On December 4, 2015
there actually is a story I told my wife while we lay in bed, after I got sidetracked by a world of pain that crushed the breath from me in sobs.
You get past those things. Having a team, is crucial. And one thing I know about my wife is that of everyone I know or love, she's the one wearing the same uniform as me. As my boss said to me yesterday (different story), "we can't both go down at the same time." There has to be a hand for the falling one.
This is a story about two single people who I observed in the Alaska Airlines lounge at PDX - strangers who met there, at the lounge chairs in front of the football game that was playing that night. The guy was in the front row, and the girl behind. They both looked to be in their early 30s. Casually fit, and dressed well for air travelers who will frequently wear the grubbiest stuff possible for both comfort's sake, and to not be recognizable by hijackers. (Everyone talks about comfort, but really, the latter goes through every frequent traveler's mind - how to camouflage one's self to look like a coach class seat cushion.) The guy seemed to be in age-appropriate-physical condition: which is to say that I remember when I was in my 30s I could stay thin without any effort by simply skipping a second lunch or third dinner. Reasonably good looking, but only because he thought he was, which I now know, too late in life, works. That was this guy. Poor body definition, probably hadn't lifted a free weight since high school gym class, but trim. He had a mistake of a jar-head haircut. Too short all around and it fit his demeanor. He was trying to exude the air of a veteran. Who can blame him. Veterans board first on Alaska Airlines, as it should be on all airlines, forever.
The woman sat in the row behind him, to the side so that the guy could lean an arm over the back of his seat and comfortably sit sideways to confront her. She was a blond woman. L.A. front-of-the-camera quality face, for sure. Very conscious of her weight. I could tell as she wore all black, tight fitting clothes with various bright colored sweaters and scarfs wrapped around the parts of her which in relief, even in pitch black, would be seen to bulge from the mental curve a person will draw in space to define a dream woman's body. How women know to do this is beyond my capability to calculate, but they do, and they recognize it in each other.
The couple each sat, leaning toward the other, so that the subtle electromagnetics of their body auras met between them where they had focused their attention. You didn't have to be psychic to see it. No one dared cross their path to sit in a vacant seat around them for fear of penetrating that force field. Not because of a worry about negativity or repercussion - but rather, out of camaraderie. Because there have been times for each of us travelers, where we have been alone in transit for weeks, and finally, for some invisible cosmic reason your own energy will lock onto another's like magnetic north to magnetic south. And you both realize it. But seeing as how you are in transit with thousands of miles to go, and only in the present moment where you stand - nothing can evolve beyond the initial contact. In the annals of our scientific history, there is no physics behind this we can explain. But like gravity and dark matter, we just know it's there.
It happens to each of us, and we all recognize it in others when it happens. The unwritten ethos is that we stand back and admire it, this transient meta-love-at-first-sight.
I sat in the row behind them with an elderly Chinese guy and a bald guy with a British accent who were both locked onto the TV football game, watching the Detroit Lions having their way with the Green Bay Packers. But as the audio on the TV was off, completely, we had nothing to listen to except the banter between the traveling man and traveling woman, and listening to how their conversation appeared to be circling some center of gravity we all recognized as "that which afterward will never be spoken of again." They drew closer and closer assuming ever more awkward positions on the furniture as they spoke, and their words to each other went from being vaguely suggestive of later meeting, of life history with transient and permanent relationships, to prior attempts at more direct immediate encounters that each was sure could be pulled off mere minutes from that moment irrespective of previous failures.
"Well, maybe someday I'd try that again. I was younger then and didn't know what I know now," one of them said, doesn't matter which.
I glanced at the old Chinese guy and the bald Brit and we each rolled our eyes, proving once and for all that such behavior is timeless and transoceanic. People are people. There was a day in the past, perhaps, that may have been one of us, saying anything, right brain utterly disconnected from the left - cortex out of commission, purely reptilian moving closer, calculating what/where/when - how to pull this off despite the consequences we have marginalized to insignificance with the logic of lust.
Nothing can happen. Nothing will happen. Nobody's watching.
But everyone is watching.
