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The Prophet of The "L" Line: And Other Tales from the Bus

The Prophet of The "L" Line: And Other Tales from the Bus

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The Prophet of The "L" Line: And Other Tales from the Bus

308 pages
4 hours
Feb 15, 2015


A compendium of humor, wisdom, and an occasional answer from one of the world's greatest prophets, the perennial passenger of the bus.
Feb 15, 2015

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The Prophet of The "L" Line - Alexander M. Gelman

The Prophet

of the ''L'' Line

and other Tales from the Bus

By Alexander M. Gelman

This is a work of fiction. The events and characters described herein are imaginary and are not intended to refer to specific places or living persons. The opinions expressed in this manuscript are solely the opinions of the author and do not represent the opinions or thoughts of the publisher. The author has represented and warranted full ownership and/or legal right to publish all the materials in this book.

The Prophet of The L Line

And Other Tales from the Bus

All Rights Reserved.

Copyright © 2015 Alexander M. Gelman


Author Photo by Peggy Gelman.

Interior Photos by Alexander M. Gelman.

Cover Photo © 2015 All rights reserved - used with permission.

This book may not be reproduced, transmitted, or stored in whole or in part by any means, including graphic, electronic, or mechanical without the express written consent of the publisher except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

Outskirts Press, Inc

ISBN: 978-1-4787-4675-1

Outskirts Press and the OP logo are trademarks belonging to Outskirts Press, Inc.



As this world has evolved, there have been prophets and there have been so- called prophets. Some have had their names and philosophies affixed to plaques and great seats of mankind itself. Others see their epiphanies muted by perceptions and expediency. Some have had their messages revered and respected and others, without intent, have fertilized the minds and souls of millions without anyone ever knowing their names. A prophet does not need to foretell the future. He may not know what will occur at any time in the days to come. He must only tell a story that lifts, educates, explains or even exemplifies.

The Prophet of the L Line, as he was called, was such an individual. He was an exquisite sketcher of Man, encapsulating each individual in his art. In my travels with him I noted that he also told stories. This is what he did. It was a career, a calling. As much as his art nourished life, his stories reveled in life. If he were warm, you would fan him fastidiously. If he were cold you provided him your coat and if he were thirsty, you presented him with liquid. So many lives have been touched by him and those have touched other lives.

This then is his book of stories as I remember them. My attempt is to set down on paper his legacy, taking no responsibility nor glory in its placement.

Alex Gelman

Table of Contents
















On October 24, 2013, after minimal fanfare, they closed the L Line forever. To many of us, this simple administrative act was the end of an era. These were, to be sure, decrepit, bumpy and squealing fleets of public conveyances, which ran from Embarcadero to the top of Knob Hill and back again. They were buses that eternally lacked in proper maintenance as they clanged along the route like the percussion section of a symphony orchestra, out of tune and out of beat.

The line carried the young and the old, the optimistic young executive and the retired searching for meaning in spent lives. It transported housewives searching for and couples escaping from 700 square foot Marina flats. It moved perverts and criminals. All of these flowed into the bus with the smell of petrol and body odor and the occasional poppy seed bagel. For thousands and thousands this was a short respite from the agonies of life or a rest from obligation of brilliance.

All this they abruptly and surreptitiously closed on October 24, 1991. New and better had been found. Faster had been the marching song as if beaten by gorgons with long whips along Briary pastures of the dead.

On October 24, 1991, the Prophet disappeared, never to be seen again. For almost 20 years people have searched. There has been the occasional sighting of the Prophet from San Francisco to Atlanta, but never has there been what could be euphemistically called documentary evidence of his presence.

His glorious drawings still adorn museums and homes with beauty and voice. His musings, his stories and wisdom recorded over the years have changed countless lives and those lives have, in turn, affected countless others. The flesh, the bones and embodiment of this wisdom and beauty in that small kyphotic little man has been lost.

When he disappeared, many cried. There were those that would miss the little man. There were those that screamed of the injustice of extinguishing a star. Some pondered whether he ever existed. The eternally pessimistic claimed the stories of him and the bus were but a showman’s trick to sell a product. However, from October 1991, there has never been another piece of art created by the Prophet and the scarcity of its limitless beauty has caused a surge in interest and appurtenant value of his work so that, now, his simple charcoal sketches have value more than some third world countries.

