I was returning from a magical Memorial Day weekend in Stone Harbor, Jersey Shore. I was ensconced in the aisle seat of this New Jersey Transit bus and had done my best to keep any riff raff out of the window seat next to me. I left it littered with my Wawa sandwich wrapper and empty Mountain Dew bottle that may or may not have had a future as a piss jug.
But when we stopped in Atlantic City aka the Jewel of New Jersey and you sashayed your sexy self onto that bus and into my life, I quickly cleared that unclaimed patch of frayed fabric and prayed you would pick up what I was putting down. You bounced down the aisle, your black muppet-shag jacket and matching beanie pouncing in rhythm with your prance. My prayers were answered when you asked if I would get up. As soon as you opened your mouth your smile melted my hardened heart. Less a glistening set of ivories and more a picket-rowed collection of wooden stubs, worn and yellowed as though they had been clumsily shaped by an unsteady hand with a bucket of urine-stained sandpaper.
I stood up to let you in, both literally and figuratively. And as you slid inside of me and into the window seat, I got two big lungfuls of stale cigarette stank, hopefully having saturated into your dazzling rags from a long weekend of relentlessly toking off-brand smokes smuggled up from the tobacco tax havens of Virginia or either Carolina. How disappointed I would have been had you smelled of Chanel No. 5 or Blue Glow by JLo.
You settled in right quick and started talking. Presumably to yourself. Maybe to me, perhaps I’ll never know. My heart was still skipping beats like a three legged horse galloping toward the sunset on a secluded Staten Island beach, so I still had my ear buds in to convey an air of casual indifference, when really it was all I could do to not reach over and hold your hand. That hand. The one adorned with “Keith Richards fingers.” Those dreamy fingers blessed with elephantitis of the final knuckles, the ones closest to your chewed down fingernails, unmolested by even the remnants of varnish.
I’ve always wondered how one develops those digits. Is it heroin? Meth? The gout? Is it the untold years of a plethora of combined vices, adding up mileage and waging war on your pleasure receptors? Do you find yourself one day just sprawling your hand down on the pavement outside of the shelter and smacking your fingers with a rusty tire iron just so you can feel SOMETHING?
Or it it just blind luck in the genetic lottery? Will you fill me in one day? I have so many questions, and no answers. Yet.
Right as I resigned myself to the sinking feeling that I would never muster up the chutzpah to utter a word to you, you started stirring and shaking and poked me in the ribs, puckering your lilac tinted lips. I removed my earbuds just in time to hear you croak “Are you getting off in Tom’s Rivah or Noo Yawk?”
I considered all sorts of witty and dashing retorts until I chose to let the truth set me free. “New York” I said, to which you replied “Well I’m getting out it Tom’s River”
With a wide smile, and without any sense of sarcasm, I said “Awwww I’m gonna miss you!” You smiled wide and said “I’m gonna miss you too, sweetheart! Please shake me when we get to Tom’s Rivah!” I promised you I would do no such thing. That I would just brush your arm tenderly to alert you that we had arrived. “I’ll be gentle,” I whispered. You smiled again and then pulled your beanie down and went back to sleep.
When we arrived at Tom’s River I held up my end of the bargain and gently rustled you awake, and rose to clean an escape route from our all too temporary love shack. Just then you turned to a group of young girls behind us and said “It was lovely meeting you all! Have a wonderful trip!” And they returned your greeting in kind, all with cheer in their voices and candid smiles. I too smiled at those girls and when I turned back to the aisle you were floating off the bus and out of my life. I instantly regretted not taking my ear buds out earlier and chatting with you, you beautiful thing, you.
Now I’m scared that I’ll never get the chance for a do-over.
If you’re out there, and reading this, and you’d maybe like to share a slice of pie sometime then hit me back here. Or maybe I’ll just frequent the Atlantic City – Tom’s River bus route in the coming months and see if fate reconnects us. God willing it will.