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A Pointed Gaze

Today a homeless man pointed at me. He was sitting across from the most rear door of the 720 Rapid bus to Santa Monica. He was craning his neck, looking around other people to look at me, as if witnessing a rare occurrence, perhaps a solar eclipse or the nocturnal march of a kiwi. I noticed his gaze behind sunglasses and must have visibly jumped or caught a light that cleared my lenses because he saw me see him looking at me. That didn’t disturb his gaze but sort of strengthened it: he leaned in, toward me, as I stood by the door reading. The busy bus around us was still, almost invisible, and we were locked by this look. His sightline was a tight grab. Even the book I attempted to read, placed between his and my eyes, took on an transparent quality.

A seat opened a section away from him and I quickly shuffled over to it. The seat was on the same side and same level as he was, just five seats toward the bow of the vehicle. The immediate thought was that I was eye catching: I was wearing bright red loafers, tight blue shorts, and a collared shirt whose pattern was literally shirtless cartoon hunks in the wild. Maybe he found me funny looking? Or was it the gay gaze, the bond between two strangers of the same sex that acknowledges that I know that you know that I know what you know: we’re both gay. We’re family.

The man was dressed in darkened silver. A shiny silver jacket blacked with dirt, a gray shirt whose collar was covered by his tangled beard, and faded black jeans whose reverse dyed embellishments whiskered areas white. He had small and large black plastic bags stuffed under his seat that he would occasionally ruffle. He was quiet and, as fucked up as it sounds, didn’t carry a unique smell into the crowded space. I tried to read my book seats away, literally scanning a passage about if dogs consider death, but I wasn’t entirely present. The way that guy looked at me was weird. I felt like I had done something wrong or that he had caught me. Was this my fault?

A hand waves in front of me and the silver homeless man is attached to it. It has been forty minutes. He mouths something that I cannot hear because of my earphones. “Excuse me?” I ask, calling for a repeat. “Do you have any change?” he asks. I do but I jump to the more typical response of, “No, I don’t: sorry.” He exits the bus at the VA Medical Center stop in Brentwood and I question if I should have dug around for a dollar. I always respond that I have no money, to anyone who asks: I’m an equal opportunity non-giver. Did this man ask anyone else for money before departing or just me? It feels like he was just asking me. What if I had pulled out my wallet to give him money, the bus moving beyond his stop, but an interaction had that I did not want? Would he have asked me out on a date or winked or punched me or just left? Did he hate me? Was this indeed an innocuous urban moment or something more complex?

I exited at the next stop—where I leave to walk to work, South on Barrington—and kept thinking about that man: I should have given him money. Or smiled? Or acted the same. It was a moment on the bus, an intense stare caught. A point with the eyes meant to go unnoticed. It was a preoccupation with spectating and spectacle, objectifier and object—or it was just a look, a normal interaction shaped into oddity due to my own self-obsession. Or maybe he really was a gay man trying to connect with another? Maybe he’ll be on the bus again tomorrow and we can stare at each other again, accidentally, frustrated that neither of us have the answer that we want to hear.

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