Thursday night I caught the late bus home from Pasadena to Hollywood, and one stop into the journey an older gentleman sat next to me who used a method of sound control I hadn’t seen before. He ripped a cheap brown napkin in half and jammed it in his ears. At the time, I was playing this music video on my phone (more on that at a later date) so I wasn’t offended by this gesture. I may be quite partial to it, but that song certainly isn’t for everyone.

But to stick a napkin in one’s ears to tune it out? That’s just hilarious. So I snapped this photo.

Once the song was over the phone went into my pocket and I cavalierly said to the man, “The song is done, so you can take the napkins out of your ears if you want.” Without hesitating, the man turned to me.

“Oh, thank you,” he said matter-of-factly in a New York accent. “It’s also to keep out all this racket.” He gestured to the speakers on the bus, blaring obnoxious advertisements.

“Well, I can’t argue with you about that,” I said, motioning towards the napkins in his ears, “but I have to ask since I’ve never seen anyone do that before- why not use earplugs?”

With a smile, the man said, “My doctor tells me not to. They push the ear wax farther into my ear canal, so I don’t use them.”

“What does your doctor say about using napkins?”

The man chuckled. “Well, I never asked him.”

I smiled. “I recognize your accent. What part of New York are you originally from?”

“The Bronx. Although it’s not as strong as it used to be.”

“How long have you been here?”

“Before you were born, I’m sure.”

“I was born in 1984.”

He laughed, “Then yes, most certainly. I moved here a long time ago and never looked back.”

“Was it the weather? It sucks back East.”

“Yes it does. It’s terrible. It’s beautiful here,” he said.

“It is difficult to be upset about anything when you walk outside in the middle of February and it’s 70 degrees and sunny.”

“And no humidity.”

“That too.”

I admit, the last thing I expected was to begin a pleasant conversation with this gentlemen whom I believed to be pissing off upon his first sitting next to me. However, the flow of dialogue had other plans. After a handful of stops, the topic of discussion shifted to what we were both doing riding the 181 into Hollywood at 10pm on a Thursday. Turns out he’s a teacher of film history and cinematic movement at the art school near the comic shop I manage. Funny thing is, one of my regular customers works at that same school, and when I dropped his name, the man recognized it but couldn’t place it to a face. Still, small world, eh?

“So if you work out in Pasadena, why live in Hollywood?” I asked.

“Why live in Pasadena when everything else I do is out here?”

Damn good point. It’s the same reason I’ve stayed in Los Feliz since moving here in 2009. Everything one could want is in the area and it’s affordable. For Los Angeles standards, anyway.

“One thing I do miss from New York is the architecture,” I pointed out. He then went on to tell me of all the various buildings and art deco designs that exist throughout LA. I had no idea, and one day an excursion is in order to try and see a number of them.

“Do you take this route often?” I asked.

“God, no. I usually get a lift. The bus is Hell. Or as close to Hell as I want to get.”

No argument here.

At this point more than 40 minutes had passed and the neon lights of run-down motels on Hollywood Blvd. signaled my destination was quickly approaching. “Well, this is my stop. It was nice talking to you. My name is Andy, by the way.”

“I’m Jay, and it was very pleasant speaking with you, too. Have a nice evening.”

“You too, Jay,” I said, exiting the bus.

Jay and I maintained a steady conversation throughout the entire ride. It goes to show sometimes you think you won’t get along with someone, but then a common thread is found and you’ve made a complete stranger into a happy acquaintance. Go figure.

On the brief walk home from the stop, I passed a homeless man I see multiple times a week since moving here, but have never spoken a word to. He’s a tall, scraggly bearded black man whom I’ve never seen shout, curse, or have a definable “crazy moment,” unlike many of the other homeless denizens of Hollywood. This evening he was hovering near the wall of an Aaron Brothers with his hands at his side, staring blankly at the street in front of him. Sticking with the night’s trend of talking randomly to strangers I said, “Hey man, you eat tonight?”

My words shook him from his trance. “Yeah, yeah,” he said in a gruff, but kind voice, awkwardly stepping around within a foot diameter. “I have my soda here,” he pointed to a half full plastic bottle resting on a window sill.

“You sure?”

“Yeah, yeah,” he smiled through chipped teeth and white-hot eyes, waving me on my way.

I’ll make it up to him one of these nights, and I’ll be sure to give him plenty of napkins.