Tinderbeard II: Trimet Boogaloo

After an incredible round of edits from my class at PCC, I’ve rewritten Tinderbeard into an even more dramatic, harrowing, and hilarious tale. Happy reading!


Boots and bags. The flotsam and jetsam of bus life during rush hour clogged the narrow aisle leading to the back of the aging city bus where a seat between a hipster in a skintight hoodie over tightly rolled jeans and a student somewhere in middle school range waited for me, the latter’s shaggy blonde Bieber hair blowing in the wind. The student chewed on a straw and looked out the window, dreaming perhaps of one day daring to kiss a boy or girl and having no opinion of me whatsoever. Hunched perilously over his phone, to the point I was afraid he might tip over and hit his head if we stopped too quickly, the hipster fixed an annoyed look on his face with a frown and furrowed brow. I understood that this was aimed at my presence, and while also I greatly appreciate the gift of personal space on the bus, it just wasn’t happening today.

Doing my best to remain within the confines of my seat, I looked straight ahead, taking note of the distinct differences in hats, jackets, and backpacks spread out in front of me. In relative terms, I was yet an unpolished public transit commuter, always searching for the best brands and hacks to make the commuter life easier. Do you do that? Fixate on something and feel the need to take a mental straw poll to see which people around you are doing it best? It turns out I need a backpack that functions the way Mary Poppins’ does–I’m still doing my research on that one.
Often, I find myself getting lost in the faces of all these strangers, wondering how many connections are made (and lost) on public transit each day, thoroughly enjoying the opportunity to people-watch. This activity has played a large part in my dating life. Instead of sitting awkwardly across the table from a cup of coffee and a dull, glazed look in date #113’s eyes, I challenge them to call out a person and weave their life story. I can talk about myself for hours and never get tired, but I’ve learned that talking about oneself can be incredibly draining to the other party. Also, no matter how much your date is smiling and nodding, he is cringing on the inside and calling you names like Narcissistic Nina behind those eyes. Routing the conversation to a subject that is not listed on your resume is always a welcome change. Trust me, I’ve been online dating for over 10 years.
My eyes rested on an impeccably dressed African-American man who had an utterly fantastic beard. He was also wearing those giant headphones that seem to block out not only outside sound, but sights, smells, and anything else that might interrupt a podcast. Perhaps an accountant? Attorney? Hmmm…talent scout with some sort of side hustle? A few stops later, I heard the familiar beeping of the wheelchair ramp. One by one, riders in the front stood up and made room for the white-haired, wheelchair-bound woman with bags sticking out at every angle. Riders bumped into each other to step out of the way, simultaneously looking around for other seats. Several of them, including the bearded man, began heading to the far back, where there were a few seats left—where I was sitting. Grasping the opportunity to study the man closer, I put my phone in front of my face and pretended to read something very important.
It was longer than the average beard. Two silver streaks ran parallel down each side–very distinguished. Could be early forties but some people go grey in their thirties. The silver streaks seemed to flash in the sunlight, quite literally illuminating him as he stepped into the back half of the bus and took the seat on the other side of the hipster, which is when I realized who he was.
Adrenaline rushed through me as I reached out to tap him on the shoulder, further ruffling the hipster’s free-range organic feathers. HA! I hadn’t planned where I was going to go after the salutation, but my arm was already in motion. It was it too late to turn back now.

