Sunday, August 31, 2008

Last Weekend

Several semesters ago I took a class called Creative Non-Fiction. The objective of the class was to write stories about my real life and make them interesting. Below is a story I wrote for one of my final submissions. It's called Last Weekend

Lighting is a funny thing. It’s an incredibly important element of movies and dating. Most of the time I approach dating as if things will eventually turn out like they do in the movies, but it never works that way. On this particular date, the shaded porch light blends with the flickering candle as the moon sitting low in the sky shines down through the palm fronds. The veranda is surrounded by palms and flowers which cast jagged shadows across my date Lacey’s face.
As she speaks I concentrate on not screwing things up like I had done in the past.

First there was Evelyn whom my parents liked very much. I’m not so sure I did though. From a physical perspective she was like most of the girls I tend to date. She had dark brown hair that stopped a little past her shoulders, light brown eyes that some would call honey, and a smile that could light a room. In personality she was everything I didn’t want: starving for attention, intent on having the events in her life play out in a methodical manner, and overly emotional about most things. Perhaps I only dated her to get my parents approval on my dating choices. She was from Chile and didn’t speak much English. My parents, both fluent in Spanish, love anybody who speaks Spanish. I thought she really liked me. After we broke up I found out that she really just had a particular affinity for any American boy. It was a bad fit from the start and my sister-in-law, Angelica tried to tell me as much. I should have listened.

Authentic Puerto Rican music fills the air and I listen to the harmony of the cuatro meld with the intricate rhythms of the guiro, maracas and panderetas. The music takes me to the familiar places I’ve never been in the Caribbean. The waiter dressed in a black guayabera and slacks brings my Malta. I allow Lacey to try the first sip. Her already small mouth puckers even smaller as the fizzy burnt malt soda passes her lips. As our appetizer of deep fried tostones arrives, I explain how they are made and what goes into the mojo dipping sauce.
A myriad of thoughts race nervously through my head in a matter of mere seconds. I remind myself of the detailed pages of preparation I have written in the past two weeks in my black moleskine bound journal. Five pages of rules have been set and I will not forsake them. I need to follow the rules exactly to save me from myself. My mind strays so that without warning I am caught up in the thought process that promulgated the journal rules of dating. I know I am a very good person, but I’m not a very good dater. All of my relationships that have made it past the first few dates have imploded like a lit match in a near empty gas can. I have always placed the blame elsewhere for all the disastrous experiences that have transformed my mind from the analytical machinery I have so frequently relied on to an emotional mush that inspires verses of really bad emo music. Six months after the fireworks I realize that a great deal of what goes wrong is controllable and I accept much of the blame for allowing all the heartache.

Carla is someone for whom I tried way too hard. I even almost went out and bought an internal frame hiking and camping backpack because she loved to go backpacking. I hate camping. But there are always good reasons for doing what you hate. When I met Carla I was certain that she was the girl of my dreams. I just needed to convince her of that fact. We connected on every level, but for some reason I got the idea that she just wasn’t into me. One weekend I had decided to visit my family in Utah and get Carla out of my head. When I coincidentally bumped into her, I decided that I was supposed to continue to pursue the relationship. Why else did I run into the girl I had been trying to avoid over 600 miles away from home? It was like something that only happened in the movies. It had to be fate. She came around eventually and after four months of our casual dating really started to reciprocate my affection.

She brought up the idea of marriage one Friday afternoon. We both agreed that it was something that we should prayerfully pursue after a few more months. She then told me that a few more months to her meant going to China for six months to teach English. The following Sunday, she came over to my house for dinner. I was excited to show off my cooking skills and was very careful to include menu items without meat to accommodate her vegetarian diet. Vegetable kabobs, twice baked potatoes, tossed salad and ├ęclairs rounded out the menu in the hopes that my culinary skills would be sufficient to convince her to stay. She was acting strangely the whole night and after dinner she dropped the bomb on me that she didn’t want to see me again before she left to China. She left abruptly without much more explanation. Five minutes after her departure, she called. I was too devastated to answer, but when I got the courage to check my voicemail, the news was even worse. All I remember from her long drawn out message was the conclusion, “I never want to see you again.” I should have never believed in fate. The only fate is the one we make for ourselves and I set myself up for a broken heart.

It seems to me that maybe, It pretty much always means no So don't tell me you might just let it go.

These words from Jack Johnson’s “Flake” embodied all the build up and let down that went along with my relationship with Carla.