My glance went from one of Aaron Roger's errant forward passes to how the pair dropped well-developed psychological defense after defense until they became like doughy-eyed infants, each waiting the return of Mother but getting out all the misbehaving in the interim, orbiting that core that would bring them to ultimate physical contact - seriously, I thought that before long they would both disappear into the men's or the ladies' and have sex, and we'd all hold it and wait to use the rest room until they came out, because, well, we're all somehow brothers and sisters on the road.
"I'm a contractor for the CIA, heading back to Langley for a new assignment."
"You might recognize me. I modeled for Victoria Secret but I gained two pounds so now I'm out of the catalogues but I have enough of the product to last until I'm 50 and it still all fits."
"Wow. That was you in September - wasn't it? I thought I recognized you. The baby blue teddy. Two pounds? My god you look better than ever."
"Yeah, but not to misrepresent, I don't really like the teddys. They're too uncomfortable. Like right now I'm wearing the tiger striped bikini briefs and the coated silk underwire push up. At least it's bearable for a long plane ride."
"Looks good, from what I can see of it."
"I'd show you more, but then we'd wind up in trouble." When she says that, she puts a forefinger across her lips and smiles, and shoots a glance to us sports fans who no longer know what's happening to the Packers and the Lions, but are acting like we do.
The Chinese guy gets up, then, and says, "Beer. I think, beer. Anybody?" He looks toward me and the Brit. We nod and agree and follow him over to the bar window where we each order a bottle of Alaskan Amber without a word to each other. This is a life situation with which we are all intimately familiar. It's programmatic. The participants become automated robot mechanisms, like the giant arms they have in auto assembly plants that weld body parts together, over and over, identically and perfectly - we become automated assembly creatures welding body parts together, time after time, identically and perfectly, to produce new humans instead of BMWs.
Afterward we retake our seats the way we do at home - adjusting our ass position until the grooves in the leather agree with our thighs and parts. Then we burp. Grunt. Go back to watching the couple, who at this point has utterly forgotten we're there.
The woman takes her cell phone from her ear. It seems the whole time she was on the phone, the faux-jarhead CIA dude never took his eyes off her while he imagined sliding off her tiger striped panties while quoting the 2015 record for the Cincinnati Bengals. I know this is what he was doing, because those of us close to twice his age allowed ourselves the few brain cycles to think the same. Then went back to the football game on the screen. The beauty of getting older is you can dip into the intensity as you wish without being swept away by it. The joy of being a machine is still there, but mellowed and cultured. Now we do it our way, instead of following nature's preprogramming.
The woman puts the phone in its place in her purse and mutters that it was "her fiancee'" and was engaged to be married - but somehow, at that very moment it didn't count.
"I love the man, I really do. But I have to call off the wedding."
Fake CIA dude now relaxes from his attentive position. He slinks back a bit into his chair and asks about a bit of the conversation he was supposed to overhear.
"Cone of shame?"
"Buster. The Welsh Corgi. He's watching my dog. Just had surgery and now they put that thing around his neck so he can't bite the sutures."
"So he was just checking in to see how you were?"
"He wants to call off the wedding too, and we're figuring out how to cancel the caterer without losing our deposit."
The guy says, "Have you ever been married before?"
The woman nods. "Yah. Once. That's how I know this one is wrong." She sighs. Clasps her hands on her lap, looks into his eyes soulfully, says, "Oh well..." dangling the last consonant in the air from a loose thong thread.
We in the bleachers came to the same conclusion. The Brit whispered it to me and the Asian, too quiet for the couple.
"Back off, brother. Nothing good happens from here on out."
Fake jarhead looks down. Squints at the flight departure and arrival monitor and appears to do a calculation involving the current time as he stares at the list of flights. Shoots a smug grin. Turns and leans back toward the woman.
"I'm engaged, too," he announces. "Same thing, though. We're calling it off. It's too much, too soon."
The Asian guy slaps his hand to his forehead and winces. Was it because Rogers just threw an interception? We got this old by avoiding the bears in the forest. By not getting into cars driven by drunken friends. By getting all our tetanus shots and judging the risks clearly. By knowing that collecting even the tiniest reward is better than losing the risk that comes with them.
Bad hair jarhead reaches a hand toward ex underwear model and says, "We both got 2 hours before our planes. Want to catch some dinner?"
