I’m a big fan of professional jerk Nick Gazin’s comics column for Vice.
“There’s this one strip where Schroeder actually tries to communicate his understanding of beauty to Lucy. Of course Lucy doesn’t really care about his inner world, she’s just a groupie and wants the idea of Schroeder. It answers the question of what would happen if Schroeder actually gave Lucy the time of day. This is a moment where it seems like Sparky is really opening up to us about his own personal ways of relating to women, falling in love with distant princesses. It also harkens back to that scene in Citizen Kane when a guy mentions that he never forgot a beautiful girl he saw crossing the street decades earlier.”
Thomas Hardy wrote Tess of the D’Urbervilles, one of the best books about the plight of women, the peasantry, and the tyranny of religiously-motivated anti-intellectualism in the Victorian era. Like all good works of literature, it’s full of sex and violence, rape and murder, and its fate at the hands of the American textbook system gives me the dry heaves. You ask any college student if they’re ever read Edith Wharton or Thomas Hardy and they’ll squint their eyes, study the ceiling, and recall brief excerpts they were forced to plow through in order to answer “critical thinking questions”, after not being allowed to think critically about the material at all.
You won’t have the context to understand the House of Mirth or Tess of the D’Urbervilles until you’re well out of high school, anyway.
But I digress.
I found out what happens to the Girl on the Bus.
I was riding the Metro in Seattle when I saw her—she had that birdlike slenderness that borders on pathology, the kind you find in serious dance academies and high fashion, but she was petite, too. Which just made her eyes look bigger. Her skin was absolutely white, and flawless, and because I was about her age and dressed in black as well, my inability to stop glancing at her probably wasn’t as unsettling as it could have been. I still felt bad about it, even days afterwards.
Later that year, I visited the MAC store downtown, and there she was. A salesgirl, and with this new attentive animation, under the yellowish commercial lighting, she lost her magic. She was strange and gawky, her features out of proportion and asymmetrical, her skin ashen, her stance ungraceful. She was so altered (or maybe I was) that it took me many minutes to decide that she was, in fact, the Girl on the Bus, even though she had not aged, and wore the same clothes and makeup.
The answer to the mystery of these fleeting beauties is that the glamour is as transient as the encounter. Those girls are your wives, your friends. And some of them make a broader platform, a more traveled stage for the enchantment, and for some it visits only rarely, but the moment is what you pine for, and not the girl who wears it for you.
She could be anyone. And she is.