At the thought of Carla I remember the most important rule under the subsection of emotional stability: “Forget everything you know about Carla and the flakiness that embodied that relationship. Not all girls are flakes.” This rule is there to help me have a short term memory about the things that have gone bad and the remembrance of this rule is a life preserver as I drown in the tempestuous crashing waves of my own negativity. I grab hold of it and begin to remember all the rest of the rules that will bring me to the shores of normality and spare me and Lacey from what I have come to know as the perfect storm. The date conduct subsection pulls me closer to shore and I remember to maintain eye contact. I look up. I make sure our eyes meet and I flash her half a smile. She smiles back and my fears melt into complete insignificance.
I remember my rule to keep the conversation focused on her. 70% her to about 30% me is about right. Work is on the list of acceptable conversation topics, so I go for it.

“So I’ve been meaning to ask you, when you cut my hair at the salon and I pay you, what do you do with the money?”
“I bank it,” she replies.
“And then what, do you have to pay some sort of rent to the owner of the place?”
“Yep, that’s how it works.”
Why did I gamble on this one? I think to myself. If this doesn’t go well, I’m going to have to find a new place to get my hair cut. As if she can read my thoughts she says, “You know, your hairstylist is more important than your doctor.”
“How so?” I reply.
“Well for one, you don’t see your doctor every three to four weeks.”

At this response I realize just how right she is. This could either turn into finding a new place to get my hair cut or it could mean free haircuts down the road.

The night air is cool as we drive home on the side streets with the windows down. My iPod is playing on shuffle and although Lacey doesn’t know any of the artists in the play list I’ve put together, she hums along to the music. As the sounds of The Polyphonic Spree’s “Reach for the Sun” come to an abrupt end, Rascal Flatts’ barely audible intro to “Take Me There” begins to play. I get a shot of adrenaline in anticipation to her reaction and she nearly jumps out of her seat.
“I love this song. Did you know Rascal Flatts is my favorite band?” she asks,
“Yeah, you told me.”
“I have this song as my ringtone.”
“Well I downloaded this song on iTunes earlier today so that if you didn’t like Puerto Rican food and didn’t like me, at least you could listen to a song that you liked.”
She laughs at this idiosyncratic tendency of mine to try too hard sometimes.
We stop at the grocery store on the way home because I realize that although I’ve come up with the best post dinner date activity ever of carving pumpkins for Halloween, I don’t have any suitable carving knives or pumpkins at my house. My thoughtful preparation is almost always accompanied by a mild touch of absentmindedness.

Kathy was a pretty good example of this thoughtful but absentminded approach. I broke one of my cardinal rules of dating that has been in existence since long before the five pages of rules in my moleskine. I wrote and played her a song on our first date. The problem with writing songs for girls is that they fall in love with the music, not the musician.

Such was the case with Kathy and although I thought nothing could be better than dating a girl who looked like a 19 year old cross between Julia Roberts and Sandra Bullock, I realized otherwise when I went to pick up my girlfriend at the airport. I was certainly confused when I saw the stranger with salt and pepper black hair and a dozen roses propose to her in front of everybody. It reminded me of something out of a really bad movie. I ran to my car and remembered the demonstration at the Saturn dealership for the dent resistant panels on the doors. If the salesman could kick the door without it denting, so could I. I kicked until enough of the anger had subsided. On the way home I began to second guess myself. If I had never written her that song, then perhaps things wouldn’t have made it past the first date. That would have been preferable.

Enough about Kathy, I need to focus on the task at hand. As we stand in the checkout line with pumpkins in hand, the lady in front of us in line jokingly asks, “Are you going to carve them or throw them?”
“A little bit of both, actually.” I reply.
This draws laughs from the woman asking the question, the cashier and most importantly, Lacey.

I remember the rule under date etiquette that states, “Go to her door to pick her up, open her door, drop her off at her door and follow general door rules.” I know it’s sad that this is included in my rules, but I’ve been guilty of not following these rules once or twice when I was much younger, and I’ve decided that if things work out, I could expand on my rules and write a book to rival the consultative skills of Will Smith in that movie Hitch. I open her door to let her in the car and go around to my door. Like a good date, she has unlocked my door from the inside.
As I open the door and begin to step inside, a man approaches from across the parking lot. “Hi, can I talk to you?” he asks. He is mid height with a broad flat nose and a gap toothed smile. He doesn’t seem to pose too much of a threat, so I decide that I can take a few moments.
“Sure, what’s up?”
“My name is Brian,” he says with an outstretched hand.
“How ya doing Brian? I’m Spencer.” I shake his hand because despite my mild touch of germophobia, I’m more interested in being human than avoiding germs. Besides, I can wash my hands later.
“Well, I’m in a bad way. You see I’m out here on the streets and life is hard. I just need something to eat.”
“Sure. I think Panda Express and Quiznos are closed for the night, but if you want to go inside the store, I’d be glad to buy you some groceries.”
“Well there’s a McDonald’s down the street.”
“Oh, you want to go to McDonald’s?” I repeat.
“Yeah, that sounds good.”
I reflect at how different it is to have a homeless person ask me for food instead of money. I’m never sure if they ask for money.
“Sure, get in and I’ll take you there.”

