Does Barbie have a maid? The dream house is pristine and gleams in rosy perfection yet I have never seen dishevelled and sweaty Barbie wearing pink rubber gloves as her main accessory. On Saturday afternoon I spent the better part of three hours helping to clean up a flooded basement. Time ran short and so I left directly from there to meet a girlfriend, wearing jean capris and a jean jacket, a less-than-fresh Tshirt, my daughter’s old Vans and no makeup. It was more of a seen-better-days biker mama look (minus a few tattoos) than vintage Barbie.
After joining my friend at a local patio, where we both felt the crowd was quite “young” (this term becoming more and more relative and less based on actual numbers as we collect birthdays), I set off on the public transit journey homeward. After the subway has closed, this journey becomes as much a part of the Saturday evening activities as the outing itself. The bars empty and the streets fill with their occupants, mostly happy and boisterous and a few looking like they would prefer to hug a lamp post for a while rather than climb aboard what is colloquially known as the “vomit comet”: the 24-hour TTC buses that serve a few routes throughout the city.
There I was at 2 am with my long blonde hair, yes, but it was pulled back in a ponytail and I was wearing no makeup. No heels – only the unfashionable skater shoes that my daughter had scornfully cast off and refused to let me wear if I was out in public with her. Not very Barbie-worthy attire. I noticed that I was attracting no attention at all from the majority of my fellow night travellers, which was fine with me since I wasn’t in the mood to make conversation anymore. I looked like I might have just finished a night shift at Coffee Time, which as everyone knows, is the very poor and inbred cousin of Timmies and definitely more than six degrees of separation from Starbucks. While I was aware of this, I certainly didn’t expect that when a rare seat on the bus became available in front of me a sweet young thing would jump into it and proceed to gesture at her friends with one hand while texting with the other, completely oblivious to my movement toward the seat when it had been vacated.
For those who ride public transit, you will know that the days of gentlemen giving up their seats to ladies are long gone. But it is surprising to me how people are able to insulate themselves so well from the recognition they are sharing space and air with dozens of complete strangers. Maybe that is just an excuse I make for my fellow citizens. Perhaps it isn’t unwitting unawareness but smug self-interest that allows younger and fitter riders to look right through the women with pregnant bellies or obviously exhausted men or women of a certain age while they remain comfortably seated. I’m not saying that my diner-waitress look was supposed to have invited courtesy, but the shift in attitude from something that had happened to me a week before made me stop and think. There was the bus driver who stopped for me a few days before, then there was another day when I was hustling down to the subway platform and the door was about to close. I stopped short and watched the doors in front of me, resigned to wait for the next train, when two burly fellows pulled the doors apart and whisked me inside the doors – “come on” said one to the other, “let’s get her in”. I smiled in confusion – this unsolicited assistance came at some risk to their own arms since subway doors are not made to be held back when closing – and I had not made any visible signs to communicate to them it was urgent that I embark on that particular train.
On that day, I had been coming from work and was wearing an appropriately nice dress and jacket, heels and makeup. My wardrobe was communicating something different about me than my Saturday night bus ride outfit. Lucky for me that my day job doesn’t involve rubber gloves as the main accessory. Unlucky for those who have no choice but to show their lemon pledge affiliation on the way home in the streetcar, and especially unfortunate if they happen to be over 40 and female, because no amount of spit and polish will make them appear shiny and new to the masses of fellow riders. Their secret power is invisibility but they won’t be able to use it for good or evil.
As for me, I managed to entertain myself with some 2 am streetcar verse:A generic passenger sits beside me pregnant waft of Man scent humid fertile black earth brown tobacco and salty Float slowly by and hang beside the closed window then bounce back memory of Woman scent warm yeasty fresh cherry souffle hyacinthe and tears.