My Heart Stood Still
If one believes the regular news reports on the subject, an appalling majority of Americans do not read books for pleasure, a statistic that I find nearly as indicative of societal decay as I do the shocking numbers on gang violence, political corruption, childhood obesity and American voting rates. However, you would never be able to guess this fact from the clientele of the 144, of which every third rider has a book cracked open. This is likely because the 144, unlike many of the other bus lines, attracts a mostly well off, upper class segment of the population; most of the people riding the bus tend to be either college graduates with presumably comfortable jobs in downtown Minneapolis or current university students.
I find it rather cheering to see so many open books among so many strange people at once, but unfortunately, reading on my own in a moving vehicle has a habit of making my stomach turn and I am unable to join them. This means that I have nothing to do except stare out the window (sometimes) or covertly scope out other passengers (more often) and inevitably, my eyes are drawn to other people’s books. I try my hardest to mind my own business, but this is a powerful and uncontrollable compulsion. The English major takes over my brain. Unable to stop myself, I find myself trying to read titles out of the corner of my eye, trying to deduce author names from a couple of visible letters, or trying to contain my fascination/horror at middle aged men reading Star Wars paperbacks. The most I can do is to try my best not to be overt about these things.
It’s particularly bad when the person sitting next to me begins reading a book and my overwhelmingly curiosity to see what it is wages war in my head with every lesson of social etiquette reminding me that reading over people’s shoulders is shameful and intrusive. In these cases, I must keep my head facing straight forward while my eyes, ignoring my best intentions to be polite, roll to the side and try to bring the title into the periphery of my vision. This is dully painful, and the longer I resist it, the more eye strain I develop.
Generally, seeing what a person is reading is enough to me and satisfies my curiosity, and I quietly stash away the information with the other little tidbits I have noticed in the little mental profiles I can’t help but form of other regular passengers. On one particular occasion, however, I noticed that an attractive girl sitting across the aisle from me was reading Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude – a great book and still one of my favorite novels. Seeing the familiar cover in such an unexpected place, my curiosity was instantly piqued. Trying my best to be as un-creepy as possible, I quickly glanced her face to see if she seemed to be enjoying it, but her expression was blank and I was unable to tell.
I felt an insane desire to express my appreciation of the novel and to ask her what she thought of it, an impulse restrained only by my terror of starting conversations with strange people. Thoughts and questions raged furiously in my mind. It wouldn’t be a big deal… or would it? What if she thought I was hitting on her? What if it was awkward? What if she thought I was some kind of horrible weirdo molesting her on the bus? Surely that wouldn’t be the case if she was the sort of person reading One Hundred Years of Solitude… but what it was assigned reading for a class she was taking to fulfill a literature requirement and she hated it? What would I say if she liked it too?
After twenty minutes of exhausting and unresolved internal debate, the girl’s stop arrived, and she packed the book into her messenger bag and left the bus, completely unaware of the agonizing mental anguish she had subjected me to. I did not see her again.