Party Lights

She is slumped forward in her seat on the bus, hugging a Maroon Fender Squire like a child that needs reining in. Her hazel eyes full of marijuana glaze, her pudgy face framed by black curly locks that are nearly dreading. Her tits are on display. They’re squished up and out of a Walmart top as if to say: “Check ‘em out! Today’s bus ride special: melons, nice round melons. They can be yours for less than you might think!”

There is no strap for the guitar, no case, and seemingly no understanding of how the thing is cared for or stroked into pleasant vibration. She looks at it with curious yearning.

He is sucking on a Blow Pop. He’s seated next to the keeper of the guitar, thin and angular in contrast to her rounded, sensual form. Fiery acne piles beside scar tissue craters, remnants yet to be purged from his 20-year old face. His short bristly hair stands in places, saluting in shocks that echo the whorls of his two cowlicks. His eyeballs are pink and glossy.

We are seated on bus-seat benches riding side-saddle, made to unnaturally faces each other across the aisle as the bus moves forward. The lumbering beast sometimes makes loud straining sounds. In guttural moans it seems to threaten to come alive or apart. We ride our benches while the glowing neon of the new night ghosts in the windows, animated paint-by-numbers shadow-play. I sit and pretend to listen to my iPod, really eavesdropping, hoping to glean some fragment that explains the guitar. The cheap guitar – may as well be a knock off – is gingerly guarded and stroked in absent love by Stoned-Tits.

This bus ride is my penance for getting drunk last night. This dreary, anxious public transit commute to retrieve my vehicle sitting abandoned and cold in a bar parking lot is punishment or maybe a small atonement. It’s 7 pm on a Sunday. I’m feeling hung over and holy, shaky and alright, just now controlling my breath and mind from the shock of the crowded light rail so full of eyes. After this it’s a mile hike off the bus line in a lovely neighborhood well suiting to hosting dives that attract the likes of me.

Blow Pop and Stoner-Tits don’t say anything. Maybe this has to do with them being really high. Or maybe they’re struck mute by the conspiracy of circumstances that led them here, riding a sideways bus bench on Sunday night clutching a red guitar; an incongruous prop that doesn’t fit them or the setting.

Time passes. Stops pass. I give up my ruse and by way of bus-appropriate conversation say to the charming young couple: “Plug it in!” I can’t help myself.

“Huh?” says Stoner-Tits with almost no expression on her face. They are seated maybe five feet from me on the other side of the aisle. Catty corner? Could never quite nail down the meaning of that phrase.

“Plug it in! Play that thing!”

“Nah. Don’t know how to play it,” she says, leaning toward me, her tits rippling a little in a kind of woozy greeting. I contemplate clapping my flippers together and honking an invisible horn but I do not.

“Oh, too bad,” I say.

“Hey man, you wanna buy it?” asks Blow Pop. I say no in an almost sad way.

“Why’da you want to get rid of it?”

“Don’t know how ta play, it’s not mine. My friend owed me some money. . .Takin’ it to the pawn shop.”

“It’s nice, a nice one” I say, lying just as easily as drawing breath. I notice the action is too high and there are greasy fingerprints all over the glossy finish, Candy coating. There are spectral signatures of Blow Pop’s buddy’s last strums.

“You know they’ll take you for all they can.” I say after a pause.

The conversation dies. This time I actually turn on the music and zone out to Lee Morgan, a random selection, one of over eight thousand offerings on the portable jukebox in my pocket. At eight thousand songs it’s only half-full and the size of a pack of smokes. A little miracle I take for granted like so many others, like the miraculous exchange that is breathing.

I stare out the window at east Indian School traffic, heavy for 7, or more likely typical, it always seems heavy these days. A young couple yoked and accessorized by an infant swaddled in a cradle get on. They’re late teens, she’s petite pale and strawberry blond, and her little boobs are also perched on the shelf of a tank-top, even though it’s winter. They sit near the back of the bus, in the confusing no-mans land of the giant floor-joint that connects the two sections of the behemoth bus, like a huge linch-pin connecting two cars on a train.

She’s bossy. She chastises him for talking black on the phone, even using the word slang in her dressing down. It seems she is trying to elevate them, cute considering her little breasts are out on the porch inviting hellos. The couple is far enough away that they never really resolve in my mind, though I do steal a couple of glances at the girl in the window’s reflection when she comes near the front for some attention. He is simply a voice.

“Ooh, ooh, party lights!” says the voice of the-young-urban-father-from-central-casting.

A large accident on the westbound side of the street has created a swarm of police and firemen that takes traffic down to one lane. I ignore it, and listen to the faraway couple’s commentary on the accident. It compliments the jazz music like a spoken word sounds collage.

“Party lights!”

“Party lights? What the cop cars?”

“Yeah, baby, that’s what they are, the red and blue bars, party lights!”

“Oooh-Kay!” says the little Redhead.

I half hear Blow Pop say “Hey-ey!,” the air going out of the word half way through when he sees my ears are in use. I pull one of the earbuds out to signal limited engagement.

“Hey, dooya know where there’s a 24-hour pawn shop?”

I do. “Yeah, the one up here at 12th Street, Mo Money. I think they’re open inside until 9, but they have a walk up window that’s open at night.” Offering one-stop walk-up convenience to fence your freshly stolen loot for much needed 4-AM crack money, counters my internal monologue. I am able to retain a little private dignity convincing myself it’s one thing to know about the window and another to use it.

“Okay, cool, thanks. Which side of the street?” asks Blow Pop and I point. As I re-insert the earbud I say “You know they’ll totally low-ball you.” “Yeah,” he says with an open expression that tells me he’s new to this world.

At the next stop a muscular man with a shaved head and an ex-con aroma sits near me on the bench. “Ooh,” he says, “Nice Fender. Can I check it out?” Stoned-Tits hands it over gingerly like passing a newborn to a disliked relative. He looks at the face of it, rests it in his lap and beings to play blues licks, nice runs that probably would sound great if the thing was wired, but instead the sound is muted and staccato. “You wanna buy it?” asks Blow Pop, hoping to make a sale before the pawn shop. The jailbird echoes my defeated “No,” and runs a few more blues patterns.

“You got this thing tuned too high, see up here,” He points to the headstock. Blow Pop waves him off “I don’t play, just going to pawn it.”

“Oh. . .Yeah. They’ll prolly give you fifty bucks for it. Prolly give you fifty.” Blow Pop shrugs. “My friend owed me money. I don’t care what they gimme for it. I just need some money.”

“It is a Fender –“ says Jailbird “Yeah, but it’s a Squire, kinda low end.” I offer without being asked. The 12th Street stop approaches and Blow Pop gestures first toward the front of the bus and then gently to the guitar, which Jailbird hands back to him. He leans into the couple: “The way it works, if you say a hunnerd they’ll offer you fifty.”

“Yeah, if you have the internet on your phone you could look on Craig’s List,” I add. “See what they’re going for, so you know going in.” I say. “Say one-fifty, maybe they give you seventy-five.”

“Man, I really don’t care what they give me, as long as they give me somethin’. I just wanna get dinner.”

Blow Pop pulls the “Stop requested” chord. Soon the bus stops, the aperture of the door opens, and Blowpop and Stoner-Tits, along with their candy coated guitar, fade off and recede behind the rumbling bus. My eyes un-focus and I put my head down. Fifteen more stops before a long walk to the car.


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