Standing at the intersection of two of the city’s most iconic streets, they were waiting for a bus that seemed unlikely to ever come. The 5:26pm 6 Line had never materialized, so now the even antsier wait was for the 5:36. Metro transit to the impatient feels like succumbing to the dentist poking around at your gums for an extra recreational ten minutes simply because you, as the willing victim, are already disarmed.
It might have been hot, but had definitely been humid; the latter being an imposition one can only appreciate the full literal and physical weight of once they have personally experienced it. It is heavy in every sense of the word. California is hot every damn day, but it won’t make you carry that heat around on your shoulders.
“Most people you know tell you that you are beautiful, don’t they?” said the squat and strange lady standing next to her, holding a seemingly unmanageable number of clearly repurposed shopping bags. Other oddities aside, there were the sacks, weirdly sinister in that they contained a mundane type of mystery. Gym clothes? A six-pack? Someone else’s discarded trash collected along her walk? And yet regardless of her evasive and suspicious shopping bags, this interaction was unusual in most part because not many notoriously passive Minnesotans start conversations that way.
“No, actually,” her target answered.
Most people in Minnesota, it seemed, had a habit of addressing people in public only if they wanted something: sometimes a favor or sometimes a fuck, but nothing in between unless to fill the empty, uncomfortable silence that comes with typical Midwestern interaction. If a person’s cart is in your way in the produce aisle, you wait quietly for them to move on. If your light rail seatmate is eating a thing the smell of which makes you nauseous, you suffer through. But if you find yourself in line at the DMV and it’s bleak and boring and you have to share oxygen with another human while mutually oppressed by these circumstances until number A284 is called, by god you’re going to go twenty rounds talking about the color of the paint on the walls.
She took a drag of her cigarette, ensuring she could continue to mind her own business by filling her mouth with Nicotine and tar and whatever else to avoid filling it with more words for the bag lady.
“I think you’re hideous,” the lady finally said.
“Oh. I’m… sorry?”
Always apologize for any other person’s unjustified, unwarranted criticism, says the Minnesota Nice handbook. However, there is no requirement to mean that apology with sincerity; the point is to politely say the words and then continue to be silently offended. Suffer alone. We all are; it’s fine.
And yet nobody wants to be called ugly, even by an ugly person.
What Crazy Bags didn’t know was that she had just levied a personal assessment—to use the most euphemistic description—against a person whose father made a habit of telling her the same thing, telling her the same thing when she was young, telling her the same thing when she was weak as if she wasn’t weak now, telling her the same thing when that word had religious context, telling her the same thing when there was quite a bit more at stake.
“Cigarettes are going to kill you. You are going to die sooner than later,” said Bags. “So gross.”
And then the small huddled group saw the 6 fortuitously rambling towards them.
Moments before during Cigarette Apocalypse they had watched two attractive, well-manicured Asian men appear from out of nowhere and sprint diagonally across the intersection. Outfitted in alternating dress clothes—one in khakis and a black shirt, tucked in, one in black pants and a tan shirt, tucked in—they were yelling to hold the bus. They were now agitatedly jumping up and down, grateful not to have missed it but mad about having to wait even a few seconds. The true American crisis.
The irony was that the smoking one had in fact, with all sincerity, thought about dying that morning, while lying in bed writhing around like a tiny feverish worm, stomach dropping because she knew she hadn’t looked at her mail in what she had approximated was about seven weeks and she hadn’t paid any bills despite the fact she had all the money.
Tick tick tick tick
Kill yourself now or let the bank do the honors.
The bus tottered away, the two Asian men seated together across from Smoking Girl and Bag Lady, as fate would determine those were the only free seats.
Having apparently observed the confrontation, black-top-khaki-bottoms spoke up, unabashed: “Would you like a treat? We saw what she said and we feel sad.”
“Yes…” she thought, wordlessly.
He stood up confidently despite the shakiness of the bus and the awkwardness of the situation and reached out his hand. She opened her palm and accepted a tiny blue pill.
“It’s 15 milligrams. Adderall. We call this the body of Christ. The blood is alcohol.” The khaki-and-black pair erupted in joint laughter.
For I know the plans I have for you, to prosper you and not to harm you, says the Lord.
With that the bus ground to a halt. “Harmon Place. The Basilica.” Smoking and Bags got out.
And there they were, confronted with the immediate reality that despite their clear cultural differences, their mutual disagreement about The Right Way To Be and their equally shared distaste for one another, here they were headed the same place, the most iconic religious venue in the city. We are all of one spirit.
Both there to light a candle for the weary, to light a candle for themselves, to cry and pray and sing and heal. To worship, maybe, if that meant something bigger than those actions. Like a bulldog that building sat there on the hill, all stone and seriousness, glaring down on the city waiting for the rest of it to all crumble away and move on while this limestone monster would never die, keeping a silent, skeptical and watchful eye on the goings-on as far as it could survey. And in the less apocalyptic meantime, would dole out sandwiches to homeless people and teach children Spanish on Saturdays.
It was Good Friday, which is either a significant or insignificant detail depending on a person’s point of view, and they were there for reasons similar or different, also depending on a person’s point of view. The service was hurtful in the way that ripping off a scab feels terrible and satisfying at the same time. If God is God, God knows nobody was there for the fun of it.
And we are all the same, after all. A tiny wayward soul trying to find some peace from the turmoil, and an elderly woman bringing food she made with her own hands to a church for people in need. God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, and we love the world enough to believe in it in spite of ourselves.