I call him ‘The Soggy Frenchman’. He takes the 124 in the morning – same as me. I’ve seen the guy smile once, and that was at the hot girl who also rides our AM bus (she’s another story). His usual facial expression is somewhere between thirsty toast and unsalted crackers. He seems decidedly non-plussed about everything. Then again, I could be wrong about the guy. He might be an ecstatic maniac on the inside; an optimist like no other. And the French part? I don’t actually know for sure if the guy is French. He looks as dour as some Frenchmen I know, so the assumption was logical. Not that all French are dour. I’m part French. I don’t think I’m dour.
Today, the Soggy Frenchman is wearing his best sour-assed face. He gets on carrying his usual three newspapers. He looks as approachable as a bag of porcupines. He sits on the outer edge of the bus seat – a universally acknowledged “fuck off” to fellow bus riders. Even when the bus fills and some people are left standing he continues to read his paper, holding his position. After a few minutes, someone finally asks him to move over. They get no response. He doesn’t say ‘no’, he just doesn’t budge. The person asks him again. No response. I must admit that I admire his stance a little. Some days I wish I could be that inconsiderate.
He finally acquiesces and lets a young woman (who is yet another story) sit beside him. In my hierarchy of morning bus women, she is just below the “hot girl” that I mentioned earlier. He continues to read his paper, but I see him steal quick glances at her out of the corner of his eye. She gets off a few minutes later and when she does his eyes are all over her. There is a funny feeling then, when he looks at her. Like he’s stealing something that only I could appreciate. Silly, I know.
When the Frenchman gets up to leave, he says thanks to the driver. It is then that I realize how wrong I have been. The man is not French at all. He speaks with a Texas drawl, of all things. How shattering. How maddeningly insightful. I now have to revise my entire opinion/view of this man; change the mental file that I keep on him. He can no longer be called “The Soggy Frenchman”. Maybe “The Man Who Steals Women That I Don’t Know and Have No Intention Of Knowing”. Or “The Texan Seat Hog”. I’ll have to ruminate on this.
StreetRag ::: An Urban Notebook
StreetRag is an urban weblog and podcast about the city of Edmonton, which is located in the province of Alberta, Canada. It is authored by Edmonton-based writer, web advocate, and poet Michael Gravel and is updated frequently with written urban vignettes, amateurish photographs, deuteronomous audio material, barely coherent musings and rambling ecumenical treatises. StreetRag is a love letter to a lonely prairie burg struggling with its big city ambitions and small-town feel.
The city is Edmonton. It's a subject, not a passion. E-Town is almost universally derided by outsiders as an unlivable tundra wasteland populated by oil-hungry redneck conservatives who despise the arts. All of that is true. But it's not the whole story. There is beauty here. Dusty snowfalls. Brilliant summers. A stunning river valley. A diverse arts community that flourishes. It's a place that inspires a gray relationship - not all good, not all shitty. For that reason alone it is lovable, for what is life but a grayscale?