I get in my car and immediately I become uncomfortably aware of Lacey and Brian in the car at the same time. We drop him off at McDonald’s with cash in hand. He parts with a “God bless”, enters the restaurant, and we are on our way.

“It’s so refreshing to have a homeless person ask for food and not money, don’t you think?”
The purpose of my question isn’t so much to gain an agreement, but more of a means to gauge a reaction based on her response. At this I remember my rules about analyzing conversation. “Don’t analyze anything she says. You overanalyze everything. Just let things happen on the first date. She won’t even let you know that she likes you until four to six dates.” Her response includes something about her dad being a cop but she trusted me to do the right thing.
While I haven’t had to find a new hairstylist, I don’t get free haircuts either. I asked her out a second time and her response was just that she was busy. I guess I should have included a rule about not letting homeless people in the car on the date.

Friday, August 22, 2008

White Diamonds

I have recently concluded that there are far too many people who have been dropped on their heads as kids. It would appear to most neurosurgeons that many of these horrible incidents have ended up with little to no permanent damage. Most of society would agree with the experts, but I have to argue against the point with my limited knowledge of brain functions. My premise for arguing in a situation where I have no business arguing hinges upon the crux that is the perfume called White Diamonds by Liz Taylor.

Twelve cranial nerves lie within the brain and are responsible for pretty much all of the functions of sensory perception. I learned them in an anatomy bio 101 class and although it’s been a few years since I learned them, and I have not in any way pursued an education or career in the medical field, I remember all of the cranial nerves and can even remember the functions of some of these nerves. They are as follows: olfactory, optic, oculomotor, trochlear, trigeminal, abducens, facial, vestibulocochlear, glossopharyngeal, vagus, accessory, and hypoglossal. For the purposes of this argument, I would like to focus on the olfactory nerve.

Med students, bio students, and Latin students will all recognize olfactory relates specifically to the sense of smell. This brings me back to the crux of the argument. White Diamonds is perhaps the most overpowering and nasty perfume on the face of the planet, yet somebody feels the need to continue making it. Econ majors, go ahead and throw your supply and demand argument my way. It will only serve to support what I’m saying here. I seriously wonder how this stuff is made. I imagine some factory worker in China is forced to mix large vats of the chemicals that make up this rancid smell without the benefit of a respirator or even a well ventilated warehouse because nobody without brain damage would take that job in the United States. Of course, there are those who have severe damage to the olfactory nerve and the surgeon may have missed it. As for the corporate execs that control releases for the market, they must have olfactory nerve damage too. I would hope that even the most scrupulously bankrupt executive who is most happy selling out would have the slightest moral fortitude to keep that scent out of my nose, but because I smell it from time to time, I must conclude of necessity that these executives have cranial nerve damage too.

In terms of demand for the product, well there has to be somebody wearing the perfume otherwise it would cease production right? The sad truth remains that there are women out there wearing White Diamonds and I smell it all the time. Most of the time my lunch ends up on the floor shortly after the incredibly overbearing smell passes my septum and tickles the cilia in my nostrils followed by an overwhelming migraine that lasts the remainder of the week. Perhaps the worst effect is that the olfactory nerve is also partially responsible for taste so those of us who lack the experience of being dropped on our heads as kids also get to taste it if caught off guard by an infringing wearer of this, the nastiest of perfumes ever made.

Now I’m sure that not all of those who have had their cranial nerves severely disabled because of head trauma wear White Diamonds. Indeed, there are those who may have undetectable head trauma that don’t like Liz Taylor. These are the sensible ones. After all, who in their right mind would want to emulate Liz Taylor? It would be in the best interest of this argument to explore the personality types of those who do like Liz Taylor. The first Taylor attribute that I would like to discuss is the hair. I’m referring specifically to the spiky and/or poofed look. Liz donned both of these styles at some point in what some people mistakenly refer to as a career. Some women jumped on that bandwagon and when the ride stopped, just didn’t see it as a necessity to get down.

