Sunday, August 28, 2011

Men's Underwear: A Tale of Public Transportation

The bus was full for so late on a Tuesday, Cassie thought as she slowly made her way to the open seats at the back. Glancing at the seats to the left and the right, she made an odd discovery.

A pair of old gray men's briefs was resting on one of the spots.

Shoes and socks, she'd heard of. Hats and sunglasses, she understood. But...underwear? That was both unusual and, well, disgusting. Settling on the seat opposite, Cassie giggled silently at the thought of where the underwear might have come from, how it might have wound up on a bus seat, very much without an owner. Teenagers having a muffled assignation on a quiet part of the ride, perhaps. Scandalous.

Or maybe-- Cassie had heard about people in New York City who took off all their clothes on the subway, as a way of getting comfortable and beating the heat. It had been another boiler of a July day-- someone could be trying to reenact that classic Seinfeld episode. The image was uncomfortable and hilarious as she imagined sitting across from a naked guy on the bus, calmly reading the paper as those around him squirmed.

The bus lurched to a stop, and saved her from descending into uncontrollable laughter at the thoughts in her mind. The front door opened and a petite Hispanic woman got on and walked to the back, carrying a large bag and looking exhausted. Setting the bag on her lap, the woman leaned her head against the bus window and closed her eyes. She smelled vaguely of Lysol-- possibly a cleaning lady.

As the bus swerved up the busy rush hour streets, its frequent ungraceful stops and starts caused the woman's bag to tip over onto the floor of the bus. Some of the contents toppled out-- a t-shirt, a few different colors of socks, a fancy bra.

As the woman quietly regathered the contents of her bag, Cassie watched from the back of the bus and stopped giggling. Women like that one rode the bus every day. Normally Cassie didn't give them a second thought, but as she watched the woman settle back into her seat, she began to spin a story in her head. Though she had no way of knowing for sure, it appeared likely that the workday was far from over for that hard-working woman. The work she took home was surely the laundry of the family she worked for-- perhaps belonging to the children she had chased around all day, or the mother and father whose breakfast dishes she had watched. Or, alternatively, it may have belonged to her own family-- that she had to take her family's laundry to her job in order to get it done spoke volumes about the hours she worked.

The bus lurched to a stop again. The wealthy-looking passengers at the front shifted uncomfortably as a man dressed in ragged clothes and an army cap stepped on, clutching a couple of trash bags as he paid his fare in coins. The other passengers continued to display signs of disgust as he walked by-- some subtly holding their hands to cover their noses, some outright moving over so that the man wouldn't sit down next to them. Pretending not to notice his rejection by fellow passengers, the man slunk to the back of the bus, assaulting the senses of all that he passed.

As the man settled into the seat at the very back corner of the bus, he held his bags tightly in his arms, resting them on his lap. A dirty white t-shirt poked out of the top of one bag as he did so.

As Cassie sat at the back of the bus, she found these fellow passengers raising troubling ideas. Accidentally or not, the people most often seated at the back of the bus seemed to be minorities and poor people-- a fact that shouldn't be the case, but nonetheless was there. That article of clothing could easily have belonged to someone like the housekeeper or the homeless man. It needn't come from something as ridiculous as a careless tryst or a public transportation strip-down. It could belong to someone for whom that clothing was a livelihood, or even all that they owned...

These thoughts would have to wait-- she had a dinner party to get to. *Ding!* “STOP REQUESTED.”

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