I am a Freak Magnet. This means I attract Freaks.

Non-Freak Magnets don’t understand this, and you can’t ever fully explain the depths of wackiness a Freak plumbs when they encounter a Magnet.

Freaks aren’t normal people who engage in small-talk while stuck in an interminable line, or ask you to help them find a contact lens, or ask you for the time while you’re on the Metro. A homeless dude who follows you down the the sidewalk and serenades you with “You Are So Beautiful” after you ignore him is annoying, but he’s not a Freak.

Freaks aren’t merely people who dress differently than the people around them or are clearly from another culture or profession or economic class than you. Those people can also be Freaks, but those states of being or actions alone do not necessarily a Freak make. The label “Freak” isn’t a judgement, per se, it’s more of a category. (A category that might best be defined as “people who have no sense of reality, believe they have a weekend home on Mars, and believe that the two of you inhabited the same physical form in a previous life.”)

For example, one day, long ago, I was on the bus on my way to work. I’m going to guess this was sometime in 2002 or 2003, because I was running into Jesus a lot back then.

Anyway, I was headed to the Pentagon Metro station – approximately a 20 minute ride. I don’t remember much about the day, but I do remember that the bus was really crowded and the weather was awful.

I was sitting on one of the bench seats along the side, wedged between two women.

One woman was sporting the stereotypical matronly 50something professional uniform: no-style haircut, St. John knit jacket, plain pumps with 1.5 inch heels. She was on the bus when I boarded. The other woman got on a few stops after me. She was neatly dressed in a pantsuit, probably navy blue, with a bulging briefcase wedged between her feet and something – probably an unopened book – in her hands.

Neither of these women spoke to me at any time. Neither of them threw glitter on me, wept openly at the beauty of my yellow aura, or attempted to fart the Star-Spangled Banner while insisting we all stand and place our hands over our hearts. (Coworker Who Was Not My Boyfriend and I used to call that guy “Captain Flatulence” – he was a Repeat Freak who one or both of us spotted on multiple occasions).

Both women were tidy. Neither of them smelled bad. Neither of them had marinated in perfume. Neither of them was purposely encroaching on my personal space.

Two boring women, riding the bus.

That sounds okay, doesn’t it?

It wasn’t.

I may have failed to mention that Pantsuit, after she got settled in her seat, then spent the entire ride staring at me. Directly. She was sitting next to me on the bench. Her body squarely faced the people on the bench across the aisle. Her head was turned so that she was staring directly into my ear. She never said a word. She just stared at me. For the whole ride, she stared at me. That could not have been comfortable for her. It certainly wasn’t comfortable for me.

About half-way to our destination, St. John started singing under in her breath in what could only charitably be called a monotone. I’m pretty sure she couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket. That didn’t stop her.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.

She kept repeating that line. Apparently that was all she knew. She sang that part over and over for 10 minutes.

When we got off the bus one of the Military Dudes who’d been sitting across the aisle watching this in wonderment asked me how I kept my cool for the entire ride. (You don’t really think I’m all jiggy with the zen states from years of meditation, do you? Heavens no, I’ve honed my hyper-focal concentration skills on the battlefields otherwise known as “public transportation.” Also, possibly “staff meetings” and “starbucks.” Plus, there were the Deadheads).

The Other Military Dude chimed in and told him about the woman who used to take the bus with us who decided that Jesus and salmon would save one’s soul and proceeded to pull labels from cans of salmon and a bible out of her laptop case and present them to people she deemed worthy of redemption. I, of course, was one of those people – it was what brought me to his attention in the first place. He was impressed with my equanimity in the face of biblical ichthyology.

I don’t remember it going down that way, but whatever. What I most remember was that she was also carrying a Glock9 and going into the Pentagon and that was all I wanted to know.

Other Military Dude also knew about Captain Flatulence. I suspected Other Military Dude was also a Freak Magnet but I wasn’t in the mood to engage for long, just in case he was less Magnet, more Freak. He knew about Captain Flatulence, who he called Patriotic Farting Man, because he was often on blue line train with him in the evenings. Apparently, Captain Flatulence/Patriotic Farting Man, although far from his dream of mastering the Star-Spangled Banner, had recently performed stirring renditions of America the Beautiful and God Bless America.

It was good to know that Captain Flatulence had moved or changed jobs, which explained his disappearance from the yellow and red lines. It was good to know that other people were running into Jesus around town. It was good to know that my Freak Magnetism served as a form of both edification and entertainment for others. It was also good to know that the Military Dudes had my back on the bus.

You must understand by now that putting me on Metro without a companion is like rubbing a rolly-polly baby in bacon grease and tossing him or her into a pit of ravenously hungry beasts.

Okay, it’s nothing like that; but it can be a trying experience. I am a FreakMagnet.

Tuesday I was on the Metro, minding my own business and reading a book. A fairly nondescript man in his fifties or perhaps early sixties sat down in the seat catty-corner to my own and spent several minutes trying unsuccessfully to catch my eye. I ignored him. Alas, he was a tenacious Freak and lack of eye-contact wasn’t going to stop him from speaking to me.

He cleared his throat rather imperiously and then launched into a lecture about the laziness of South Asians and how India would never rise from the gutter so long as Indians are in charge. He was very British.

As I said, he was rather nondescript. The tone of his lecture was such that in my memory he wears a three-piece white Colonel Sanders suit and a pith helmet. I can’t be certain if he was carrying a cane or if my imagination has supplied that, although I’m entirely certain my imagination conjured up the monacle. Also the rhino gun.

It so caught me off guard to hear someone holding forth about, and I quote, “the Wog problem,” that it felt like it was several minutes before I caught on that he was commenting on my book, In Spite of the Gods: The Rise of Modern India by former Financial Times South Asia bureau chief Edward Luce. It’s quite good, but perhaps you shouldn’t read it on the Metro. (Ben Macintyre’s review for the New York Times is here, if you’re interested)