The Touch

It’s a harmless curiosity, but that’s not how you’ll see it. You will recoil and glare, perhaps blurt some epithet to quickly define your discomfort with the situation, and I’ll immediately be on the defensive despite my harmless intentions. It’s understandable that you would jump to conclusions, this being a public bus and me being a stranger, which I will grant is true despite that fact that we’ve ridden the same bus line for what seems like years. But we’ve never spoken, and that silence defines us as strangers.

Like most seasoned public transit riders, I expect you have “the unexpected” in the back of your mind, even during the most mundane commutes. That “unexpected” is a simple idea, a mild and purely hypothetical discomfort until something actually happens and suddenly it’s bottomless, a black hole of increasingly worse-case scenarios instantly playing in your mind. And you’re plunging descent into that psychic abyss will not be slowed by my hurried explanation, so every word of my defense will seem like a lie to cover the freakish proclivities you now imagine I possess.

I could do it and pretend it was an accident, or claim I thought you were someone else, but you won’t believe me. You will awkwardly switch seats, and I’ll be left alone to whither in the suspicious glares of nearby riders. I’ll explain to them that I wasn’t hitting on you, that it’s not like I touched your skin, because that would be weird. But they won’t nod sympathetically or assure me that it’s something they wanted to do themselves. They’ll just start mentally composing the monologues that they will soon recite to their spouses and roommates, exaggerated versions of how this creep on the #35 reached out and stroked this woman’s pony tail. Just reached up and touched a stranger’s hair.

Their stories won’t mention how impossibly soft the hair appeared to be. They won’t mention that, considering we ride every day with shoulders and thighs pressed against strangers, making momentary contact with a person’s hair isn’t an offense on par with a grope or an overt cleavage stare. They’ll paint me as a predator, a fetishist, and word will soon spread among the regulars. I’ll be that guy, the stuff of #35 lore. The hair toucher.

I don’t want to be that guy. So I sit with my hands clutching my backpack, staring at the beautiful brown hair spilling gracefully from beneath the leather barrette and over the back of the bus seat in front of me — wondering if it could possibly be as soft as it looks.

About Bill Reagan

Bill Reagan enjoys how public transit juxtaposes neighbors and strangers in a way no other microcosm of our community can. He likes eavesdropping, striking up random conversations, and watching how people act when they think no one is looking. He can be found online at WilliamReagan.com and @WilliamReagan on Twitter.
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8 Responses to The Touch

  1. Mary Sue says:

    Aaaand that’s why I always wear a hat on the bus.

  2. So very creepy, even in the apologetic, defensive tone the author chose to write this with. There’s a reason many people view this as an intrusion, and I’m pretty sure they’re far more justified for thinking that, than the character above is justified in touching some thing he finds beautiful (surely this is fiction? Inside the mind of an entitled man?)

    Thanks for sharing.

  3. jeanine claar says:

    wow…..yes I would find that creepy if someone did that to me not knowing what the deal was. But this description is nice….too bad it couldn’t be conveyed like you mean.

  4. Irene says:

    As someone who has had people come up to me and ask if they could touch my hair this post gives me the creeps.

  5. Dave says:

    Hey folks, no hair was actually touched.

  6. Pingback: The Touch

  7. QZanny says:

    I love hair. I might have been a hairdresser to have an excuse to play with it but then Iwould have to CUT it- no! That aside- I understand the urge and applaud the restraint. We human beings like pretty and soft and textured and interesting. Admiring and wanting that tactile validation of what the eye sees (or nose smells etc.) is not in an of itself creepy. Even asking to touch- a long pony tail or some especially bouncy curls or a fuzzy vest or suspersoft shoes are all things we do during our lives without fear of judgment as children and even teens. It is only as adults that we are not allowed, with strangers at least. Such harsh judgement! Have none of you ever asked to pet a puppy? Hold a baby? Things we do not even think about in our homes -with friends or family, at the workplace, is suddenly creepy on the bus. We are still all human beings. Admiring something beautiful is ok. That is all that was done here. And if you ever admire my hair (alas not likely as it is not escpecially fancy) you would be welcome to politely ask and if you don’t look like a creep who wants to pull it glue it or cut it off- I’ll probably say ok 🙂

  8. Bill Reagan says:

    Thanks QZanny. As you said, “Admiring something beautiful is ok. That is all that was done here.”

    What surprised me about some of the reactions to this post is the implication that I was one “creepy” person on an otherwise creep-free transit system. I expect nearly everyone on my bus is noticing and contemplating someone’s hair or body or smile or jacket, daydreaming of talking to that person or dating them or wondering about the texture of the coat. I simply gave voice to one of the many inner monologues that take place every day on every TriMet bus. It seems naive to think otherwise.

    Of course, some readers might have mistaken me for the TriMet Barber. He’s definitely creepy. But as Dave says above, no hair was actually touched in this post.

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