I’m Never Reading a Real Book on the Bus Again

Steve Levandoski
4 min readMay 23, 2024

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My bus stop at the corner of 15th and JFK reeked of blunt-weed and car exhaust. Right across the street was City Hall with William Penn perched on top, a classic example of covert phallic architecture. Mr. Penn’s hand transformed into another appendage at a certain vantage point, the same one where I waited for my bus after work every weekday, reading a book or using the Kindle phone app.

Audio Visual Technicians such as myself had to wear show-black in order to fade in the background: a black collared polo shirt, black cargo pants, black sneakers, and black socks. And yes, there were managers who noticed the flash of white socks like a fresh pink mohawk.

When the 27 bus finally snaked around City Hall, I put on my black N95 knockoff mask, climbed aboard, greeted the driver like any good citizen would, and then swiped my pass.

Bus seats aren’t easy to come by in rush-hour, especially ones that aren’t covered in fluids, bodily or otherwise, so I was grateful that I found one in the back of the bus. I made myself comfortable and pulled the paperback version of The Werewolf by Montague Summers from my black laptop bag. The cover features a medieval drawing of a werewolf holding a damsel in its jaws. The nice thing about e-books is that no one else knows what you are reading. It’s one less avenue for small talk. I’m not trying to make friends. I don’t even like the ones I have. That day, I broke my own rule and broadcast my reading taste to my fellow passengers.

I was just getting to the good part about the werebadgers when I heard a voice from across from me say, “Hey buddy, are you reading about werewolves?”

Oh no. I looked up from my book, and saw a middle-aged man, about my average height and pounchy build, staring at me.

“Yeah,” I said, my eyes breaking eye contact and returning to the page as a subtle hint.

Silence.

“That’s some occult shit.” He nodded to himself as if confirming a theory. “That’s crazy.”

He dressed like he had a loving family member who’d taken him to Goodwill and curated his outfits.

”That’s crazy,” he repeated, irritated this time.

“Yeah?”

“Yeah, crazy.” There was a slyness in his eye, like a magician reaching into his hat. “Crazy coincidence that I was just talking to a lady up front about the occult and had to move because I’m a Christian now and can’t talk about that shit anymore. I’ve found Jesus again.”

“Huh!” I nodded.

As a policy, I rarely disagree with anyone crazier than me, unless they are discussing how spitting on me would be a good time.

He smiled knowingly. “And who do I happen to sit beside but some guy reading an occult book. Just goes to show you.”

There was an awkward silence before I caved in and took the bait just to end it. “What’s that?”

I never felt afraid of the guy, which was good because I’m about as menacing as celebrity chef Alton Brown in lederhosen. He had kindness in his eyes, but the kindness dimmed with apprehension. The look of a formally gullible person who had been burned before. He reminded me of somebody.

His smile grew as he finally showed his hand. “Just goes to show you. The devil is everywhere.”

Wait. Hold up! Did he mean . . .? I looked down at my all black wardrobe, like a business casual Johnny Cash. Oh great. This man thinks I’m a demon. Fallen angels tend to be handsome, but to be fair, I had a mask on. How am I going to bullshit my way out of this one? How do you explain that you are not a hand of Satan, but just a nerd reading some book that Misfits/Samhain frontman, Glenn Danzig, said was cool in an interview?

To get into character I glowered and then smiled a wicked grin beneath my mask as if I were downplaying my anger after his cunning defeated of me. As if I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction.

“Yeah,” I said, adding an artificial twinge of disappointment and balefulness to my voice, eyes on fire.

“Enjoy your book, buddy,” he said to the blue-eyed devil holding the bad book before turning his attention elsewhere, signaling that I had been dismissed.

And I did enjoy my book. He didn’t bother me again for the next half an hour. I pondered if Philly had wereroaches, because one of those little suckers can carry a whole Italian hoagie away. When I got off of my stop — which in retrospect was stupid, because I should’ve gotten off a couple before or after so he wouldn’t know where I lived — I heard him yell “Hey, buddy!”

He waved goodbye naughtily and his voice trumpeted confidence.“Have a good one!”

“Have a good one, “ I echoed, but my tone inferred, “I’ll get you next time, foolish mortal!”

I also told the bus driver to have a good one, like a good citizen in my human voice, and then stormed off in defeat with a gait of devilish arrogance, not breaking character until the bus disappeared.

When I told my coworkers the story the next day, they agreed. “Steve is totally getting stabbed with a curvy knife soon. Something ceremonial looking.”

So far, so good though. I’ve never seen him again.

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