Throwback Thursday: Mostly Harmless

This is a post that originally appeared on February 3, 2011, in my old blog, Brownfoot Journal. It was one of the top-10 posts for that blog, and it was because of the attention it garnered that I made the decision to separate family from the public, and The Brown Knowser was born a couple of months later.

Reading this post again, I was reminded of this awkward memory, back in the days when I would make the long commute, by bus, from my Barrhaven home to my office, in Gatineau.

I've decided to republish this post in this blog as a throwback to those days of my public-transit commutes. If you've read it before, I hope you don't mind seeing it again. If it's new to you, enjoy.



The following post is an open letter to my fellow passengers on a crowded OC Transpo bus.

Dear Fellow Riders of the 95 bus that left Fallowfield Station around 8:40 this morning:


I know that you don't know me. I don't usually catch the 95 that late in the morning. If I take the bus, I'm on it three hours earlier, when it's less crowded and I'm guaranteed to get a seat. Because, you see, I have a bad foot and I generally can't stand still for very long. And I'm not very well balanced on sore feet. I'm not always very well-balanced mentally, but that's another story altogether.


So yes, I was a stranger to your morning commute. You weren't familiar with me. But let me assure you that I'm a nice guy. To quote the late, great Douglas Adams, I'm mostly harmless.


When I got on the bus, it was already full. Standing room only. And because I had to use bus tickets and get on through the front doors, I couldn't get far into the bus. And so I stood somewhere between the driver and the middle doors. Do you remember me now? That stranger, clinging for dear life to an overhead bar? Yeah, that was me.


Typically, when I catch my early morning bus, I sit in the same spot. I take my book out from my backpack and read. Today, I couldn't do that because I was hanging on. My backpack stayed on my back, my book stayed tucked away. I tried to keep my gaze out the window, because I had nothing else to look at, and being a stranger to you, I didn't want to make any of you feel uncomfortable by making eye contact. Because, as I said, I'm mostly harmless. But you couldn't have known that and would not have thought that if I was making eye contact with you.


I want you to know that I didn't mean to press against you when we started moving, when we came to halts, or when we negotiated turns. I tried to keep my legs planted in a way that kept me balanced. I tried to hang onto the overhead bar as tightly as I could so that when the bus moved, I didn't. Not much, anyway. That was my intent.


But when I did make contact, when I did press against you, I want you to know it wasn't intentional. It wasn't personal.


I don't like making contact with strangers if I can help it. And I couldn't help it this morning. There were so many of you standing with me in the aisle. Being such a cold day, we were all in thick layers, occupying more space than our bodies themselves required. My backpack was firmly strapped to my back, adding to my bulk.


My free arm hung by my side. It never moved, except once, when I tried to switch my hold of the overhead bar. But by holding the bar with my left arm, I became even more off-balanced, and my backpack pressed more firmly into the rider behind me. I'm sorry about that—I hope you know that I switched back as soon as it was safe to do so. I didn't want to fall. And when an arm was hanging, I was most certainly not using it to grope anyone.


I'm not that type. In that regard, I'm totally harmless. Though there was that one incident on a bus trip home...


True story: a couple of years ago, I was on a crowded bus, heading home. I was sitting in a seat, next to the aisle. People were standing in the aisle and the driver had a lead foot, taking sick pleasure in accelerating and breaking hard, making standing on the bus a challenge. He wasn't transporting humans; he was hauling sides of beef. As usual, I had my face in my book, not paying attention to what was going on around me. But my peripheral vision was working perfectly.


When the bus lurched forward at Bayview Station, I sensed someone falling towards me, and without looking up I instinctively raised my arm an put out an open hand to halt the mass that threatened to interrupt my reading. I wasn't planning to catch the person; I was trusting that the person was going to do everything he or she could do to stay upright. Well, I stopped the person from falling, but as luck would have it (good or ill, I'm still not sure), my hand came into full contact with a breast (perhaps, more accurately, a breast came into contact with my hand). It was a perfectly aligned contact: full hand on breast. And, because the poor woman was still off-balance and was still coming towards me, I couldn't take my hand away.


Did I mention that this happened during the summer, when neither of us was bundled up? My bare hand was on a blouse: I could feel the cotton fabric and the contours of the bra beneath it. I could feel the firmness of the breast that I was supporting.


My eyes lifted from the pages of my book and moved to my hand, then to the chest with which I was making contact, and then to the eyes of the woman I was supporting (in more ways than one!). Shock filled her eyes. Horror must have filled mine.


As soon as the woman righted herself, my hand moved away faster than a magnet moves away from its polar similarity. The woman was younger than me, perhaps in her early to mid 30s. Her physique was what I can only describe as average. Slightly athletic. Fit.


And definitely real.


In a stuttering voice, I apologized profusely. "I'm so sorry," I said, "I beg your pardon... I didn't mean to... it happened all so fast and I wasn't looking. Please forgive me!!"


I'll never forget her reaction, never forget the words she spoke. She smiled, let out a little laugh. In a clear, raised voice that everyone near us could hear, she said: "Oh, that's okay. That's the most action I've had in a while. If you want, you can grab the other one so that it doesn't feel left out." She then turned her body slightly, so that her other breast was better aligned with me. And she moved closer. "Go ahead," she beckoned, "you'd be doing me a favour."


The man in the seat next to me laughed. The passengers sitting in front of me turned their heads to see what the commotion was about. Here I was, sitting on a crowded bus with a woman positioning her breast towards me, asking me to grab it.


I'm mostly harmless. I don't like to interact with fellow passengers. I don't like to make contact with strangers. I was feeling very uncomfortable, and would have bolted out of there if we weren't so crammed in. So instead, I did what seemed appropriate.


I reached up and gave her breast a gentle squeeze.


Yup, definitely real.


"Thank you," she said. "I feel balanced now."


I got off the bus at the next stop, at Tunney's Pasture.


I swear, that's a true story. Maybe someone who reads this post was there, will remember. Please leave me a comment so that my readers don't call BS.


So to my fellow travellers on today's bus. To those I was pressed against. Believe me when I say I wasn't pressing up against you on purpose. Because I really wasn't.


I'm mostly harmless.

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