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Muscle Head and the Comedian 0

Dear Bradshaw,

I was in front of the Palazzo delle Esposizioni on Via Nazionale, waiting for bus 70 while some guy was wandering up and down the sidewalk. He approached every female in sight, and I noticed that each one avoided him as if he were a hornet or the plague. After each rejection, he returned to the bus stop and joked with some guy, slapping his back and squeezing his shoulder as if they were old friends. The guy was dressed in a bus driver’s uniform. He never said a word. He just nodded and smiled sarcastically.

The skirt-chaser was about forty-five years old. He was wearing a Panama hat, red-rimmed glasses densely taped at the hinges, a blue button-down shirt, and a banana yellow suit. Wondering if he were a comedian performing for the Italian equivalent of Candid Camera, I glanced around for a hidden camera but didn’t see anything.

Another woman approached. She had a square-shaped head, buckteeth, pimply complexion, and a body like a construction worker. The Comedian pinched the bus driver’s cheek, whispered in his ear, and then marched off swinging his arms. Whatever he said made the woman screw up her eyes and frown. She picked up her pace and was gone in an instant.

Buses came and went, inhaling and exhaling passengers. The Comedian’s friend was one of them and, as they hadn’t shaken hands, waved goodbye, or acknowledged each other’s parting in any way, I concluded they weren’t friends after all. While the last bus snarled away, suddenly, the Comedian was in my face, demanding a cigarette and reeking of alcohol.

“I don’t smoke,” I said.

“Yes, you do,” he said, tottering on his feet as he patted my shirt pockets on both sides.

I tucked a hand into my back pocket, protecting my wallet, and also balanced my weight in case he took a swing at me or puked.

The 70 arrived and I boarded. The Comedian followed, again requesting a cigarette and again patting my pockets as the bus pulled away. He turned to a muscle head seated next to where we were standing. Muscle Head was an older fellow with chiseled features and a stone-hard face. He was not a man to mess with, and I was curious to see how he would handle the Comedian.

The Comedian asked Muscle Head if he had heard of Vasco Rossi but before Muscle Head could respond, the Comedian leaned forward and, slurring his words, sang, “Respiri piano per non far rumore/Ti addormenti di sera e ti risvegli col sole/Sei chiara come un’alba/Sei fresca come l’aria.”

Glancing up from the book I was reading, I saw Muscle Head look at the Comedian and then eye me up and down. He seemed to be struggling to understand what was happening. Was he in danger? Was this a joke? Was he on the Italian equivalent of Candid Camera?

The Comedian straightened his glasses, turned to face a group of tourists seated across from Muscle Head, and then asked if they’d heard of Vasco Rossi. The tourists held their breath and then glanced through the window at the Vittoriano as the Comedian sang: Respiri piano per non far rumore/Ti addormenti di sera…

The comedian placed a hand over his heart, explaining that Vasco Rossi was Italy’s poet. He was a musician and a genius. The tourists didn’t know what to make of the Comedian. Was he a comedian? A drunk? A madman? All the while, Muscle Head was hammering nails into me with his eyes. He jerked a thumb at the Comedian and then pointed at me and asked if we were friends. I smiled and shook my head.

By the time we arrived at Largo Argentina, the Comedian was in the middle of the bus, striking up conversations with whomever would listen, and singing: Respiri piano per non far rumore/Ti addormenti di sera…. Unfortunately, this was my stop, so I exited the bus, disappointed that, for me anyway, the show was over.

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