October 3, 2012

Seent it: The Barefoot (Prego) Contessa

"Seent it" is a southern phrase meaning "what I saw".  Why the vast majority of Eastern North Carolinians feel the need to add consonants onto the ends of words, I will never know, but I blame country slang for my life-long struggle with spelling.  Since moving to New York, I'vza seent a many crazeh thangs.  These stories make up the "Seent It" series.

The best result of my Brooklyn-based job is that I no longer have to spend a ridiculous amount of coin on public transportation.  A coworker and I have put together a make-shift carpool operation wherein I jump into her Honda Civic every morning at 08:40 and roll out again at 18:14 (no, the car never stops moving).

There is, though, the odd day when I'm forced to take the B47 into Bedstuy, which to many people is a questionable act, but I've never had any problems.  I usually get a seat, and get to people watch for a full 15 minutes.

On one such day in early September, I was twiddling my thumbs by the bus stop and trying to ignore the Yoruba priestess chanting behind me (this is actually quite common (and her headdress was amazing)), when I saw a middle-aged Latina pregnant woman waddling down the street.  More specifically, in the street, wearing a very large floral-printed t-shirt as a dress and carrying two plastic "THANK YOU ☺ COME AGAIN" bags swung over her shoulder.  Her hair was also completely buzzed off, but none of that was too particularly strange.

The fact that she was yelling at the top of her lungs "I NEED TO PEE TELL THE BUS TO WAIT OKAAAYYY!!!" that caught all of us at the bus stop off guard.

The priestess slowly stopped chanting while everyone performed a collective what-the-fuck headroll, starting from the top of her head and ending at her feet - her bare, scabbed and black-with-dirt feet.  We probably all would have let the bus fly by if she herself hadn't flagged it down - one hand flailing in wide circles above her head, the other wrapped tightly around the underside of her huge belly.

I took my usual seat on the bus, and watched while she slowly made her way up the stairs.

"Thank ya sweetie!" she said to the bus driver.  A few people stood up and offered their seats, but she refused them all.  "If I sit down," she said, "I'll never get up again!"  She cackled incredibly loud, and gave everyone a wide, toothless grin.

A little girl sitting in front of her had no trouble asking the question on everyone's mind: "Why don't you got any shoes on?"  The girl's mother popped her on the back of the head, and all of her beaded braids collided with one another (one of my favorite sounds).

"It's okay, Mama!" our barefoot contessa said. "Ya know sweetie, I was walking to work earlier and got caught in the rain!  My sandals - you know the flippy floppy kind? - well sweetie they were old and fell apart in the water.  Don't that suck!!"

"Mommy, can we give her some shoes?"

The look of disgust on the mother's face was immeasurable.  She let out a sigh of relief when the pregnant woman started shaking her head "no".

"Don't worry about it sweetie!  I'm meeting my husband at the bus stop and he's bringing me some shoes okay?"

"Are you sure he's meeting you?  Why don't he bring them to ya instead of making you go to him?"  Our little girl is very bright.

Her mother smacked her head again (beaded curtain sound).  "Stop asking questions!"

"It's okay, baby!  Here I need to call him anyway to make sure he's coming."

She pulled a duct-taped prepaid phone from one of the plastic bags, and pretended to dial a number - saying each number aloud while she punched the buttons with the weight of her entire arm.  I was sitting at such an angle that I could see the blank screen; it never lit up, there were no characters or numbers, no "Dialing Now" animation - it never turned on.

"He must be away from his phone," she said, after holding the phone to her ear for a minute or so. "But don't worry baby girl!  He'll be there okay!"

She pulled the stop request string shortly thereafter, and never stopped smiling.  The bus stop was empty, and there was no one on the street to meet her.

"Byyeee!!" she said to the little girl, waving as she held her belly and walked down the stairs.  The bus couldn't move because of traffic, and I watched her cross the street, turn down the next block, and just keep walking.

"Did she meet her boyfriend, Mommy?" the little girl asked.  "I'm too short to see it's sooo annoying!"

"She did, baby," her mother said. "She did."

~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~

Now, a few of you have emailed and specifically asked me to stop writing about "heavy" things and post more pictures of my shoes.  Interestingly enough, that's what this story is - it's a picture of shoes.

For those who are confused, I will now teach you how to use your brain (no shade... just sayin').

As someone who glamorizes footwear, I found the juxtaposition of me riding the bus next to someone who has no shoes at all somehow significant.  You see, it's many of the small moments we see everyday that really define the world we live in.  The lack or surplus of an item of clothing (in this instance, shoes) can paint a picture of economics, race relations, social responsibility, etc.  What you or I believe the image means or what we should do in response to it is irrelevant - for me, it's just important to realize it exists. 

 I also think it's interesting that something as often frivolous as fashion can have meaning.  It's learning to have fun with clothes yet still recognize their cultural significance that takes practice.  I haven't gotten there yet... I'll let you know??

If you are still confused, I have failed you, and for that I am sorry.  Also, please go to your nearest community college and take a socioeconomics class.

Search "Seent It" in the Strip Search box in the sidebar to see more posts in this series.


  1. A beautiful post. I love seeing people making the best of their situation and not getting hung up in despair...and also a mom trying to protect her child's innocence. Well written!

  2. Thank you for sharing this beautiful post. :) I love it when you write deeper and more meaningful posts.

  3. You write beautifully. It's amazing what we see and choose not to see every day.

  4. Great post! I love how you can tell such a story that would usually be depressing, but instead you add your own spice and humor to it, which doesn't water down the story at all, but makes it a lot more enjoyable to read. And also to the first commentor: The way I read the story, the lady wasn't making the most of anything. It sounded like she had some sort of mental disorder, But I could be wrong?

  5. Jason that really is a great post. Not only are you a literary trans person fairy god mother in the big apple. But you give New light to the idea of enlightend gay folks. You know how shallow we can all be, this is definitely is a moment of semantic respite.

    Best :)

  6. I was too embarrassed to intrude in the other posts with my late-ass comments as I lurked my way through the blog, but this one made me feel I just had to.

    I can't not say I love your style and, more than that, your insight. You know how some people see a pile of old newspapers, water and glue and make a papier maché scuplture, or how others have the ability to take thread and turn it into a scarf, or take vegetables, salt and herbs and make something delicious? Well, you just took a bus ride and turned it into a story/essay. The way I see it, you're magical. And I had to share the love. So there.



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