I’m sitting on the airplane feeling peckish.
Well, I’m not actually feeling peckish at all, but it’s such a lovely word, I thought I would throw it in for effect. What I am actually feeling, in fact, is remorseful.
When I first arrived at my point of departure within the New Orleans airport – concourse D, in case you’re interested (a simply dreadful little hub consisting solely of one restaurant/bar, one news stand, one overpriced trinket shop and about six gates all trying their best to devour the people waiting to go through them, one painfully slow passenger at a time) and found a “crew” of muscle heads at the bar, I thought for sure I had found material for my next post. Boisterous, beer-toting and dripping with machismo, this group almost embodied everything I find distasteful about American males – John Waynes on steroids, if you will – and it appeared to me that had they their bodies not, their confidence would be vacant as well. I was glad that the time I would be required to “enjoy” their company was limited, and hopeful that none of them would share my flight. But one of them did.
And he sat in the row directly in front of mine.
He had the window seat (the muscle head would get the choice seat of course), and beside him sat an elderly gentleman of British descent, who had a very cool accent and – I would later find out – not nearly anything nice to say with it. The aisle seat was open and less-than anxiously awaiting the African-American woman who would occupy it for the 57 minute flight we were about to embark upon. But, when she arrived, she also had a very young daughter in tow. While the seat said nothing, it’s very appearance gave notice that it would only support one human being at a time thankyouverymuch, and the daughter would simply need to find somewhere else to sit. Luckily, the flight attendant must have already known about the seat’s attitude on all this, and she had come armed with a second seat assignment and a question to the two men already seated – would either one of them please give up their seat, and take the child’s (just a few rows back) so that the daughter could sit with her mother? The elderly Brit said yes. The muscle head said nothing. Of course.
The daughter was resplendent in her Garanimalesque white shirt/pink pant combo, topped off with white bows keeping her two almost out of control pigtails firmly in place. She was smiling ear-to-ear while waiting in the aisle, but once the go-ahead was given for her to take the middle seat that was now vacated, her face twisted in fear at the realization that she would have to sit right next to this strange man. At such a young age, she too, apparently already knew disdain for those of the muscle head persuasion – smart, this little one was. And then the damnedest thing happened – the muscle head looked at her with the softest eyes imaginable and – while I couldn’t see his mouth – a smile was evident in his tone when he said, “don’t worry, I won’t eat you.” The girls face lifted into a grin even larger than the one she wore while awaiting her seat – almost as if she actually was afraid of being eaten at some point in time – and relieved to know that today at least, was not going to be that day.
She plopped right down next to the muscle head – and – the two of them spent the entire rest of the flight talking to each other. About everything. In hushed tones they spoke about the in-flight magazine, the safety instructions, the muscle head’s own children, the in-cabin overhead light and the in-cabin overhead air valves, not to mention the where they had been and the where they were going to next – both geographically, and in life. The mother tried to jump in whenever she could, but the girl and man spoke so much that precious little room was left for anyone else to invade their chat.
Odd – it occurred to me – here I was, condemning a man I had never spoken with to something akin to hell simply because of what I imagined he must be like, while at the same time, a little girl actually opened her mouth in an effort to know him better and sainted him as a result. And trust me, I could tell by the look in her face when they finally parted ways that she could plainly see the golden halo she had placed above his head. And by then I could (finally) see it as well.
St. Sebastian: patron saint of muscle heads – err – athletes
As this was going on, it also dawned on me that while this man and girl were taking advantage of fate by getting to know another human being that, while they would never see each other again, they could learn from and enjoy right now – I sat rigid-backed in my seat, my iPod headphones jammed defensively into my ears – protecting me against having to ever acknowledge the existence of the elderly woman sitting right next to me. I mentally smacked my wrist and pulled the headphones out, opening my mind at the same time just enough to let someone else in. And she turned out to be a lovely woman who had successfully raised five children and had earned herself a trip to Venice – based solely on frequent flyer points, no less. It appeared that she was flying alone, and she was old enough that I had the good sense not to ask her if anyone would be joining her on her trip. I didn’t really need to know any way, and there was no reason to risk upsetting an otherwise jolly traveler.
The flight ended. The lesson was learned. The experience, embedded in my soul. I felt good about what I had been brought to understand, even as I felt bad about the fact that I needed it brought to my understanding. The man and the girl made their goodbyes, and while I won’t say they hugged (because I can’t recall if they did), it certainly felt as if they should have. The girl and her mother made their way down the aisle to debark, and then the man stood up. He wasn’t the muscle head I thought he was at all! He had the same haircut as the muscle head I was thinking he was, and the same general face as well (understanding that all I ever saw of it was his forehead and eyes). But other than being very tall, and proportional to that height, he was no more a muscle head than I am a person who is willing to judge an individual based on their character instead of their appearance. It was then that I replayed the scene from the airport, only to discover that none of the muscle heads were worthy of my disdain in the first place, and none of them were really even that boisterous in fact. They just happened to be very large men with beers in their hands, trying to get to where ever it was they were going without hassle or care. And in my apparent rush to judge, I decided that they were the issue, when I fact, the issue was me.
So, in 57 minutes, I learned that muscle heads are people too, little girls (at least one) are much smarter than I, it’s quite all right to introduce yourself to a person that you’ll never see again, you can get quite far on frequent flyer points, people are not always going to fit nicely into your preconceived notion of who they should be – and possibly most importantly – as a general rule muscle heads, or rather large men at any rate, do not eat children.
Even if they’re feeling peckish.