Three days ago I was on a packed #72 Portland city bus running north on 82nd Avenue trying to deal with my broken car. I was sitting in the very back facing a big 20something guy with greased-back black hair talking to anyone who would listen. "I really like that backpack. I really like that," as if the wearer might hand it over.
I didn't think too much about him and settled in to read my newspaper. "Hey can I read that?" loudmouth said to me as he reached out to snatch my sports page. "When I'm done. When I'm finished with it," I replied in a firm annoyed tone, tucking the entire paper under my arm as I scanned the front page. The dude was way too grabby.
A few seconds later everyone again heard, "I really like that backpack!" as the wearer walked off the bus. Then, like a bomb, loudmouth blurted "Goddam faggot!" to everyone when the wearer had gone.
Did he actually say what I just heard?!, I thought to myself, and yelled back, "Hey you can't say that! Shut the hell up!" before I could talk myself out of it.
Loudmouth looked me straight in the eye, and said "What?"
"You can't f-ing talk like that! Just shut up!" I replied and met his eyes and locked down my gaze, ready for anything. I was a bit scared, but kept going.
"I don't like that talk either," the guy next to me chimed in. Immediately energized, I shot back "Yeah, who do you think you are?" And that was about it. No one else said or did anything to help me, and I didn't look around for any backup. We were way too far from the driver for any help that way.
Loudmouth kept his blank stare on me, and I matched his intensity, trying to anticipate what craziness might happen next. He looked around the car and said to no one in particular, "I just don't like gays. Can I help it if I don't like gays." Like he was stating an opinion on broccoli.
"Just. shut. up. No one wants to hear you," I said one last time.
Loudmouth stared up at me again in a sort of crouched position with his head lower than mine. He didn't look fearful or wild eyed. Perhaps a momentarily cornered animal intent on keeping its distance and nothing more.
We both finally looked away. Then a few seconds later, incredibly, he said to me reaching out his hand, "Lemme look at the paper." It wasn't an attempt at intimidation. He appeared transfixed by the color photos on the sports page. Like the previous few minutes had never happened.
"Don't talk to me," I said with a snarl.
By then a few other new riders had tumbled into the surrounding chairs, and everything was pretty much over. Loudmouth was still seated, saying things to the people around him, when I got up to leave at my stop. I kept an eye on him walking out in case he decided to try something with my back turned.
Now that I was on the Max train -- the second leg of a 3-part mass transit trip to check on the busted timing belts that had crippled my '91 Subaru Loyale wagon in afternoon rush hour traffic on the I-5 interstate - I wasn't too rattled or nervous. Just trying to figure out that hater dude.
All that stuck with me was his wordless animal stare. 
Lawrence J. Maushard is a journalist and author in southeast Portland. More of his work at www.maushard.com