“Hey.”
He turned towards me and, clearly surprised, replied, “Oh hey you! How’s it going?”
The bus had paused at a stoplight right before the Broadway Bridge that would take us to the other side of the city. Taking advantage, Free Range stiffly stood up and stalked off, leaving a gaping hole between the bearded man and me. Making sure my curly sand-hued hair was posed perfectly on my shoulder before responding, I crossed my legs towards him and answered with slight heat in my cheeks, “Great, thanks. How’s it going with you?” Nailed it, I thought sarcastically. I noticed his eyes dipped to my chest before he responded. The barely perceptible move may have bothered me in the past. Unfortunately these days, my illusions of grandeur about finding the perfect man who didn’t objectify women were the size of a pea. 
Apparently, that was all he needed to open up a conversation. He remembered quite a bit about me: my passion for good grammar, my favorite neighborhood brunch place (we’d gone together on our first date), and that I enjoyed salsa dancing every once in a while. I was shocked at the number of details he was ticking off so casually. I remembered that he worked in IT or computers, something dough-handed like that at a company downtown-–though that second detail could be construed as a given, considering the bus’s trajectory. I guess I had made an impression on him. It made my heart corners curl up into a coy grin.
While we spoke, I sat back and observed him. He had grown out his hair and styled it differently. Small twists dotted the top of his head. I liked it. Beards have always been an attraction for me, but today his seemed especially well-coiffed. His eyes were kind and he had a welcoming smile that was slightly bucktoothed–like mine. I called mine rabbit teeth and had absolutely hated them when I was younger. I even created a character based around my teeth: Chipper the Chipmunk. Chipper could sing and dance and entertain like nobody’s business. I think I gave Chipper 101 talents so that people would overlook the teeth. Later I realized they weren’t as terrible as I had made them out to be. People tell me these days that it’s part of my charm, and I’m finally understanding what they meant.
Lightning fast, it seemed, the bus arrived at my stop. My eyes traveled up and down the aisle, at him and then away, as I gathered my things, wondering if he was interested in continuing the conversation. I had tried to make it obvious that I was disembarking by shuffling my backpack around conspicuously to see if he’d take the bait, but I didn’t hint strongly enough.

“Well.” I paused in case he wanted to interject. “Great to see you!” No dice. My bag slung over my shoulder, I lifted my body off the sticky plastic seat and waved my goodbye, immediately kicking myself for not being bold enough to say anything as soon as my Adidas hit the pavement. I wondered if he was watching as I sashayed out of sight.
When I turned the corner, I whipped out my phone and typed “Tinder” in the search bar to see if anything came up. I labeled all of my Tinder dates “Tinder so-and-so.” Tinder Adam (smoker), TInder Ben (too clingy), Tinder Christian (not clingy enough), TInder Daniel (dumb as a Chia pet, with the same hair). How else did a serial-Tinderer keep track? None of the names seemed like they fit him.
Shame me all you want, but I’d probably been on 10-13 more first dates since last summer–it shouldn’t completely come as a shock that I had no idea what his name was. And since stumbling upon him, I hadn’t stopped to ask myself if I was actually interested in this man, or if he was just going to end up being another write-up in my dating blog, just another number. Though the convenience of online dating seemed to create favorable odds, it had started to feel like shoe shopping. Five years ago I would have been horrified that I couldn’t remember his name. Now, sadly, it was practically expected.

I supposed it wasn’t meant to be, then. Neither of us had had the guts to speak up and ask the other out. Of course, I was assuming he was interested after all the things he remembered about me. Wouldn’t you? Who knows if I’d ever see him again. I had been running extremely late that day, and sometimes I took the other bus that came to my stop, and other times I went to work at 7:00 rather than 7:30…clearly this wasn’t going to turn into a thing. So I stopped trying to analyze and forgot about it.

A month later, I had missed my first two busses and was incredibly cranky on a Monday morning. I was carrying not only my backpack, but a cowboy hat and yoga mat, and I was beginning to sweat, knowing the bus was less than a minute away. My jacket half on and half off, I had run to the corner unabashedly and made it just in time for the 17 to pull up. I stormed on, breathing heavily and striding with fraudulent purpose, and headed toward the back as usual, but a silver glimmer caught my eye. It was TinderBeard! I stopped dead and did a military swivel in order to take the seat beside him. He looked at my cowboy hat pointedly and gave me The Look.

