When I lived in Pittsburgh I took public transportation everywhere. During an afternoon busride home, I wasn’t really paying attention to my surroundings. Probably I was focused on getting home or was reliving some part of my day. The bus went around a corner. I should have kept myself upright but instead, in a moment of forgetfulness, I leaned into the person next to me. His jacket was puffy and soft. It occurred to me that I put in so much effort everyday to maintain my own individuated space. It felt good to forget about it for a moment. And I found myself strangely comforted by this contact. I had the feeling that we were collaborators, participating together in something indefinable.
After this I decided to try to make contact with the person sitting net to me every time I rode on the bus. I would do this through touch. I tried to have about 16 inches of my body contact the other person — my leg, maybe part of my arm. I kept a journal of these interactions.
Sample stories from Transitory Contact
54C Craig and Fifth to Twelfth and Carson
I forget about the project this morning until the bus goes around a curve. I try to keep myself from sliding into the girl next to me until I remember. I let myself move into her. How freeing not to have to work so hard to maintain this space between us. My muscles relax. I can give into the gravity of my own body. I realize how much energy is put into the maintenance of not touching. It is physical work. After a while, the girl seems uncomfortable with my proximity. Something about her was soft (not yielding but the texture of softness only). I imagine she is wearing a cashmere sweater but I can not see if this is true. At one point she uses the act of looking out of a window to gain some distance from me. How uncomfortable do I make others and does my attention press on them too?
61 A Forbes and Morewood to Forbes and Braddock
She is in front of me and I can not touch her. Instead I am able to see part of her face in the mirror. A wide and angular face. Lips that nearly form a circle. There is something sweetly decadent about the, near the point of decay, rotting magnolia bushes. I begin to understand all the awful cliches. She is ripe. A triangle of skin is visible within the v of her partly unbuttoned shirt. I want her breasts to be like her lips, forcing voluptuousness onto the angles of her body.
10/12, 9:16 – 9:25
The night I meet you I am weary, carrying the thought that my movements towards others are always reciprocated by a moving away. (Is it dread I carried with me towards the bus that night? How could I have known what it would be exchanged for?) As I move up the stairs onto the bus I see you sitting in your blue coat. The color gives me hope and I find myself sitting next to you. Unlike most seats on buses our seats are bucket seats – separated by a tiny gulf. This space, it opens up a longing in me. It intimidates me but I know that in the end I will not be able to keep myself from crossing it. I am aroused. You are fidgety. I know I will have to make contact. I start with my leg. When you lean forward I move my whole body towards your warm seat, knowing you will be forced into me when you move back. This happens just as I expect and you apologize. I turn to look at you and say, “It’s Fine”. I’m embarrassed. Did I reveal too much in these words? Do you know my secret? Maybe you let yourself touch me at this point. As you cross your arms your knuckles press into me. We go around a corner and I fall into you trying to press everything into our contact. A smile is edging its way onto my lips but I see you are serious, solid, looking straight ahead. I wonder what you are thinking. I become nervous and try to mimic your seriousness. I too look forward but I feel everything in me, every sensation, centered on your knuckles. As you uncross your arms I feel your forearm against mine and my arousal is killed with a dull satisfaction. My stop approaches and I know it is time to go. I see it is your stop as well and as we get off I start to panic. Will you follow me? I am (sadly) relieved to find we walk in opposite directions.
71A Craig and Fifth to Roup and Friendship
Today I sat next to a boyish man in white jeans and a brown jacket. The jacket was puffy and matched the puffiness of his legs. I got the impression that his entire body was filled with air. I leaned into him. Something about his body comforted me. I let myself be overtaken with the sensation. He did not try to move away but I had the feeling he was concerned about the transgression of space. Every now and then he would make an effort to move his hands to the other side of his body, away from me. I got the feeling that he was more concerned that he was touching me than that I was touching him.
CMU Shuttle Negley and Center to Morewood Gardens
On the bus I sit next to a woman. She is tiny. I remember that I am trying to make contact. I start edging my leg over. I still have a long way to go. Eventually I slide my whole body over again. Again, it is not enough. She is too small. To cross the gap between us would be too obvious or threatening. After a while she looks over my shoulder as I read. It is a passage about Marina Tsvetaeva, one of my favorite poets. Is this contact? Are we touching?
EBA Negley Station to Tenth and Liberty
Tonight my collaborator is curled into the window. His knees are at his chest and his hand is up near his mouth. Through the rearview mirror I can see that his eyebrows are furrowed. We move in centimeters. He pulls away form me in slow movements as I try to subtly overtake him. Both of us try to remain inconspicuous in our negotiations. His presence does not feel warm. It does not comfort me. Today I feel my invasiveness.