A second Taylor attribute that needs mentioning is the wardrobe. A good black pant suit that is “slimming” is typical of the Taylorite. It’s almost a sure sign of White Diamonds ahead, so when you see the black pant suit coming your way, be prepared to hold your breath.

The third Taylor attribute I would like to discuss is the smoking factor. This is perhaps the most grievous offender of the White Diamonds infringement on clean air acts everywhere because the offender is a double offender. First, they dirty up the air with the cigarette smoke (usually done outside), then they pile on the gallons of the nastiest expensive perfume ever created, which pollutes the air indoors. Taylor glamorized smoking and is partially responsible for giving this killer a desirable look. Now she is lending her awful name to the perfume that can be detected from three city blocks away. For shame.

Places that one is most likely to run into the White Diamonds wearer include but are not limited to: any workplace in America that employees 40-50 something women who smoke, any “beauty parlor” that will give a woman a makeover so that she looks like Phyllis from my favorite T.V. show The Office, any scrapbooking party where the mean age is anything over 42 and outside any Williams Sonoma store. The last of these infractions is perhaps the worst because Williams Sonoma usually smells wonderfully of whatever the employees happen to be cooking at the time.
I only say that perhaps this is the worst infraction because the definite worst infraction is an uncommon one. The last place I ever thought I would run into a Taylorite with damage to her olfactory nerve is at Fenway Park. Those who know me well know I am a huge Red Sox fan. When the opportunity to go to a Sox game in Fenway with my brother Colton (also a huge Red Sox fan) presented itself, I jumped at the chance of a lifetime. We had a great time seeing Ted Williams seat, Pesky Pole, the Big Green Monster and all of America’s most beloved ball park. We sat in the front row of the grandstands along the first base line. For those who have not had the opportunity to watch the World Champion Red Sox in Fenway, the grandstand seating begins about 20 rows up. About three innings into watching Clay Bucholz getting shelled and John Lackey dominating my Sox, a Taylorite comes and sits down in row 19 right in front of me and Colton.

Here’s the wrap Taylorites. A baseball game is no place for perfume. There are enough smells to cover up whatever you’re trying to hide. The smell of hot dogs, beer, popcorn, peanuts, fresh grass on the field, and the fact that the venue is outdoors are all great reasons to not wear perfume.

As for you neurosurgeons, every time a head trauma comes into the apt hands of your care, please do the rest of us a favor and check the olfactory nerve three times. With any luck, White Diamonds will be extinct sometime before Liz Taylor.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Today is Different

