You see the most unaccountable things riding public transit. Any average joe or josephine from every walk of life could be in that metal tube with you. Store clerks and serial killers. Waiters and wives and winsome wine connoisseurs who’ve had their limit at a tasting. I once saw a dog with a tattoo that said “love my bitches.” But today I saw something truly different.
I caught the five o’clock bus to take a look at the goods on board. That’s when he appeared: a county fair prize worthy specimen of the public transit menagerie.
On a seat just two behind the driver, sitting with nothing to do, I saw a man dressed as a carrot.
And not an unattractive carrot either. Ripe, moist, yet crunchy. Perfect for a salad with a spritz of lemon juice, or a stew with hearty beef. He was still and silent, but seductive and enticing, as carrots always are. The people around him must have been public transit professionals, because not one found anything out of the ordinary with this man’s vegetative state. I observed in awe as load after load of humanity cycled through our carriage, without one person taking a second glance at the colossal carrot in the corner.
When the bus got crowded—it being rush hour and all—a pimp in red galoshes even sat beside the carrot man with one of his products standing on display. It appeared—though I couldn’t hear—that he made a pitch. But the carrot didn’t move—because carrots can’t—and the pimp took the hint.
After a time—when I felt I’d observed the carrot’s behavior long enough to confirm that he really was a committed carrot impersonator, if not an actual carrot of enormous proportions—after a time, I say, I switched seats. Up to this point I had stationed myself on the opposite side of the bus and a few feet further back. Now I took up a post right across from the carrot. As I expected, he didn’t react. Carrots don’t often react to things, though they don’t get much credit in the media for their even tempers. But I had a plan to test out how many parts of his brain were true blue carrot and how many were still consciously man.
“Hey, fella,” I said. “What would you say if I told you that I had a paring knife in my pocket?”
He didn’t tell me what he would say. But in a very real sense, he told me exactly what he would say too. That is, he said what carrots say every single day: nothing. (And what credit do we give them for it in the media? None.) I decided to use another tactic.
“Hey, bloke,” I said, hoping he might be an Australian and accidentally show a reaction. “That lady has a rabbit.” There was no lady, and no rabbit, but I pointed to see if he would turn.
He did what good carrots do. I sighed and rubbed my hands together. This was a very good carrot.
“Hey, amigo,” I said, speaking as inspiration struck, “guess what I had for lunch today. Hey? You can’t guess? A salad. With tiny, baby carrots sprinkled all over.”
This was, perhaps, taking it a bit far. Maybe it was gauche to mention carrots by name, too on the nose. So on the nose that it might make him realize that I had seen that he was a carrot, unlike all the other public transit professionals who hadn’t noticed a thing. But at the very least, I thought that one of his reactions or realizations would cause a ripple on his carrot exterior, might crack through that impeccable wall of courtesy that all carrots possess (but will the media discharge their civic duty and display it? No!).
But, even under my intense questioning and intent scrutiny, he did not flinch. He remained resolute in his carrot-ness.
That was when I began to question whether I had got the right end of the stick in the first place. Maybe this wasn’t as it appeared at all. Maybe this wasn’t a man dressed as a carrot. Maybe this was a carrot dressed as a man.
Some might call this an unaccountable occurrence, but unaccountable things are in the sphere of public transit. And, after all, even though carrots are polite to a fault and rarely give any trouble, they aren’t the best actors on the whole. On top of all that, it came into my head that the only reason a carrot would wear a trench coat and hat would be to impersonate a human, while a human impersonating a carrot would have left those accoutrements at home.
I looked at the man-carrot or carrot-man anew, and was more convinced than ever that this was a carrot on masquerade.
“Hey, bub,” I said, moving across the bus so I could talk to him closer with his face near mine. I stuck a hand in my pocket and was somewhat surprised to find that I did, in fact, have my paring knife in there, although I would have sworn I had left it at home if I’d been asked just two minutes prior. I stroked the handle and thought about how lucky it was that I had packed it, since you never know when you might encounter a fine piece of fresh produce on the blue line. “Hey, bub, tell me straight out now: are you a carrot?”
I waited a good while for an answer, until people, even a couple of public transit professionals, began giving us sideways glances.
But he just looked at me, demanding to be eaten, in that way that carrots do. So I did.
Emily Woodworth grew up just steps from the Deschutes National Forest, watching Monty Python and reading Dickens voraciously. Oregon culture shapes all her writing, including an online sketch-comedy series, “The Barista Times,” about her experiences in the coffee industry. She holds a degree in Creative Writing from Pacific University, and will pursue her MFA in Writing at CalArts. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Under the Sun, Literary Juice, and Broad Street.