It happened on the bus back from Galway. The bus system here in Ireland is fabulous. Big, beautiful, comfortable coaches running regularly all over the island, negotiating the narrow roads and hairpin turns in a way no Yank driver could. In a way this Yank driver shouldn’t, anyway.
On the packed bus back from Galway, I was hit on by a man. We’ll call him Angus for the love god of the same name from these parts.
Now, when I was a young girl, I enjoyed a reasonable degree of beauty. I didn’t always get the attention I wanted, but sometimes received more than I could stand. A few years as a cocktail waitress left me fairly nimble at putting down unwanted advances, and at encouraging the ones I wanted to encourage.
But 20 years of fatness put me far out of practice. My skills at flatly discouraging unwanted advances have atrophied. Well, naturally enough: No man has made a pass at me in at least that length of time. I ‘m a usually preoccupied and befuddled woman living in very conservative country in a town where my husband and I are well known to be happily married, and so the likelihood that I would receive an advance, or even notice, were it made, is slim to none.
When I travel, I am usually one of many tourists, including, usually, women and men far more beautiful than I ever was. Attention belongs to them. For heaven’s sake, I’ve traveled through France and Italy without anyone making a pass or pinching my ass, while my 59 year old husband gets goosed. And so, I long ago gave up the notion that I am a woman who turns heads. That was something I enjoyed in my youth. That’s not what now is about.
Well, but I didn’t account for guys like Angus. Old and simple guys. I caught up with Angus in the line for the Ballyvaughan bus outside of Galway station. It was Angus, me, an elderly nun, and an 80-something year old lady loaded down with shopping bags. I guess I looked pretty good in that lineup. As we boarded the crowded bus, Angus grabbed the seat next to mine, proceeded to help me untie my jacket from around my waist, patted my knee, made sure I was comfortable, introduced himself, and made some jokes about not falling asleep, lest I wind up in Lisdoonvarna by mistake. There is apparently a standing joke about a couple of guys from Dublin falling asleep on the wrong bus and ending up in Lisdoonvarna. I suppose you have to be from here to get it.
I’m already used to the warmth and friendliness, the arch hospitality of Irish people. They look you in the eye, size you up, and if you are found to be a reasonable sort of Yank, they’ll do everything they can to make sure you don’t kill yourself by looking the wrong way before crossing the street. Makes me proud of my roots.
But Angus’s hospitality soon enough seemed a little over the top. I want to be kind here. Angus is not the sharpest arrow in the quiver. He’s a sweet and enthusiastic man, who clearly frets enough through his day about making the right sort of impression that he’s ground his teeth down to nubs. He spends enough time in pubs that if you squeezed him hard, he’d ooze hops. He does work hard to impress a girl.
Discovering that I’m an American, he decided to give me a lesson in Euro coinage. This, I soon realized, was a ploy to reach over and over again into his pocket so that he could rub his knuckles up and down against my thigh. One coin at a time laboriously emerged from his deep pocket.
Every joke’s punchline he punctuated with a healthy and hot squeeze of my knee, a grab of my hand, a boozy, breathy, laugh. I was packed as tightly as I could be into the window seat, my backpack on my lap (my luggage blocking his squeezes from traveling any farther up my leg, thankfully), the luxurious coach seats leaving me unable to see any available empty seats around me.
I was truly flummoxed. I could have yelled at Angus. Could have told him nice guys do not squeeze the knees of strangers. There are a million things I could have said, I now realize, as I think of them, but I was tired from a day of hiking around Galway, and very, very surprised. I completely forgot how to handle even simple, elderly guys like Angus. I dully considered my options, but decided to wait it out.
Not even his several offers to hop off the bus to visit one of the many pubs in the many little villages along the road home really pissed me off. He certainly wasn’t a dangerous character. My feminist training seemed completely beside the point in this situation. He wasn’t particularly put off by news of my 20-year marriage. He simply followed that up with more jokes and knee squeezes. All this in a half-hour’s time, when we hit Angus’ stop. One more invitation to join him, and one more decline. He kissed my hand, wished me a pleasant trip, hopping off the bus, and giving me room to breathe and consider the event.
My knee and my cheeks burned for the whole of the next hour while I sat, embarrassed that I didn’t handle this well at all, and stuck with the scents of sweat and alcohol hanging in the air. Angus the Irish love god made me feel like an idiot girl again, a vulnerable and incompetent object of elderly desire. It was a really odd feeling. I’m a bit jumbled up about it.
On the one hand, how irrelevant. On the other, baby, I’ve still got it,
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