It was here in these wheeled chariots that gurgled like old washing machines along the roads that I met the Prophet many years before. I hold in my hands the last of the works of the Prophet, his will and testament to the world. These never seen drawings, smeared of charcoal, at once sing to God but also glorify the prophet’s secular wisdom. These works evidence his last of days in the eyes of the world and yet no eyes but mine have ever seen them. Within these blackened strokes are the notes to a concerto written to heaven itself. I had them authenticated and assuredly these works are genuine. One need only glances at the pages and feel the Prophet’s presence like a whisper being uttered by the pages themselves.

I’ve often thought of selling this art to someone like yourself, a dealer in great works of art. One could buy a summer home or other asset. For some time, I held them hoping that the Prophet would someday reappear. I would have gloried in the doubtless fame as I would have handed them back to him perhaps idolized by millions on television screens. I vacillate between this and the shear beauty of the art itself. After some time, I have decided that I should provide these to the world.

The Prophet did not become famous only for being the diminutive philosopher, teller of stories and sublime sketcher of charcoal drawings and person that NEVER left the bus and seemingly lived there in his seat. To be sure, I don’t believe that he ever left the bus. The thing is that no one ever knew if he left the bus and if someone had this knowledge they did not impart it to the world. No one knew his home or an address or whether he actually had a residence. He was there when the bus started its morning commute and he was there when the driver would complete its last stop. Each new shift would see the driver glancing in the rear view mirror to validate the prophet’s presence as he would validate fuel in the tank.

This speculation became a marvel. All of us, every person who knew him, speculated on the question of whether this fixture ever moved. Each driver was chronically questioned and provided no answer. He was renowned as an instinctive contradiction. He also was known as a great heart and soul, a man who gave such warmth and wisdom both in word and in art. And, yes, there were those that pondered whether he ever went to the bathroom.

Treatises have been written on whether the individual actually lived on the particular L line bus. There was a seat designated for the prophet eventually adorned by a brass plate. He rode the bus as others walk the earth. He rode the bus as others take in and out air. One could not imagine the L Line without him. He would be there as the ocean view between buildings. He was, certainly, something to be studied.

People waited. People clamored. They stood in line. They craned forward and back to see the prophet through the window. Treasonable eyes tried to catch him leaving or coming but for all those years, he stood apart. As much as his pre-eminent status as a perennial passenger in the L Line has sparked question in the world, so too has his complete disappearance when the L Line closed.

It was in the summer of 1961 that I first noticed the old man. One occupies a bus seat in secret. We enter with our eyes fixed forward or down. We are aware of eyes studying us from behind metal seats as we stroll up narrow aisles, but our eyes don’t meet. It would be a confrontation. We are like prey stepping lightly through the grassy veldts with our head cocked listening to whispers within the growth.

This is how I had found my seat and quietly waited for my chance to leave. Heaven forbid someone, some kook, some pervert, might cause the unthinkable stress of asking for the time or if this was, indeed, the right bus.

I was just a student that summer wandering aimlessly through the various required college courses and breathlessly anticipating the few electives permitted the freshman. Philosophy was my bag. I had no idea of myself or for myself and relied upon the epilates and musings willed me by dead people who also had no idea of me or of themselves in the 21st century.

Theirs was a world of thought and ours a world of reaction. Theirs was a world of music while ours was a world of rhythm. Theirs was a world in which ideas had value and provided value to the world as fertilizer for that class of people privileged with time. Ours, I pondered, was a world in which thoughts were but a legacy and a consumption of time. Maybe I was wrong and the great thinkers of the past would provide input and strength of will.

In front of me from the last seat was a bus full of the backs of heads of various sizes and shapes, balding heads, and heads with thinning hair, heads of strangers, heads with wigs, and heads that nodded up and down in slumber. Somehow this gave me a measure of retreat, as if their direction of view vitiated danger. Though many of the seats faced to the center of the bus, even those sitting horizontally would historically look forward or conspicuously at their toes, never at each other notwithstanding sitting only a couple feet away from each other. The few that spoke were always in whisper.

On a side bench in the middle of the bus, one pair of eyes did not look forward. They looked directly and conspicuously at me. These belonged to the Prophet. I did not know of him as the Prophet at that time. In fact it would be months before even the nomenclature would be used. It would be years before his drawings graced galleries and the contents of this notebook.

He was an ancient desiccated bundle. Slightly bent, he peered with dark blue eyes; a hook of a nose that appeared it could open a can, and a grin. The dark blue eyes peered out from bottles set on his nose. A few strands of white hair covered the top of his head and fell limply across his forehead. To call this a head of hair would be to do the owner homage for they were only a recollection of what may have once existed.

