back.

The girl who had chastised him shook her head and commented laconically to her friend. God, I hate drunks. Just like my Dad. I was openly staring at her by this point. She and her friend no longer looked like foolish tarts to me – they looked like strong, brave, spirited young women, and I was filled with respect and admiration.

For the next twenty minutes, I sat there casting furtive looks at the girl who had told off the drunk. I composed and mentally rehearsed a brief speech that I would make before I got off the train to tell the girl how impressed I was with her: Good for you for telling off that man! I am amazed at your incredible bravery! I went over my little speech in my mind again and again, correcting my own words, polishing my Japanese and getting the tone and the register just right – admiring, but not fawning, polite, but not obsequiously so.

But the girls got up and left two stops before mine and I never got up the courage to say it.

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11 comments:

Jewell Ertman said...

I am always amazed when women, and men for that matter, are not what they seem.

You see someone at the coffee shop decked in dark extravagant clothing, dreads, piercings, a few tattoos. Then one day, you find out this gent is a school teacher or a youth leader of some kind.

I love it! I strive to be that person.

Kim Ayres said...

There are 2 phrases that often spring to mind. One is "Everyone appears normal until you get to know them" and the other is "Everyone seems weird until you get to know them"

Strange how both can be so true.

Kanani said...

Well, you said it now!
I like these little vignettes. You should put them all down in a book, then send it off to someone like Thomas Farber at El Leon Literary Arts.

He reads esoteric stuff like this.
Anyway,
you're the only person who was brave enough to enter the IKEA palindrome contest. That makes you the winner!

email me your snail mail and I'll send you one of Chester's books on garlic.
easywriter101@gmail.com

Mary Witzl said...

Jewell -- My first impressions of people are so seldom accurate that you would think I would just give up judging by appearances. And yet, I find myself still doing this. Dumb, eh?

Kim -- 'Normal' is an interesting idea, isn't it? Throughout my youth I always strived to be normal but consistently fell very short of the mark. Now I wear my weirdness with pride and yet I sometimes recoil at the weirdness of others. Go figure.

Kanani -- I just wish I'd told those girls how much I admired their bravery! They went from looking like the world's most vapid bimbos to highly admirable young women in about thirty seconds flat, and I wish they'd known how high they climbed in my estimation.

I have heard of El Leon Literary Arts, but I am beginning to think that my memoir will simply be my legacy to my children. Oh well, I could leave them worse things I suppose...

Katie Alender said...

Really great story, Mary. There must be tons of young women like that, who put their bodies out for the world and somehow keep their minds for themselves. I just wish we could put some clothes on them!

Paul said...

Yes, but what happened to the drunk . . . ?

Mary Witzl said...

Katie -- I feel so old every time I see some skimpily clad young woman and have the urge to throw a burqua over her. With these two particular girls, I could not help but think that if I looked as good as they did, I'd look better. Catch me bleaching jet black hair or tweezing my eyebrows into arches 1-mm thick...

Paul -- Now that I'm not on the same train with him, I can feel compassion for that drunk. But at the time he was seriously intimidating. During my years as a commuter I witnessed some awful things on the trains, a few of which I'm not even sure I ought to write about in this blog. Most of them involved men who were too drunk to know what they were doing.

I do wonder what happened to him...

Carole said...

I love your title. You have the ability to see into other people. Which makes me wonder, how long have you been a watcher? Did you start out as a little tyke watching everything, learning by watching, and is this a talent you have learned. Every single time I read your posts, I tell myself to start being more aware of what is going on around me.

Mary Witzl said...

Carole -- For various complicated reasons, I grew up in a family where conversation was often difficult. So you are right -- from an early age, I learned how to watch. People watching and non-pernicious eavesdropping are just about my favorite activities. I'm not a gossip and I don't delight in finding out others' secrets and spreading them around; I just love watching people and listening to them interact.

Thank you for your feedback and encouragement -- they mean a lot to me.

Carolie said...

I loved this story...thank you for sharing it! It's a perfect pearl of a story. I'm sending my mother a link.

Mary Witzl said...

Thank you, Carolie. It is wonderful to have the chance to spout off and actually get praised for sharing my stories.