A sea of vehicles baking in the sun of the East Economy overflow lot awaits me as I approach the exit for long term parking at Phoenix Sky Harbor airport. Sometimes I am lucky and find a parking spot that isn’t too far from the exit or the bus stop, but today is different. The pungent smell of sewage from the nearby airport septic dump permeates through the air conditioning vents in my car and today it is particularly fierce. I park in a corner of the farthest spot from the exit and not particularly close to the terminal either. I go through the final checklist: wallet, iPod, cell phone, keys, photo id, boarding pass, backpack, and suitcase. That is everything, yet somewhere in my scrambled eggs for brains, I know that I’ve forgotten something. I always forget something.
I’ve waited too long to grab my gear out of the car and the shuttle bus is fast approaching. I’ve missed the bus before and had to wait for the next one. Waiting for the next bus on a July morning near the septic tank isn’t exactly how I imagined the start of my trip. Then again, things never seem to go the way I plan them. The bus makes a brief stop at the appropriate station to open the doors long enough to close them. I run toward the bus with suitcase in tow. From time to time, I declare certain things to be the best (insert item here) ever. Today, suitcases with wheels are the best invention ever. The bus driver is kind enough to stop again even though there is no official loading dock. Because the airport is an institution of bureaucracy, this move is highly unorthodox at least and against some sort of employee policy at worst. This driver’s healthy disregard for the rules is something I can appreciate.
“Thank you so much.” I say with a giant smile on my face. The thought of waiting for the next stop like a stranded hiker in the desert is almost more than I can bear.
“No problem,” the driver responds, equally cheerful.
The bus approaches the terminal and its passengers who have ridden in total silence unload. I’m not quite sure I understand the long term parking shuttle ride. Everybody looks so somber like they’re going to a funeral or something. Granted, some of them may be going to a funeral, but the majority of them are going on a trip for business or vacation. Business and vacations are two great reasons to smile. One makes money and the other is meant for complete recreation. Even family members who are obviously on the bus together act like those sitting next to them are total strangers.
I’m quick to grab my bag because if I don’t get off the bus quickly, I’ll be stuck behind the mother with three kids trying to get the luggage for all four of them off the luggage rack and convince the kids that they each need to carry their own bag. As soon as I get off the bus and head for the airport doors, I am almost mobbed by five Asian women running toward the bus each with their respective luggage. They form a line and each of them create a direct path toward me with their eyes fixed on the bus as if they let it out of sight, it will be gone. Each one is a narrow miss and I feel like I’m being dive bombed by a bird protecting her nesting eggs.
The check in line doesn’t look too long and I make for the entrance. The end of the line winds around to favors the door that I just entered. But the entrance to the line requires I walk an extra 100 yards only to double back and snake my way through the ropes. As I approach the line entrance, I see a man dressed in a black Hawaiian print shirt, khaki Bermuda shorts three inches above his knee, white cross trainers and white socks that come mid way up his calf. His hair is neatly parted and more salt than pepper. His moustache is well groomed and thick. He continues to stand at the entrance of the check in line yet fails to grasp the concept that he needs to move through the line if he ever wants to check his bags. His wife stands behind him with a stroller containing a toddler. Her appearance is quite the opposite of his: baggy sweatpants, a loose fitting t-shirt, no makeup, unkempt hair and an expression of fatigue on her face. She also fails to move through the line and the two of them are looking around like deer in the headlights. I notice a small opening between the man in the Bermuda shorts and quicken my stride. If they can’t figure it out in ten seconds, I’ll be in line in front of them.
It’s not that I particularly care if I’m in front of someone else in line, it’s just that their continuing display of incompetence leads me to make the judgment that when it’s their turn to check in, they might be oblivious to that whole aspect of travel and I might check my bags late. I’m usually running late and since most of my flights are to my parent’s house in Salt Lake City, I don’t mind all that much if my bags are late. This trip won’t afford such luxuries as I am flying to Manchester New Hampshire, an airport about 50 miles outside Boston, and driving the rest of the way.
The mismatched couple appear to be moving with all the speed of a three toed sloth into the snake-rope line. I’m not fortunate enough to have made it into the entrance of the line before they block me out and so I’m stuck behind them. As I make my way ever so slowly through the line, I notice that Bermuda shorts guy has a rather large arching nose and from a profile view looks like Hitler if he were in hiding today. I laugh at the prospect of being stuck behind a clueless Hitler in line at the airport and decide that my misfortune turned comical situation is too good to keep to myself. I send a quick text to my friend Adam to let him know I’m behind a dude who could win a Hitler look-alike contest. As soon as my phone is out, I remember I have to call my girlfriend Adrienne before I take off. She’s going to be camping while I’m in Boston and out of cell range.
