Friday, August 01, 2008

I'm just saying I understand

Chris Rock used to do a bit about O.J. Simpson murdering his ex-wife which ended, “I’m not saying that I agree with it, I’m just saying that I understand.” I thought about this when I read about the beheading of a passenger by his seatmate on a Greyhound Bus the other day .  The decapitation, performed with a butcher knife, happened while the victim was leaning against a window sleeping. I have a feeling that we may find out that the victim was snoring rather loudly and this, combined with the extreme stress any of us feel by riding a Greyhound bus makes the crime explainable (I’m not saying I agree with it….).


I have sat next to a number of people on buses, planes and trains that might not have deserved decapitation, but they deserved a lot more than a slap on the wrist. Buses are the worst, whether cross country or cross town, a crowded bus is included in Dante’s circles of hell (sixth circle I believe).There the sinner is required to ride forever standing in the aisle, all the seats taken, pinned in between two fat guys (both with bad breath) in Houston, Texas at 5:30 p.m. rush hour, in August, with the bus air conditioning  broken. If you don’t believe that is hell, then you ain’t been where I’ve been. Which is in that exact spot, more than once. I am very lucky that as a young man I did not carry butcher knives, or any other cutlery onto  the bus, or I might have succumbed to temptation. There is only so much a person can take.


 You start to “understand” in the words of Chris Rock when you are in the middle seat on an airplane, again with no a.c., sitting on a tarmac in Cincinnati, Ohio for more than two hours. Something that I once had the pleasure doing. Seated across the aisle were two short fat individuals who had brought tubs and ice chests on board. They were carrying the food for a big hunting trip they were going on, down in Louisiana. For two hours these guys held the plane hostage with loud sexual and racial humor, even going so far as to propose a “Jump up and fart” contest. It got so bad that the airline captain came back to try to calm them down, with no success at all. In fact , the one funny thing that they did say  was when the pilot (a dashing handsome man with a mustache ) walked back to see them. “Well, there he is, Captain Tom Selleck”, comparing him to a popular T.V. detective from those days. I laughed out loud at that. The pilot had everything but an ascot flying in the breeze and deserved the comment. But, despite that, I would have still been with the rest of the passengers in voting to throw them off the plane, after we got to 35,000 feet. I’m just saying that I understand…


Many of the more hellish travel moments are caused by the morally innocent. Babies screaming in your ear on an airplane is an example. The shrill sound of a baby crying (because its ear drums  are being pressurized at that altitude) is one of the more gut wrenching of all travel problems. You are not only helpless to complain (if you have any sympathy at all) but you are compelled to ask if there is anything that you can do to help, such as lance the little beggar’s ear drums with your ballpoint, or muffle him with duct tape, or try to stuff him in the overhead compartment, the one bulging with baggage. If you have been the parent of a miscreant in that situation, you just have to feel that it is your turn to suffer after all your own  child imposed on others. Karma, I think they call it.


My buddy Gary Marfin and I took a bus down to Brownsville one night to conduct an interview for a paper we were writing. A very old man sat behind us and fell into a deep sleep, punctuated by gasping and emphysemic sounds after every exhale. It made it impossible to sleep. Then after one VERY deep breath, the sound stopped. We waited for the exhale, answer came there none, and Gary and I stared at each other in wild surmise. The bus had killed the poor fellow. But at least the sound had stopped. This allowed us to drift off until the border guards stopped our bus and searched for illegals.Suddenly, the recently deceased was resurrected, at least enough to show a drivers license to the Federales of South Texas. As an aside, this was the same group of uniformed thugs who took me off the bus for questioning and a lecture after I had replied “Nuevo York” to the question of where my home town was. I was eventually let back on the bus after a stiff warning and treated to the harmonious sounds of a snoring,  punctured accordion for the rest of the trip. At least we had not had to report that the old man had died. I can say that if you had been there, you’d have understood…


As a child  I sat on a train in Wichita Falls staring at the bank temperature sign telling me that it was 110 degrees. The hottest I had ever seen it in my 10 years on the earth. A large teenager sitting next to me sweat through his shirt and in his stupor leaned over against me, snorting in my ear and dampening my arm. This kind of thing is horrifying to a child. I actually imagine that it was this type of issue which caused the recent beheading. That, or possibly the irritation of being seated next to some kind of Renaissance Fair guy (the deceased was reported as returning from a “fair” in Alberta). Those people have a tough time breaking out of character and it might have sent our murderer over the top (he is charged with only second degree murder, my guess is that when all the facts come out, it will be dropped to manslaughter).That is because while the law never condones this type of violence, in some cases, it sort of understands.


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