So I get on the BART train at Montgomery station yesterday afternoon, about to head back to Berkeley -- and just as the doors are closing, a guy runs on. He's tall and thin, and dressed like David Byrne without irony: well-tailored, old-fashioned suit, black briefcase, and a big, blue-and-gold striped bowtie wrapped around his skinny, R. Crumb-ish throat. I'd guess he was about 55 or so.
So he's just made it onto the train, and he takes a moment to look around gratefully and sweatily, then sits down across from me -- next to a guy roughly his age, but in most other ways his polar opposite: big, bushy gray beard, faded proletarian overalls, reading a section of newspaper that he's probably fished off of the floor. To be honest, the bearded guy looked a bit like he might go off at any minute -- not someone you would necessarily choose to sit next to, unless perhaps you were fixing to get an earful about the Trilateral Commission.
So the train rumbles out of the station. After a few moments, the sweaty skinny guy turns to the bearded guy and says, "This is the Richmond train, right?" Without looking up from his paper, the bearded guy grunts what sounds like "Yeah." The sweaty guy nods, and the train rolls on.
I peek at them covertly as we plunge under the Bay: they're like the Completely Mismatched Duo. One vaguely and irrationally happy, and wearing a big, garish bowtie. The other vaguely disgruntled, possibly due to a life of foiled revolutionary struggle and perhaps exacerbated by the untimely death of Jerry Garcia.
As the train approaches Ashby station, the bearded guy puts his paper back on the floor, stands, and prepares to debark. He stretches, girding himself for the afternoon's continuing struggles. The doors open. Scruffy Dude starts to head out -- then, at the last moment, turns back to Skinny Guy, saying: "Nice tie."
Now here's the thing. I was there. I realize that could read as if it had been said in a mocking way. But it hadn't been. The compliment was genuine -- perhaps with a little ironic spin on it, but not at all malicious or snarky.
Nor was it received as such. Skinny Guy smiles widely and genuinely: "Thanks!"
The doors shut, and the train rolls on towards Downtown Berkeley. The guy with the bowtie is still smiling. So am I.
2 comments March 14th, 2007