Thursday, December 8, 2005
Alfred Lord Tennyson invites us to consider lost things thusly: The yule-clog sparkled keen with frost/ No wing of wind the region swept/ But over all things brooding slept/ the quiet sense of something lost.
If you leave your hat behind on the bus, does it cease to be? Without the firm grip of your possession to confirm it, does the miscellanium of the everyday simply dissipate into theory? Like that proverbial tree in the forest, does our consciousness define the hat?
Hmmmm…with steepled fingers I present to you these questionably relevant 19th century quotations and pseudo-philosophical questions in order to fabricate an aching existentialist poignancy for this story.
~ ~ ~
With a sinister hiss of compressed air, the bus doors open on our tale with a half-bent old woman hobbling aboard the 4:23pm No. 17 bound for Marina. Laden with plastic bags filled to bursting with old issues of National Geographic and Cat Fancy, she is grateful to escape the cold December air of the Edgewater Transit Exchange bus shelter.
Finding a seat directly behind the driver on the empty bus, she busies herself organizing the plastic bags of glossy, dog-eared treasures. But it is hot in the bus and before long our heroine’s nut grows a wee bit warm beneath the floppy tartan hat. She doffs the quilted cap and absentmindedly rests it on the seat beside her. The bus roars through the night and our bareheaded bus-rider reads a particularly engaging editorial on decreasing cat dander exposure, mindless of the developing crisis.
And that’s when it happens. Realizing the driver has passed her stop she emerges from her dander-induced reverie with a shout of alarm. Sufficiently startled, the driver performs an emergency stop 30 yards past the bus shelter. Gathering her bags and mumbling apologetically, she scuttles off.
Alas, it is only when the doors wheeze shut behind her, the engine revs and the busses’ taillights are disappearing into the fog that she feels the cold nip of night air at her wispy-haired skull. It is a moment of gnawing terror and profound loss. The old woman stands destitute in the cloud of dissipating exhaust and feels more familiar with the inevitability of death than at any other time in her 86 years.
~ ~ ~
But what of the hat? Contrary to what some abstract thinkers and honeycomb-brained drug scarfers would have you believe, it continues to exist right there on the bus seat long after its owner is left contemplating death on the bone-colored Marina sidewalk.
And how do we know this you may ask? Thanks to a nifty bit of investigative reporting (Hello, Pulitzer committee!), I discovered that items lost on the bus are…wait for it…collected by the driver and deposited in a closet-sized room located in the Monterey-Salinas Transit’s Ryan Ranch headquarters. Boom. I will pause here while you “deal” with this ontology-shattering information.
Got your head around that? Well, hang on buster, it gets better. According to Danny Avina, MST’s customer service supervisor, these lost items are then logged (by hand), into a binder.
“We get a wide variety of things like books, backpacks, cellphones, sometimes there’s grocery bags with items purchased from the store,” Avina says, all the while savoring the look of shock and disbelief in my eyes.
“We hold everything for 30 days, after 30 days we list what we plan on donating and what we plan on disposing,” Avina continues, sensing he has me on the ropes.
With an unflinching calm which belies his startling words, Avina goes on to describe how MST disposes of things like used cosmetics and donates everything else to St. Vincent de Paul, Goodwill and the Salvation Army.
“We do this on a monthly basis,” Avina says coolly.
On a monthly freaking basis, I think, scribbling madly in my notebook—you can’t make stuff like this up. I silently thank the Gods of journalism for blessing me with this scoop.
“In November, let’s see,” Avina says, opening the log. “It looks like we collected jackets, sweaters, glasses, gloves, scarves, wallets, compact discs, lighters, hats, keys, cosmetics, earrings, and even some cash.”
And now for my coup de grace. What, I ask impishly, is the weirdest thing you’ve ever found on a bus?
Avina makes me squirm while pretending to think. It’s almost too much to bear. This guy’s a pro and I’m beginning to think I may be out of my league when he finally answers.
“Shoes, I guess,” he says with a nonchalant shrug. “Shoes are kind of weird, aren’t they?”
Kind of weird? Shaking my head and laying an admiring smile on him, I think, Brother, you just blew my freaking mind.
In light of this revelation, I am reminded of a quote by famed Swiss psychologist Carl Jung which suggests some big picture framework for our tale without actually delivering it: “The shoe that fits one person pinches another; there is no recipe for living that suits all cases.”
And what of that old half-bent woman left hatless and
afraid on the streets of Marina? Why, right this moment she’s
wandering about terrified and alone inside every one of us,
isn’t she? ~•~