Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Bus to Volcano


I asked him where he was getting off the bus, and he said he didn't know, he would when he felt like it. He'd been traveling since 9/11, when he lived two blocks from the trade towers. I saw him first at the Hilo bus terminal, seated one green wooden row behind me. His clear plastic rimmed glasses looked slightly academic; he was wearing a black cloth mask on top of a blue paper one. His tousled hair was flaxen, his arms and calves brown from the sun. He had a backpack and a bag in which I saw a large book about Mayan archeology. Later on my ride to Volcano, he pulled out Auden's poem that starts with the dive on 52nd street and ends with "affirming flame," as well as a review of Joan Didion. "Memories are what we don't want to remember," is what I remember of that, and I do want to. He wanted to know if I'd thought about the hypocrisy of people in the Pac NW who were environmentalists. He wanted to know what I thought of Title IX and people stealing each other's work. He'd traveled all over the world, seen people wearing masks, cultural masks, and more recently people who knew they were wearing masks and put them on deliberately. Then he pointed to his two masks, as if with regret for us all. He asked me a lot of questions, about my students, about what I'd taught. But he said he no longer talked to people much (he noted a couple of times that I was an exception) because they were so nosy about his life. They over-shared, and he didn't want to. He kept talking about projects, those that had been ripped off; was so mad at people in Hilo he refused to go to the library there any more. He had gone to an exhibition in Hilo by an artist who grew up in Brooklyn about grieving. I read the flyer he handed me. He'd lost a lot of people during AIDS, and lamented the loss of mentors for gay and trans youth today because so many had died young. He took down the name of my colleague who had died of AIDS, said he'd look for him (but not on tech, clearly!). "Some people, you know, think they're really open to gay people, but you begin to wonder." He didn't know which were most difficult, his cousins on Kauai or his mother in Kona. (He'd grown up in Santa Barbara.) He really didn't like what had happened to the country during his 20 salary-less years of travel. As I got up to leave the bus, I wished him well in his wandering. "Oh, I'm not wandering," he said, "it's the country that's wandering." It's a different kind of wandering, I agreed.

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