Just another Saturday night in Bridgetown. I’m on the west side, downtown, actually, the left side of Portland’s brain. I’m ready for transport back to my stomping grounds, the east, creative, right side. A river runs through it, eh? Good thing the two halves of Portland’s soul are connected. I guess that makes me, what? A nerve impulse? Yay. A tired and isolated nerve impulse, boarding public transportation along with all the other biochemical messengers.

A girl gets on the bus ahead of me. Petite, shorter than me, long dark hair with shock-streaks of blonde. Talking on her cell phone. I feel a brief tug of interest, how could I not? But as we walk down the aisle I grab my usual seat near the front and she continues on towards the back of the bus.

Except… before the next stop, she gets up and sits down directly behind me. She’s still talking on the phone. Her voice has not stopped talking. I consider drowning her out with music, and make ready to pull my iPod out, when what she’s saying sharpens into focus.

She’s ranting. About men. “They’re just so phony. Do they really expect me to tell them what part of town I live in? Do they really expect me to tell them if I have a boyfriend? I’m nothing to them, it’s a means of control. They ask me that as a means to control me. Yeah, sure, I’ll tell you where I Live. Like I need another stalker. They stand there, grinning, unable to conceive of any other approach, with their pants worn low and their stupid hats on sideways, and I’m just an object for their pleasure.” So much anger. She’s barely not taking a breath, let alone letting her friend on the phone say anything. The words tumble out, no, they stream out like a firehose.

Do I drown her out with music? Hell, no. This is interesting.

Instead, I reach into my backpack and pull out the book I bought just a half-hour ago. Ironically, a men’s self-help book. “No More Mr. Nice Guy” promises the book, or maybe threatens, while the girl behind me rails against phony Mr. Nice Guys. I can’t tell if she’s reinforcing the book’s lessons or if her anger is undercutting the message.

She begins describing, instead, the boys she likes: self-aware, complimenting her on her verbosity (yes she uses that word), her taste in clothing, her interests in art and music. These boys make fun of themselves, they laugh at themselves; this, she declares, is a sense of humor. She compares these boys to the inauthentic ones who are simply trying to get into her panties. She much prefers the ones who earn their way into her panties.

Is she a student? I’m trying to see how much I can glean from what she’s saying. She still hasn’t stopped talking and she’s giving out a lot of information. For instance, who uses the word “verbosity”? Without turning around I can picture her, lost in her conversation, unaware of her surroundings.

Her tone, the pacing of what she’s saying, suddenly strikes me; it’s the sing-song cadence of someone reading something. It’s an essay. She’s reading it to her friend on the phone. Are these opinions hers, or does she agree with them?

I remember being lost in that same way, my consciousness existing in whatever cyberspace a phone conversation takes place, not really on the bus, rapping out some work gossip to a friend, when I became aware of others around me listening in. I apologized and explained to my friend what had interrupted me, but a man sitting in front of me smiled but couldn’t look me in the eyes when he said, “No, no, go on, it’s interesting. Who is Susan sleeping with?” Surely this girl is in a similar headspace.

The girl behind me, Blondestreaks, has wound down, but hasn’t stopped talking. She asks her friend for advice, criticism, on what she has just read. So it must be her own writing, although for what purpose I’m not sure. Is she in school? Dare I ask her? The book in my lap urges me to ask for what I want in clear, direct language; her bitterness and polarized view of men leave me wondering which category I would fall under. Better to just keep listening and learning if I’m uncertain.

She explains, “I want to verbally castrate the men who pry into my personal life, but I want to encourage the ones with more charm. Did I get enough of a balance? Did that come through?” In my mind, it’s a very fuzzy distinction. Doesn’t that all depend on her mood? Does she realize this? It’s not the men, or at least not necessarily, it’s her reaction to the men. She’s ranted out a tautology, self-defining: she likes the ones she likes and despises the ones she despises. While she continues on, granting the ones she likes with “depth” and beating the ones she doesn’t with “shallowness” I turn back to my book.

I read advice about not trying to please women, but rather trying to please only myself. I read about covert contracts, where a Nice Guy does something for a woman with the unspoken understanding that they, in turn, will do the same thing back, a sneaky way to fulfill a need.

Her voice, behind me, turns to a new subject as well. “I have a Gmail account, yes, but I hardly use it.” Pause. “I have a Mac. When I first tried to go to Gmail it told me something about incompatible browser or something. So I hardly use it.” Pause. “I have Safari. Well, I have Internet Explorer, too. I have both. I don’t know.”

It’s like she’s there to give me an opportunity to put the book into action. Gmail works fine with Safari now. It didn’t at first, but Google updated it shortly after rolling out Gmail. Do I tell her? I glance back at her but don’t turn all the way. She sees the motion of my head but keeps talking. The author is asking me to list all the ways I seek approval from women. Is this one of those times? Am I just considering interrupting her conversation to show off as a “smart guy”? Paradigms clash. I turn and meet her eyes, smile, and then turn away. I’ve used up all my courage for the moment.

While I’m thinking, her conversation rolls on, the bus rolls across the river, and we enter the creative east side of Bridgetown. I’ve tuned her out as I read more about acting from confidence and not neediness, but snap back to internal attention when she says, “In Portland they cannot touch you.”

She’s talking about strippers now?

“In Florida… it’s a grope fest. I look to my left, I see a girl humping some guy. I look to my right and I see some guy playing grab-ass, groping… They have rules in Portland. I can’t touch them. They can’t touch me. Portland, Los Angeles, Seattle.” Now I’m sure she’s talking about herself, but I still don’t see how her essay fits in. I mean, I can see that she was probably talking about her customers, but did she write it for school, or for herself, or for a local paper? Is it public, or private?

She goes on about Florida. “When they interview you, they might as well just come out and ask you, ‘Are you willing to sleep with the customer?’ because that is, that is totally what can, and will, happen.” Words are tumbling out, her anger is back. But she likes Portland, “I get to set the boundaries here. Portland is just a better place for this.” I remember my earlier courage to talk to her and feel it drain away. I feel better that I didn’t talk to her. Dancers have baggage. It may not be their fault, however, and with the state I’m in lately I think I’d only add my baggage to theirs. This girl seems to be dealing with it well, if I can tell from hearing a small part of her conversation… with a friend? A therapist? Another dancer? A boyfriend?

Why is it I only seem to run into the damaged ones?

Another night in Bridgetown.