September 25th, 2013
As a man with a cane, I’m usually accorded considerations outweighing my actual discomfort. The old and frail frequently offer their seats on the bus to me. It’s not unusual for, say, an asian man — a true ancient in this morning’s case — to gesture at length, please take my seat.
Such a kind thing, and so tricky to decline.
But no courteous declining can go unpunished. Because as soon as the old man understood my meaning and sat back down, the bus driver accelerated. It was like an expert shot in pool: man with cane off tall, spiky-haired boy into bus stairwell.
I wasn’t hurt. I was pissed. I was Charles Bronson. Not in action, but you could read it in the close-up — you may have won this one, bus-driver, but I’m coming to get you.
The problem is, getting back at bus-drivers is a long, bureaucratic procedure requiring paperwork, patience, and proof — certainly in this case — of evil intent. So what I settled for was a negative version of “Pay it Forward”, although I didn’t realize it until my first impulsive misdeed of the day.
At Fillmore and Sacramento a German man and woman — tourists — were being photographed by a friend. I positioned myself twenty feet behind them and just as he snapped the shot, I thrust my arm into the frame, cane held like a dueling pistol. I’m pretty sure the photographer noticed me in the viewfinder, because he immediately directed the couple to stay put, then repositioned himself at an angle so I couldn’t re-enter the frame, and reshot the picture.
I imagine this man in his Hamburg apartment, transferring photos into his iMac two weeks from now, either deleting the shot or forwarding it to his friends. This is what Americans think is funny.
Now, this episode took place before my campaign to be a pain-in-the-ass had risen to deliberate consciousness. I wasn’t sure of my motivation at all because I’d long wondered what it would be like to be the one person in San Francisco to appear in more tourist photographs than any other. Just to wander in-frame whenever and wherever a tourist’s camera was pointed. I’m pretty certain the advances in snooping technology will allow some government/corporate entity to add up such things and award or punish the winner, depending on the philosophy du jour.
But I’m no dummy. I took only a minute to realize I was paying-it-forward for the bus driver. And it’s not as though I was ashamed of myself. I had a small feeling of accomplishment. Was I the kind of man who’d kill innocent Iraqis in retaliation for a bombing? I doubted it. But becoming a petty annoyance? I wanted to see where it would lead.
Back on another packed bus. Descending Clay to Stockton. I’m on my feet, shuffling to the door. I grip the overhead rail with my right hand, the cane with my left. A man’s large, white low-cut tennis shoe sticks out into the aisle. I’m going to have to step over or around it. Just the kind of thing that must be avenged.
He has tied it sloppily. A large loop extends onto the floor, like a trap for a small animal. I place my cane on the string and slide it forward until the lace unmoors from its incompetent knot and its aiglet lies eighteen inches distant, almost to the steps — where it will be trod on by others and possibly frayed irredeemably.
Boy, is he in for some heartbreak.
And I am not finished with my rude activities. It is only mid-afternoon. These things must happen in threes. I don’t know what I will come up with.
But I suspect it will involve my cane.
(Reprinted fro September 27th, 2007)