In the last several months, I seem to have become a lightning rod for verbal abuse from people in Ithaca with mental illness (a larger than average population, I contend, at least in terms of people wandering the streets talking to themselves). I write this now because it happened twice today – once as I was leaving my apartment building and walking to the bus stop this morning and then again as I returned to my office after lunch – but the incident I will relate actually happened in January.
On a cold January day during Cornell’s winter break I was headed home in the afternoon. I got to the bus stop and was waiting for the number 10 bus which runs every 10 minutes, Monday through Friday, year round (except for major holidays). Collegetown was quiet as most students were still away, and I was alone at the bus stop. After I’d been waiting for a couple of minutes, a woman who I had seen around town a few times and thought might be a few cards short of a full deck walked up to me and asked, “What bus are you waiting for?” This is not an unusual question among bus stop patrons; the usual reason is to see whether a particular bus has already gone by.
I answered, politely I thought, “the number 10.”
“I don’t think it’s running today. You’ll have to take the number 50 or something.” (The number 50 visits neither the stop where I was waiting nor my destination, a fact which I knew.)
“Okay, thanks,” I said with a smile. She walked on. I continued waiting. After a couple more minutes had passed, curiousity got the best of me. Maybe they had decided to stop running the number 10 during Cornell breaks, in which case I might be better off walking home. The woman was out of earshot, so I grabbed my cell phone and called the bus information number. “Is the number 10 running today?,” I asked.
“Yes it is.”
“Thanks very much. I heard it might not be.” Just as I finished this exchange with the bus dispatcher, the woman, who was about 25 yards down the street started shouting at me.
“Just who do you think you are, anyway? Talking on your cell phone. You think you’re so special, don’t you. I’ll bet you think your [poo] smells nicer than everyone else’s. Yeah, and I see you there in your fine clothes and with your fine haircut. You really think you’re something else, don’t you?”
Now, I know enough to know when my participation in a conversation is unnecessary, so I ignored her and got on the next bus that came by (it wasn’t the 10, but it was going where I wanted to go). The whole experience was a bit surreal.