Security lines at the airport are by far my least favorite line in this life. They are usually long and for some reason everybody in them feels the need to stand uncomfortably close (See “Personal Space”). All that has made me slightly annoyed to this point disappears so far out of my mind as I see the Holy Grail of airport experiences, an empty security line. Before today, I never knew that TWA agents at security were even human. Today the security agents deviate from their cyborg like state. They are smiling at the travelers and joking with one another. For most passengers this is so out of the ordinary that they revert to what feels comfortable by refusing to make too much eye contact and shuffling through the metal detector. I’m quite adept at picking which security line will get me through the fastest. I try to avoid being behind old people or people with young children for the very same reason. They usually have too much stuff and are slow removing items from their pockets. They almost never get through the metal detector the first time and as slow as they are removing belts and shoes, they are more painfully slow at putting them back on. My eyes are usually quick to scan the different detectors and find the line with the best chance of getting me through quickly. Today is different because there are no people in front of me. I can choose whichever line I want and they will be equally fast. I choose the one with the most friendly looking security agents.
“Is there a laptop in that backpack?” asks the woman running the gate.
“Yes ma’am there is.” I respond, then add, “That’s why I have two trays.”
“Good work.”
She’s a black woman with cornrows perhaps in her mid twenties to mid thirties. The TWA uniform does little to hide her impressive figure. Her smile is infectious and she has a beautifully radiant countenance about her. One of the men running the x-ray machine mumbles something in Spanish to his partner.
“Hey, don’t speak that language,” the woman kids. “I don’t like it when I can’t understand.”
The two men have another exchange in Spanish to which the woman responds with more feigned frustration.
“I’ve been to this airport several times and run into people who don’t speak English several times and the only language they speak is Spanish, but there was never an employee around to help them out.” I say as I remove my shoes and belt.
“I’m the only guy here who speaks Spanish,” the agent working the machine kids.
“Oh well that explains it. I guess you can’t be at work all the time.”
“He’s from Cuba, and I’m from Mexico,” he offers.
“Well then I guess you are the only one who speaks Spanish because he speaks Cuban.” I jokingly respond.
They both laugh at my joke because they know that each would claim that the other speaks a defunct dialect of Spanish that’s a result of their country of origin and I beat them to the punch.
Each one of the agents wishes me a good flight and I thank them followed by an obligatory, habitual “you too.” At this, I feel like a complete idiot and I remember a joke by comedian Brian Regan. I’m the one who’s flying somewhere not those three. Why would I say “you too” if they aren’t going anywhere?
I go to the terminal bookstore to purchase a bottle of water. It’s a seven hour flight and they only bring small drinks so I have to fill up. Due to an attempt at decreasing airline costs, there probably won’t be a meal included either, so I have to get something to eat too. I wish I had thought of this at Walgreen’s because otherwise I wouldn’t have been jammed ten bucks for a pack of beef jerky to go with my water. I find a place to sit down near the kids section because the T.V. in the kids section is playing Scooby Doo and the adult channel is on CNN. I munch on my meager yet expensive breakfast as I watch Scooby, Shaggy and the gang uncover the identities of the ice cream men ghosts.
I look around and try to guess who will be on my plane. With layovers in Chicago and Philadelphia, it’s easy to spot some passengers wearing Cubs, White Sox, Philly’s and Red Sox gear, but others are less noticeable. A man with a beer gut and a D-backs t-shirt wanders around aimlessly. His L.A. gear shoes have the tongue sticking out of his shoes and the pant leg of his stonewash denim jeans is carefully and partially tucked into his shoes. His ginger hair is pulled back enough to fit through the adjusting hole in his Chase Bank ball cap. His hair reaches the middle of his back and forms a noticeable rat’s nest somewhere around his shoulder blades.
The airline agent calls for boarding and we line up. I’m standing behind two girls in their twenties who may or may not be students at the same university as me. I phase in and out of their conversation and so the exact details of what they say are more or less a blur. They are discussing how they miss living in Baltimore because the flight back to Manchester NH was much shorter than Phoenix. Behind me is a girl with a black animae t-shirt and a lip piercing. As we begin to board, the ginger haired dude who is stuck in the 80’s butt rock era rises from his seat and cuts in line in front of me. He can’t figure out where to sit on the plane as we board and turns around to move his way back to the front of the aircraft.
I eagerly search out a seat behind a kid. The seat selection process requires more skill than the security line process. Sitting behind adults is hit and miss because it’s just too hard to determine who is going to be a normal passenger and who is going to lean their seat back and jam up my knees. The secret is to try to sit behind a kid who is old enough to behave on an airplane but young enough who won't lean his or her seat back. Another important factor in the seat selection process is to avoid sitting by bigger people. This is especially true of guys because they will take up all the arm room and I rather enjoy my personal space.
I sit behind a kid who’s about two. It’s a gamble that usually doesn’t pay out, but today is different. The kid is extremely well behaved, much too young to want to put his seat back and I suspect this is his first time on an airplane. The girl with the lip piercing and the animae t-shirt sits next to me and pulls out a book. It’s one of the Stephanie Meyer Twilight series. I don’t care to take note of which one, but it makes me think of Adrienne. She recently picked up the hobby of reading and the Twilight series is good for a beginning, adult reader. I resolve to call her at the first stop in Chicago.
