Friday, September 30, 2011

Essay: The Seat of Consciousness

I considered myself lucky; I could see the bus stopped down the street which would give me just enough time to park my car and be out at the next stop before it got there. I work at a university that has removed all parking near campus except for the disabled and the wealthier of the staff and faculty. Of course I don’t have a beef with the disabled, but as for the others...pure classism. I’d coined the term (not literally of course, I’d read about it somewhere) to address my and others’ particular situation in many conversations over the year with fellow staffers in the same predicament. Being a middle-aged Euro-descended male, monetary classism was the only kind of prejudice I’ve ever had direct experience with - and it pissed me off. I try to understand the plight of others, and I do my personal best not to participate or proliferate prejudice in the world that I have direct contact with.

With money so many of the drudgeries of daily life just become non-problems. If you think about it, it’s amazing. If you can buy more food than you can eat, then the worry of how will I feed my family; should I pay the electric bill or buy groceries; if we only eat every other day will we become nutritionally deficient; those are just non-issues for those with more. If I could park outside of the building I work in, I wouldn’t have to wait for and ride a bus; I wouldn’t need to think about carrying an umbrella; I wouldn’t have to limit my accourtre to the amount of stuff that I can comfortable carry. I could leave it all in my Denali, Navigator, Escalade, or Hummer parked outside, and pop out to enjoy the wet-bar in the car for a moment when my day became excruciatingly impinging.

If I lived in a big city, I could understand the situation. But here in the mid-south, there is plenty of land to clear and pave over for parking. When was the last time you went to Wal-Mart and couldn’t find a place to park? It just doesn’t happen. I pulled into the only spot left for staff, hopped out gather my laptop bag and my sack lunch, packed in a used Wal-Mart bag, and rushed across the street to await the bus. When I boarded, it was already half full. So as the bus began to jostle down the street, I held on to the rails near the ceiling and made my way to the back. Along the back wall there was a row of five seats and two groups of three seats facing each other along the sides. The three seats on the right were occupied by two guys with big backpacks. And along the back wall there were two students together against one side. But the three seats on the  left were unoccupied. As I shifted my gait to aim for the empty group of seats, I noticed that the four people there seems to be slyly watching me. I looked down at the seats and saw that each one had a puddle of what I assumed to be water in them. The middle one was the largest, maybe a full coffee saucer amount with a small dark, presumably oily, dot floating in the middle of the puddle.

Instantly, I understood the attention. They were watching to see if this old guy was going to puddle himself. I stepped past the seats and settled into a window seat along the back row. I slid on my sunglasses and pop in my earbuds and resumed listening to the short story podcast, I had started in the car. At the next bus stop there were enough students waiting to fill the seats and still have a few standing. As the students filed in, the empty seats in the front filled up first. Students made their way to the back talking and distracted as so many of them are. I was looking out the window when I noticed the first young woman to sit in a puddle. She sat in the seat closest to me, one of the smaller puddles, half the size of the saucer full in the middle. She was wearing shorts, of the rejuvenated style from the 70s (the runners’ shorts with the piping across the edges and the side seams) and was carrying on a conversation with another young woman in similar shorts who sat down next to her in the seat with the big puddle. It was difficult to remain expressionless. I wanted to say, ‘hey you just sat in a puddle!’ but I didn’t. I nonchalantly glanced around at the expressions of the other four who I know were also keenly aware that she just sat in a gross puddle of liquid with a little dot of greasy looking something floating it, and they too were stone-faced. This was one of those moments shared with strangers where you know absolutely without doubt what they are thinking but no one voiced a peep. It was a collective thought-shout of, “Gross!” that rang through the stale, shared air in the back of the bus, over the loud drone of the straining diesel engine and the munged, indiscernible words of twenty simultaneous conversations.

Even though we five played poker with our faces, we all frequently glanced at middle student with intense interest waiting for the moment of recognition. I think we each wanted to be the first to see her expression change. The reorientation of her attention to the growing wetness on her bottom. I suspected it would start with the realization of the wrongness of moisture; that would quickly translate into a fright regarding the source of the moisture. When she had completed a rapid bodily inventory and realized that she, herself, was not the source, the fear would morph into a list of possible amalgamations of liquid: water, a spilled drink, abandoned bodily fluid, and the list would continue.

But there was no recognition at all. No shift in posture; no questioning self-reflection facial expression; no bolt-upright jump accompanied by frantic butt wiping; there was no tell at all. I was astounded. How could someone be so disconnected with their own body as not to notice that their shorts had just adsorbed an amount of liquid equal to but not less than a full coffee saucer? For the next ten minutes of stop signs and busy traffic, the two of the them kept talking without any apparent notice.

I became increasing existential in my thoughts about the situation. In the relatively incredibility short time that we have been homo sapiens we have become amazingly cerebral. We can ignore much of the physical world around us and dwell more and more in the constructed space of our thoughts. We are becoming true spiritual beings; perhaps soon we can evolve beyond the need for a physical support system to house our personalities. As free-form thinking entities experiencing the world without physical limitation we could travel the universe and know all of existence.

The bus finally reached the main terminal on campus and the people nearest the doors exited first. The five of us who had participated in the same thoughts earlier waited to look at the empty seat for the confirmation of the liquid adsorption. As the two young women stood up and walked up the aisle to the exit door, we all looked at their asses. The dark color of the shorts and poor lighting revealed nothing. We looked at the seats where they were, also nothing. Perhaps we had a collective hallucination; maybe the previous puddles were a mirage caused by some solar anomaly projected through the tinted windows of the bus?

Walking out into the day, I blinked against the sun invading my eyes around the edges of my sunglasses, and I held my breath trying to avoid breathing in the awful exhaust of the bus' engine. I watched the group of passengers split into their separate destinations, and spotted the two young women walking. I saw the taller one, the one who sat in the middle seat with the largest puddle reach back and touch the lower middle of her butt with the palm of her hand. She twisted around trying to see it. Her friend looked at her butt and touched it with her hand too. Finally, they both showed realization and disgust. I Iooked around to see if any of my thought-compadres shared in the culmination of the situation.

I felt vindicated and disappointed; I would not be able any time soon to escape my body and exist as a free-form being of thought. Also I still wondered what the oily substance was.


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