He nodded gently as our eyes met and I immediately glanced away. I saw him twice every day as I traveled back and forth from school. He always glanced at me and nodded. I always looked away.

The unbridled fame of this little man began one day with one young woman. Maybe this is how all prophesies start, the telling of a story or a fact or a feeling to one person who tells another. Perhaps all that is great in this world must begin with the elemental first word or glance of the troubadour to the recipient. If that is true, then maybe even this story, ineptly drawn as it is, may spark another’s tale.

I begrudgingly looked up from a volume of Epicurus to see a rather rotund woman take her seat beside the Prophet. She did not speak and her attempt by a business suit to cover the result of a thousand turkey dinners with all the trimming caused her to lean back and forth. With each movement her noticeable discomfort level rose.

She stared intently at the metal floor for sufficient time that I pondered how someone could actually focus their eyes on the metal for that period. What was it on that floor that sowed her attention? Perhaps, I quizzed, it was the thought of so many shoes marking up the floor, the history of the shoes, the streets once traversed by the shoe leather and only perhaps briefly of the people that wore the shoes. Slowly she felt peripheral activity and the dark blue eyes beaming in her direction and she leaned back and forth even more abruptly.

Finally, sporting a crooked mouth, she looked up to defiantly point her nose at the Prophet; her hands outstretched What? she whinnied. "You want something?"

Just a smile beamed in return. The lack of response seemed to anger further. "What do you want, old man? Are you some type of pervert?"

With subtle pride he handed her a charcoal likeness. In it was none of her anger, or her resentment. Her facial canyons of fear and distrust had vanished. The lines spoke not of her missed dreams or perceived failures. Instead, it spoke of something within her. Anyone glancing at the page would see that which was good and right behind this defiance. One could sense the good that waited to be released. The eyes on the page gleamed and there was an aura about the form that spoke from the page.

It was as if there had been captured on the page in charcoal the best of the lady, and the negative having been discarded along with the disappointments. The drawing was perfect, like a photograph, but it was a portrait that stripped away any ability for her to respond in catcall. I could see it all from my vantage point. Within these strokes of charcoal was love itself. The ministerial administration of thickness and shades was irrelevant and one could see color even though it was not on the page.

As her fingers fondled the likeness for minutes of silence, he leaned towards her. You know my dear, he called everyone my dear like he was a caricature in some Dickens scene. You know my dear. At your young age, there is little at which to be disappointed. You only have to look at this old body of mine with bones creaking to know that you have the world ahead of you. He paused and then spewed forth wisdom that has since become as renowned as his works. Life is my dear a canvas and you are the painter, not the world. It is you that creates this art, not I. Realizing that, you can choose not to paint anger or disappointment. Your emotions are placed on the canvas for us to view. You need only draw the picture you wish us to see. The words seemed to erupt as his squeaky little voice chugged along like an old lawnmower "It isn’t as much what you leave behind or the missed opportunities that you perceive you have had but how you lived that’s important. Each day is a gift. Each day is a lifetime and we have so few lifetimes. Love everyone and with that you will build a future that can never be a disappointment. You are disappointed at your career choice, but you are so young. Take the chance and follow your passion." He leaned towards her. My dear, there is one truth. The love not given is the one pain you take with you for eternity.

Something about what he said, the words the syllables, adverbs, nouns, and even dangling participles rang true like the climax of a nursery rhyme. I could see her being transformed in front of me to someone who would, indeed, love others.

While it took a few moments, a bright grin anointed the face of the lady. If one studied intently enough, one might have seen tears. Whether visible, they were there. "I guess you’re right, sir. This is a beautiful gift." She glanced at the ceiling. I’ll never forget it. You’ve made me very happy.

All this fantasy I saw from the perch in the back of the bus. As the lady reached her stop and rose, somehow I knew her life would be different. All of us had experienced with her an epiphany not of some previously unknown great knowledge, but the acknowledgment of a fact and feeling that resided in each of us and suddenly emerged triumphant into the sunlight.

Without a beat, he turned to another patron. His eyes gleamed with joy as he sketched the pin-suited businessman. As a background he sketched mountains. The image of the man sat in front of the background looked intently. There was a young man sketched behind him as if he were going to place his hand on the shoulder of the older man in front.

Breathless, the man pointed at the page and the snow covered hills and the young man. But how did you know?

The Prophet only grinned. Life, my dear, is not the search for answers. It is the search for the questions.