“It’s for a work event…” I trailed off, realizing that no amount of explaining would make this cowboy hat any cooler. I said it with a sheepish smile, enough to let him know he couldn’t faze me. We slipped into conversation easily once more, and I thought this HAS to be fate! We had both been running late that day, and sometimes I rode the other bus, and there had been a seat open next to him. This was totally a thing. Why are you so excited? You don’t even like him that much. Do you? What would you say if he asked you on a date? I needed to know if fate was trying to tell me something. I wanted to be wide open to the message, even if it turned out to be another flop.

He still wasn’t receiving my ESP message! Green light after green light sprinted past my eyes. Where are all the red lights when you need them?? I was definitely curious to know if he wanted to hang out again, and I was trying not to lose my nerve to do the asking before I had to get off the bus.
Our three-date Tinder saga the summer before had ended amicably enough. At the time we met, we had simply been looking for different things; I refused to pursue something that may or may not pan out. I’m very cut and dried. Tinder is for finding a relationship–stop laughing–not friends. If I don’t see it going the way of romance, I don’t seek out a further connection. I am an old fashioned girl in a digital world.
He preferred to look at it a little differently. His wish was to begin with something casual, sexually speaking, and if it turned into something else, great. If not, a bed buddy was just as good. I had declined his polite offer. But all had ended in what felt like friendship, though we never saw each other again.

And yet…it seemed like I should do something about this situation. It had been dropped in my lap so…casually, so…obviously, so…intentionally?
It was do or die time. We were three blocks from departure.

“Well.” I paused. “Let me know if you ever want to hang out!” I offered. I couldn’t bear to put it in the form of a question. This way he had an easy out, and didn’t have to respond yes or no to my face.

To my surprise, he quickly replied, “Sure, but I don’t have your number anymore.” I whipped out my phone and typed his number in.

Several hours later I texted him. I wasn’t sure what to say, exactly, about his name having left my head many months before. Smiling to myself and realizing I had absolutely nothing to lose, I wrote, “This is Becky from the bus this morning. I have to admit…I have forgotten your name.” Blushing smile emoji.

smile
Two words in response: “Thank God.” I released a sigh from deep within and continued to read, “Me too, and I was going to play it off until you texted me.” Laughter emoji.
The best relationships are built on honesty. Maybe this could be the beginning of something. Did it have to be a dating thing? What if it just floated out there, unknown but still having form? Maybe I could afford to be a little less cut and dried this time.
 

Shorts :: Full Circle

This is the second short story I wrote at “The Next Season” writing retreat at Hidden Lake Retreat in Eagle Creek, Oregon. It was inspired by the picture below, and got a few laughs when I read it aloud. I hope I’m half as sassy when I’m their age.

Women Wearing Colorful Bathing Caps
Photo courtesy of Pinterest

 
In the era we grew up in, it wasn’t expected for us to be giddy in this next step. In our time, we were supposed to be somber grannies, holding our breath every second until the grandchildren burst through the heavy door of the house that Edgar and I designed ourselves.
Happiness was not to be ours once our partners passed. By the time I hit retirement, I was supposed to be a semi-professional in knitting and cross-stitch, staring at the picture of my wedding day that hung over the television while making scarves with soft wool.
Instead I am a competitive synchronized swimmer in the group we named the Gorgeous Grand-Goddesses. You didn’t expect that, did you? Did you know we have two gold medals and a bronze? No, not the Olympics—Regional Championships. After all, we’re in our seventies and our bodies do have their limitations.
Long before Edgar passed, the girls and I decided to bunk together once our husbands all made the long trip south.
It wasn’t the plan to end up here, but we decided that my house worked best. It was plush with the warmth of familial love and welcomed the other two girls with open arms.
We each had our own bedroom to decorate as well as a training room. Jane Fonda videos, resistance bands, and yoga mats float among pictures of the Grand-Goddesses and yes, some cross-stitch. That’s Mary’s area; I fought it briefly before compromising with her: if they were cross-stitches of Pierce Brosnan or any of the Beatles, they could stay.
She refused my suggestions, and so we ended up with posters of the Beatles on one side and framed beach scenes on the other, an echo of the debates I had with my husband. And yet, here we are, giddy.