The time passed between passengers on a flight can go a number of ways. The most common passenger type is what I like to call the pretender. This type is so named because they pretend nobody is sitting next to them. They sit on the flight and the only chance of acknowledgment that I’ll ever have is when the drinks comes around and the pretender needs to pass the ¼ can of coke to me. The pretender will go on sipping tomato juice and pretending that I don’t exist.
Quite the opposite of the pretender is the best friend. I’m all for being friendly, but there are some people who are so intent on talking to me during the flight only they don’t have anything extremely interesting to talk about. Most of the time they are nervous and awkward in conversation but it’s all well intentioned so I would feel like the biggest jerk in the world if I don’t talk to the best friend. Perhaps the most influential factor in my willingness to indulge the best friend is the fact that in assessing my own actions in the past have me pinned as the best friend. If I had to choose between the best friend and the pretender, I would choose the best friend six days out of the week.
Another hybrid character is the isolationist Pod. This is usually a student, mostly college age on down to the junior high student. The isolationist Pod is different than a pretender. The pretender has nothing else to keep them occupied. At least the isolationist Pod has a guise of something that keeps him or her busy.
Those are pretty much the three types of people on the plane. There’s the rare find of a conversationalist who doesn’t make awkward or unimportant conversation, but sitting next to one of those people is extremely rare. I like to think of myself as one who could make meaningful conversation with just about anybody because I think everybody is interesting, but most other people don’t know that I’m not some weird psychopathic killer so when I attempt to initiate a conversation, they come off as distant, giving monosyllabic responses. As a result, I prefer to be the isolationist Pod as it’s the easiest. I don’t have to feel like I’m making awkward conversation, I don’t have to worry about being cold and distant. I just have to look busy. Besides, I’m in college. Anything else would be breaking the mold.
The plane lands in Chicago and, except for the call to Adrienne, the stop remains more or less uneventful. I also have the opportunity to change seats. I move swiftly to the front so that I can stretch the long legs which take up the majority of my 6’0” frame. As I sit and passengers board, I’m careful to keep my head down so that I don’t make eye contact with any passengers. What passes for a carryon bag these days is ridiculous. It seems that many airline passengers will more or less ignore the helpful little bins near the check-in line that dictate the dimensions of a carryon bag. For the most part these passengers are fairly oblivious to the law of physics that state two objects of matter cannot occupy the same space at the same time for these people with the oversized carryon bags are the ones jamming up all other passengers already stowed and reasonably sized luggage that fits comfortably in the overhead space. I usually keep my bag under the seat in front of me, but as there is no seat in front of me, I must put it in the overhead bin for takeoff.
I notice a close to retirement aged couple with next to zero carryon baggage. She has a purse that is neither designer, nor a designer knockoff, but is a designer inspired concoction. It’s a white leather purse with brown leather trim and two light brown handles instead of a shoulder strap. It has various colored logo designs in a pattern all over the white patent leather. As I see them, I immediately make eye contact as if to imply that the two seats next to me are quite empty. Success. There are three positives in selecting this couple for my travel companions. The first is the lack of carryon baggage. The second is that since they are together, the conversation will be mostly amongst one another so I don’t feel too bad about adhering to my anti social isolationist Pod tendencies. The third is perhaps the most important. The man sits at the window seat and the woman sits in the middle. While the years have been kind to him and he has a bit heavier, she has managed to maintain a petite physique. In fact, her legs when stretched out completely barely manage to touch the wall in the front of the plane.
The remaining leg of the flight is by far the most enjoyable. Not many new passengers come aboard, but the majority of those on board exit the plane at Philadelphia. As a result, there are only about two passengers per row. Next to me is a girl who is a photo major and a junior at a fine arts school in Chicago. She’s originally from New Hampshire and is going home for a few weeks to get away from photography. She has beautiful green eyes that contrast her mocha skin and dark hair pulled back in a pony tail. She’s dressed like a typical college student in the summer wearing a t-shirt, shorts, and flip flops. In the row next to me is a couple from New York who had enough of living in the East and moved to Arizona. They still have family in Maine though, so they are off to see the grandkids.
The grandparents make small talk with the flight attendant as we sit for fifty minutes on the tarmac waiting to take off in Philadelphia. She is talking about how she became a flight attendant and the toll it has taken on her over the last three years.
“I’m just tired of the whole commuting all over the country thing. My boyfriend lives in Chicago, so I relocated there because we have a hub, but I just want to go back to Orange County,” she tells them.
“When are you going to get married and become a stay at home wife?” they ask.
“Well, we’ve been talking about getting married, and he has a good job prospect in Los Angeles, so it’s looking pretty good.” Then she adds, “But until then, I’m trying to get him to buy in to the idea that I can be a stay at home girlfriend.”