But how did you know MY dream?!.

The Prophet placed his hand on the knee of the man. You know, my dear, the universe will continue to expand and then collapse upon itself. After that it will expand again. Each of us will have our histories repeated over and over again. The mistakes we make today are the mistakes we make tomorrow, over and over again, universe after universe. All you can do, my dear, is get it right this time. With you, your dream has been your dream each time you have lived. Fulfill the dream this time. Don’t waste it. He glanced around his surrounding. Call your son, my dear. He would like to hear from you. You will find that the angry words have been forgotten. He would answer you this time.

As the businessman left the bus, both knew instinctively that he would, indeed, call his son. It would be a tense reunion as so many things had been said and felt. Years had passed deepening the abyss between them, but they would chat, and smile, and walk away together with the father’s hand on his shoulder. They would go camping in the mountains as they used to and talk. All who saw this knew that it was to be a future finally of joy and love for both. He would pass that love to others.

Over the next several days and weeks, I saw this event unfold countless times a day. There were the elderly and the youthful, and the weak and the hesitant. Day by day, he massaged the souls of people, copying their likeness with charcoal and producing a likeness that, as with the first, spoke not of outward expressions of disappointment or acknowledgments of mediocrity but of a limitless and almost child-like love of kind and world.

On each portrait he drew the background fitting somehow if not magically the very essence of the dreams of the person. Without asking, he sensed that one person may have dreamed of being a sea captain. His picture had a background of the ocean. Without asking, he knew that another passenger secretly had always wanted to be a musician and the background of the portrait was music. Another regretted her career and wished to change and he would give her hope and strength to make that change and she would in turn give hope and strength to another remembering to credit the prophet as he was now being called more and more by the patrons of the bus. Each person would in turn bring the message to another creating a chain and burgeoning response.

It is as much a result of his wisdom with the charcoal that created the epilate Prophet. I don’t know if, initially, it was intended as a joke, an admiration, or a cynical snort of the smug. It became a word that was at once associated with the man but also directly associated in the minds of the people with a feeling. I began to notice on a wall somewhere one of his sketches, and then a second proudly hung. Then, rather than simply stuck on a wall, they were dramatically framed. They began to appear in magazine articles and in media.

From time to time, I noticed more than one person at a time enter the bus. From the front of the bus, I would see people enter together, point at the Prophet, and whisper instructions to sit by the old man. Often I began to recognize one of a duo having been the recipient of a past gift. Daily I would hear him freely give of hope. We all can discern the face of the sky, he would sometimes say, but the real error is that of arrogance and pride. Only by giving to one more person when we have nothing more to give do we truly enrich another and ourselves. Material gifts only brighten for a moment. A smile and love never fades. Be known not as rich but one who enriches. I would more and more see heads nod at the words.

He would look deeply into the eyes of the other. A crooked grin would emerge from wrinkled jowls. He would brush the white hair from his forehead and begin drawing. His hands would move with instinct as if undirected and he would seldom glance at the page. He would draw as if by memory as if the entire artful sketch was already calculated and pre-ordained and he was simply copying it off. Then he would gingerly hand the piece to the recipient. Sometimes he accompanied the gift with a story, but he never accepted money. It was offered but he never accepted a single dime for any of his words or his works.

One day, he handed a drawing to an eager young woman sitting silent across from him. Without asking she had hoped for the gift and giggled as a small child. You know my dear he pondered, You need not regret. All of us, people, animals, viruses, plants, everyone, everything that exists in this universe is all here on this planet, beaming and jostling for positions. All of us are part of the other. We are all symbiotic to the other. There are no regrets if one keeps that in mind. Everything you do, everyone you love affects the universal love and the universal truth. You are not separate or alone. You are all one. Call her. Call her, my dear. Call your mother. She won’t get upset. She will love your baby as much as you do. All you need to remember is that life is, my dear, only an empty canvas. Life is not disappointment or fear or hatred or loathing. Life is not glory or beauty. Lt is merely the act of filling the canvas. What we paint as any artist who molds stone or dabs oil paint is something that creates emotion in others, but this is THEIR emotion, their feeling, their fears, their joys'. He padded her hand as she cried. It doesn’t have to be ours. Call her and introduce her to her granddaughter!

More and more of the persons seemed to expect the Prophet to speak. The words seemed to warm us like a hearth. They nurtured us and though simple they seemed to possess truth and right. They would sit next to him and fidget, tittering in their anticipation. They would watch peripherally and wait for

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