And at that point - because life actually is a Shakespearian play written on underwood typewriters by first graders - a staggeringly gorgeous brunette wearing a Green Bay Packer's team jersey bearing Clay Matthew's number and name comes into the lounge and catches faux-head's eye. Uh oh. The man can't do clock arithmetic. He slunks back down into his chair as the woman drops her luggage beside him. She points to the game on the TV.
"Are we winning?" she wants to know.
Us three old guys shake our heads. Nope. You're down twenty-three-zip to the Lions, and by the way, your fiancee is a shithead and you need to kick him to the curb and find another. By the way, I have a son who's in his last year of med school at Stanford (which is costing me a king's ransom) and he's free last time I checked...
One of us old guys nods toward the ex-underwear girl, who is now silently poking at her smart phone.
"Who's she?" Packers girl asks jarhead, who shrugs and says, "we were on the same plane here. Her fiancee is in the movie business in LA. He does something with electronics."
Packers girl wasn't born yesterday. She didn't spend that much time being that beautiful without any understanding of human behavior.
She shrugs and says something like, "...k..." and heads off to the bar.
The power ladder is clear now. The alpha female is here.
Underwear girl begins packing her belongings. She gathers her coat and says loud enough for for all of us to hear: "Marry that one. While you can. She's special and I can tell. And stop screwing around or you'll wind up like me."
Exhunt one ex-Victoria's Secret Model, carrying a couple extra pounds.
Enter one assertive woman, engaged to be married to a man she picked, probably while goggle-eye kamakaze-drunk one evening and is now reassessing the decision. But she has time. Pull the legs off first. Watch them squirm.
Jarhead boy assumes the position. Back against his seat, hands folded on his lap. Eyes straight ahead at the football game, while his fiancee begins peppering him with questions on the seating arrangement at the wedding, YouTube videos she's been looking at of different wedding party motifs. She can't put his right-wing uncle at the same table as her cousin the liberal. He's not paying attention.
I look at the clock and my flight has started boarding. I pick up my computer bag and briefcase. Smile and nod at my fellow game watchers.
"That was better than the game," says the Chinese guy.
"Which of you are going to tell him?" I ask the two of them.
"Not me," says the Brit as he shovels a handful of orange goldfish crackers into his gaping maw.
"Yeah," I say. "Why ruin it?"
"They have to learn for themselves," says the Chinese guy, and then, "Woah - did you see that?" as the Packers score. "We might have a game here."
I go to gate C2. Fly home. Wife picks me up at the airport.
We go to bed. I tell her this story.
My teammate laughs. "You should have told her."
"Not my job. Not on my team..."
Roll over. Embrace. "Thank god for love. Thank god for good judgment. Thank god I survived all the times I abandoned it, how many times. Thank god that isn't me..."
---------- (from my notes....)
, and they got closer before my very eyes. I thought they would merge and life itself would explode from the criticality of their desire. Then a gorgeous woman, a different one, came into the lounge sporting a Clay Matthews, Green Bay Packers jersey, and sat down next to the guy and said, "are we winning?" And they weren't. The Packers were down by 23 points and her fiancee had decided to run away with a woman he'd just met, who was doing the same to her fiancee who was somewhere in Southern California with their dog who was wearing one of those conical bite guards because he'd just had surgery. And I looked at the Chinese guy, and he smirked. And I smirked. And the Packers woman fiancee got up and went to the bar to get wine. The first woman looked at the guy, got up really fast, picked up all her stuff and said, "Marry that one. Now. She's special. And stop screwing around with people you don't know." ANd she ran out. The packers fiancee came back and noticed the woman had left, and she looked at me and the Chinese guy, and we all knew, we three, that her fiancee was a rat - we we all acknowledged it. But she sat next to him anyway, and said, "well, she left really fast..." and the guy stuttered. He didn't know we were witnesses. He'd been fixated by his trivial attraction, which is what happens to some young men. I got up and got a beer for myself and the Chinese guy. And we watched the rest of the game, and the Packers fiancee, that gorgeous brunette, lecture that guy about the seating plan to their wedding, and we smirked to each other again at the hell they would bring upon each other. Because thats' what guys do, and what old guys know. That's what I was going to write. But got sidetracked by a shitload of pain.