At this, I roll my eyes and chuckle slightly unaware that immediately after she said this, she shifted her attention to me, the single twenty-something who most closely matches the demographic of her boyfriend.
“What do you think about that?” she asks.
“I don’t think it’s going to work.” I reply. “You’ve got to be married for that sort of position.”
Since the actual flight portion of the gate to gate from Philadelphia to Manchester New Hampshire is only a half hour, there are no beverages and the flight attendant has an opportunity to relax after peanuts are served. She sits in the attendant seat and chats with me and with the New York couple. This is surprisingly refreshing as I break from my isolationist Pod tendencies and engage in the conversation. Even more refreshing, the conversation is very natural.
“So what about you, wouldn’t you support your girlfriend as a stay at home girlfriend?”
“No, but we’re close to getting married at which point she will be a stay at home wife and mom.”
“How did you meet?”
I recount the story of how Adrienne was married to a close friend of mine who passed away almost three years ago. At the time, she was six months pregnant and only 21 years old. I then proceed to tell about the reflection piece that I wrote and sent to her last year before Christmas and the snowball effect that had on developing a relationship. Like most women who ask about my story, she almost comes to tears when I talk about how much I love her and her son, Caden. I have inadvertently made a best friend out of the flight attendant.
“Have you proposed?”
“Not yet, but I plan to in a few weeks.”
“Have you bought a ring?”
“I have one picked out.”
“What’s it like?”
“It’s nearly .6 carats, princess cut, set in white gold, and has four small diamonds leading up to the main stone.”
“It sounds really beautiful.” Then she adds with faint air of wishful thinking in her voice, “I looked at rings earlier this week. I should take my boyfriend with me next time. Maybe he’ll get the hint.”
The photography major next to me taps me on the shoulder and I turn to see if she needs me to move my legs or something so I can get out.
“Check it out there’s some really cool lightning out this side of the plane.”
I look out the window to see the show and in my mind analyze the reasoning for this sudden interest in sharing with me. Up until this point in the flight, she was more or less the pretender. I come to the conclusion that she has heard my conversation and realizes that I’m not a guy who is trying to score a date with her and I’m not a complete psychopath, and it is this realization that has allowed her to approach me without much trepidation. It is only at this point in the trip that I realize she is a photography major, and since she is sharing something interesting with me, I decide to take an interest in her.
“So are you coming from Philadelphia?” I ask. I don’t know why I ask this question because I’m not one for much small talk. Talking about things like where somebody is from usually has little to do with what inspires and motivates people. Talking about these things is what I consider real conversation. But I have to start somewhere and even though it’s not exactly ideal, her response helps launch me into a real conversation.
“No, I’m from New Hampshire, but I live in Chicago.”
“What are you doing in Chicago?”
“I go to art school there.”
“Oh. What’s your major?”
This happens to be one of my amateur interests so I ask what kind of photography she practices most.
“I mostly do studio stuff, but I’ve done everything.”
“It would be cool to shoot this lightning.”
“I know. As soon as I saw it, I was like, ‘I wish I had my camera with me.’”
“Did you pack it in your carry on?”
“Oh so you checked it. That makes sense. I wouldn’t want somebody jamming up my equipment in the overhead bin.”
“Actually, I didn’t bring my camera. I just need a break and every time I go home everybody is like, ‘Hey, can you take our picture?’ and I just need to get away from shooting for a while.”
“Have you ever done street photography?”
“Yeah, but with all the art majors in Chicago, it’s impossible to get a shot that nobody else has ever taken. That’s why I stay in the studio.”
“What about landscapes and nature shots?”
“Well, that’s a little played out too because everybody wants to get out of the city and shoot all things natural, but to me all their stuff looks the same.”
I realize that she isn’t too interested in talking about any of her work except the studio stuff so I head in that direction.
“What have you done lately?”
“Well, I’ve really been experimenting with colors and dyes in water. I’m having a fun time making it all look like multi colored smoke.”
“Have you sold any of your work?”
“No. The school has a website that is copyrighted, so I have some stuff posted there, but I really don’t want to sell anything until I get it copyrighted for myself.”
“Makes sense.”
“Yeah, I just don’t like the idea of somebody having my work without my permission.”
The flight has finally landed and we have a few more exchanges about photography as we exit the plane. Without saying ‘goodbye’ or ‘nice to have met you’ or anything for that matter, she heads straight for the baggage claim and I head straight for the bathroom. I don’t pee in the airplane lavatory.
As an end note, the flight home was typical. I ended up sitting next to a few people who ignored me and didn’t even bother to tap me on the shoulder when drinks came around for the first leg of the flight. On the second leg, I sat next to a dude who insisted on touching his arm to mine on the arm rest because he filled the seat, and when a guy across the aisle started jamming his carry on against my bag with my laptop, I looked up at him and said, “Please be careful. I’ve got a laptop up there.”
“What was that?” he responded.
“My lap top is in my bag, so please be careful.”
“I know. I have a lap top in my bag,” he responded with more shoving.
Somebody must have missed one too many physics classes in high school.